You never did find the best solutions, did you think you were Superman?
One of the more interesting problems is PR is always the lack of follow-up – so many brands over the years have put all their money into the launch, but there’s no plan as to what happens next. The “Day 2” phenomenon really peaked in the glory days of the Internet, where the marketing budget went into one viral event promoted by people who didn’t understand the Internet and didn’t realise the nature of the passing fad or the Internet fireworks show. The lack of a follow up step bedevils many people in marketing who can’t understand why getting celebrity X to hold up their product in Confidential just isn’t quite working…
So AFLX is going to be a thing apparently – the game conceived to take AFL to the world and get some of that lucrative Big Bash market domestically, a game where we don’t quite know the rules yet except it’ll be Dustin Martin but FASTER, is a strange concoction, requiring several leaps of faith and logic. What we do know about it is there will be music and fireworks and segregated fan zones and…that’s pretty much it to be honest. Some days it’ll be like Big Bash, some days its going to take over China, the next Joel Selwood is press ganged by the PR department to say “Oh we’re enjoying it at Geelong playing AFLX!” but there are still several weird vagaries. All we know is, the Chinese are going to LOVE it…apparently.
It’s a strange time to launch it when so many local football clubs are struggling, especially in regional Victoria and Tasmania, and female participation should be the be all and end all of truly growing the game. To put effort, finance and resource into countries that don’t have ovals does seem like a strange leap. It also shows a lack of trust that you can promote your own game beyond your borders. The AFL international strategy has always been messy anyway, hampered by a lack of space to play the games on, resource and finance and focused on singular events (we’ll talk more about that below), but this just isn’t the solution at all…
That said, this is the AFLs current shiny toy, so they are going to throw marketing muscle at it (seemingly at the expense of AFLW, but that’s another topic for another day) and hope it sticks. Marketing to China and India is a far more subtle proposition than getting Travis Boak to stand next to a Panda of course. Both markets have remained (relatively) indifferent to the charms of soccer, never mind promoting Dustin Martin but FASTER on a crudely drawn oval. Again, to tie back to the day 2 phenomenon, and the lack of care and planning, the biggest mistake in marketing is thinking you are going to break a country as a whole without thinking regionally.
It sounds obvious, but think of it this way, you take for granted there are nuanced sporting differences in the Melburnian and Sydney and Gold Coast sporting markets yes? So it’s very broad brush to suggest “we’re going to break China!” or “America is going to love AFLX!”. This is one of the greatest PR issues people face, tying into the old PR staple for bands “you got to play Peoria”, people think a singular event is going to be enough. Take the Port Adelaide vs Gold Coast game in China – what’s the legacy of that? A crawler ad at the bottom of the coverage saying “if you want to play, here’s the website!” – what are you putting into infrastructure, grass-roots, participation programs? Are you really willing to put in 30 years of work to build this?
To further illustrate, lets say my New Orleans Saints played at the SCG. Lot of Americans expats go, I get my Drew Brees hoodie signed (again) and everyone has a lovely day. Then what, has the NFL “broken” Australia for that singular event? Or was it just a nice event and a lovely day out for me (if we won). It’s similar to NFL events in Mexico or Europe – are you growing the game or are you having a junket? And that’s an established elite product the NFL, not a compromise game with marketing tags attached.
Buried in the AFL press release masked as an article on AFLX on the AFL website was this quote: ” It’s targeted at young kids, which will work in New South Wales and Queensland, as well as China and India” – to which if that is the strategy, it is a truly terrible one. This is no homogenous “global market” to break into. There is no singular marketing strategy that sound ever presume a child in Mumbai can be sold to like a child in Sydney. It’s terrible thinking to ever use a statement like that. It’s inherently lazy thinking to not even consider the most subtle differences.
I’m from Louisiana, and I know marketing in Louisiana to sports radio is vastly different to marketing to sports radio in Houston, and that’s not too far away geographically. So how fundamentally lazy a PR and development statement is to make that 3 countries are going just pick and up and play AFLX with the same design? It’s a really bad statement to make, and it never works. It’s a statement that should always be challenged in marketing. “We’re going