So many times it happens too fast…

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Things we learned…

So that was 2017 – the defining image against all odds somehow was Jack Riewoldt singing on stage with the Killers, and Richmond won the Premiership, indicating the world was coming to an end. So what did we learn from a year studying media, spin, Pr and marketing in the AFL? Well there were a few tropes and recurring themes, so lets examine where we are as the yellow and black confetti is scooped up by the AFL and Damien Barrett starts to make pointless guesses on AFL Trade Radio…

The old guard won the year, just…

There were various times during the year it seemed as the old guard of Melburnian football media would finally be forced to abdicate the throne, change their ideals, or at the very least change their style. Midway through the year, the Footy Show was on the verge of being axed, the media had to ask themselves tough questions after several mistakes, errors and insensitive tweets (hello Mark Robinson), and the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Jack Riewoldt, and Liam Picken (backed by Annie Picken) questioned the media openly. By the time Jon Ralph was admitting in print that newspapers made things up for clicks, Damien Barrett (of all people) was decrying sensationalism, and Gerard Whateley was asking why people don’t trust the media, it seemed as though self-awareness was kicking in.

The cherry on the cake was the continuing ranting and raving of Sam Newman, the oldest of the old guard. When Newman ranted against political correctness, told his acolytes the country was “rooted” and railed like a man yelling at a cloud, including calling Caitlyn Jenner an “it”, he dragged along his old guard acolytes like Mal Brown, Mark Latham, Erin Molan and Tony Shaw into the fold. Few things in media this year polarised like Newmans shouting about fun and sticking to football. Pitting him against the modern players, it was only world-weary apathy that meant more modern players didn’t openly speak out against him. That, and the fact that its much easier to keep your head down and simply not go on the show than actively fight against it of course…if more players spoke up, maybe more would have changed, but other than the Dangerfield week, it just never clicked…

It showed a lot that the most talked about “new” voice in football media was the click bait antics of Kane Cornes – Cornes has a fine line in controversial patter, a schtick taught to him by Craig Hutchison. Cornes is the ultimate example of the media environment, a man with blustering opinions inconsistent with previous ones. Most notably, he got no fewer than 5 stories from his “feud” with Damien Hardwick, which was a bonzana of clickbait. If everyone became aware of clickbait, and at times the media became apparently self-aware about what they were doing, it didn’t change anything. Even the old master of clickbait, Robert Walls, came back to Fox to tell people on a weekly basis to “pull their head in”….someone….anyone…

The generational difference between players and the current crop of media still does feel stark, and it was interesting that some of the most vivid and poignant writing and viewing of the year had nothing to do with media at all, but came directly from the players (Heritier Lumumbas documentary, the Players Voice articles by Alex Fasolo and Tom Bugg, Taylor Walkers recollections on Phil Walsh, Erin Phillips video and more). More of this type of player analysis written in their own words will frustrate media and create much more interesting content without the middle man or the sub editor twisting their words for clicks.

By years end though, not much had changed, so we’re giving the victory to the old guard. Eddie McGuire clung onto the Footy Show and forged a relationship with Dustin Martin. He also shamelessly being a “Woo! Women!” campaign to save the show, starting with the “Girls Run The World” skit at the end of the Grand Final Footy Show. McGuire is nothing but not tenacious, and will say or do anything to make the show successful. Newman also survived, although the McGuire sea change may see him somewhat muted (possibly). James Brayshaw was linked to returning to TV on Channel 7, Wayne Carey still had a job, and the bumbling antics of Roaming Brian enthralled every Channel 7 executive. In truth, for all the promise of media having to change, the year ended with a terrible article generated for clicks by Jai Bednall all about how terrible the Grand Final was. We’re still waiting for the great media leap forward, and despite some threats, it still hasn’t happened yet…

Girls ran the world, but not really

No one would say the launch of AFLW was anything but a raging success – to have footballers and coaches young girls could actually aspire to be means more than people could genuinely know. Daisy Pearce made an outstanding transition to providing special comments to the media, and Erin Phillips became a genuine household name. If there was a genuine joy in footy for 2017 that wasn’t for Richmond fans, it was that the AFLW league is already flourishing as a genuine competition. On a personal level, the fact St Kilda goes into the AFLW competition in 2020 was so exciting, as a fan, its hard to put into words. Just having the competition in the first place is an unbelievable victory, never mind that the Premiership president was Peggy O’Neal…

That said, it wasn’t a perfect transition. The battle continued to rage on, as shown by several (here we go again) uncomfortable moments – Jon Ralph saying umpire Eleni Glouftsis made him “uncomfortable”, Facebook digs at Sarah Perkins weight, Cameron Mooney piping up at the longest kick competition about “the BEAUTIFUL” Katie Brennan, Spud Frawley awkwardly asking the crowd to applaud “females!”, Dermot asking Gil Mclachlan about grooming in the women’s game, Dale Simmons Facebook “just a bit of fun!” rant about the womens game, that very strange “I love womens footy” Jeff Kennett article about protecting women as they blossom into womanhood or something and of course whatever the hell that sketch was at the end of the Grand Final Footy show. That’s on top of the fact that the AFLW State Of Origin game was horrendously promoted, the AFLW Heroes documentary came and wait without proper promotion, and the lack of merchandise available for young female fans need to be mentioned. Even Daisy Pearce at one point was “roped” into calling a boundary throw in on a Channel 7 broadcast, to a patronising pat on the head from Hamish Mclachlan. Dare I say, it was uncomfortable?

There still remains a strange awkwardness at times with women’s football, that can be seen not just in the outright sexism of a horrible tweet or Instagram comment, but in everyday moments or awkward interactions or some of the “gosh gee women!” commentary of some of the commentary or game analysis. It still manifests itself from time to time and in the day-to-day comments of a male footballer or member of the old guard, even when they don’t mean to. There’s still a long of way to go, for all the joy and fun of the womens game, there’s still battles to be fought and won for the game to be taken seriously by everyone. As the game grows, the notion of Erin Phillips appearing on the Footy Show shouldn’t feel like Eddie McGuire tokenism to save the show, but a genuine desire to have her on the show. It will happen, but it’s not there yet…

Channel 7 was terrible on purpose

The main free to air host broadcaster Channel 7 has a clear narrative – talk about them. Tweet about them. Write about them. Hate them, just don’t ignore them. It’s embedded into station policy that their commentators are “personalities”, with appropriate nicknames. Lingy, Bristle, Hammer…during one St Kilda game, Channel 7 tweeted out a list of “things to look out for” of which the game was 7th on the list. The idea is simple, the game is secondary to tweets and “joining in the conversation” – make a gaffe? Get a basic fact such as Geelong never playing an interstate final wrong as Brian Taylor did? Bruce says something embarrassing?, it all doesn’t matter. You reacted to it, it’s all that matters. Not one single viewer can ever be “bored”, there can be no silence, and the view at Channel 7 is this is the best way to keep you “entertained”…

Two things showed this more than ever: one was “Roaming Brian”, or “Wandering Brian”, a concoction in which Brian Taylor walked around the change rooms post game asking hard-hitting questions like “what kind of Gatorade are you drinking?” or “are you getting stuck into the red licorice yet”. This is not the kind of free-flowing chaos Channel 7 would have you believe, a lot of thought and planning and marketing goes into this kind of TV in 2017. As soon as Taylors segment got a negative reaction, Channel 7 served up more buffoonery and turned up the volume, even gleefully playing negative tweets to Taylor live on air – again, no other reason than it got a reaction. That Taylor spends games talking about fans sideburns instead of goals is encouraged, and Channel 7 are thrilled that people hate him. You can expect an even more bombastic Taylor in 2018 now they are so emboldened…

In the finals, Cameron Ling got licence to do nothing but talk. And talk. And talk…and talk some more during Sydney’s win over Essendon. Because it was a boring game, Ling was given licence to fill in the gaps and keep talking so no one turned off. He spoke about feeling the love, grass length, Buddys fitness regime, more grass length and Essendon draft prospects. It went on and on, because Channel 7 thought Lings babbling would keep people from turning off. It seems a strange corporate strategy to be openly terrible (we dread to think how they’ll ruin Nick Riewoldt) but Channel 7 are so terrified of losing younger viewers, that if you keep watching even to tweet about how terrible everything is, at least it means you are watching. It’s clickbait as a TV channel, and it’s one of the strangest trends of the year…

The word of the year was “uncomfortable”

Ever since Jon Ralph mentioned that the seemingly inoffensive two bad bounces from umpire Eleni Glouftsis made him “uncomfortable” on radio, it’s become a trend for things to be described as uncomfortable. Of course, this word now encompasses any time someone (usually a male media member) wants to say something probably offensive and privileged and controversial, but give themselves an out. It’s a powerful word, in a very negative way. While the media may find another way to express this negativity in 2018, one of the key takeouts of the year was this word lingered awkwardly in the air, rearing its head every so often, to deep, ironically, discomfort from those who had to listen to it…

Examples – Garry Lyon saying it was uncomfortable Erin Phillips took her kids out on the ground (no comment on others mind), the Jon Ralph example, Tyson Edwards saying the physicality of womens football made him uncomfortable…on and on, up to Macklemores performance at the NRL triggering and making certain radio hosts and ex rugby players uncomfortable, particularly around their kids “freaking ears” (thanks Flanders). It’s a coded word that allows people to project old school prejudices while making it sound like a “conversational point”.

In the midst of a pretty rum year for media, where someone was always the villain in a never-ending game of narrative watch, uncomfortable took things beyond the normal sturm und drang of Mondays experts. It seperated the person saying it from the person they were saying it about in a pretty distinct way, indicating the “right way” and “wrong way” to do things…and there was nothing more uncomfortable in 2017 than that…

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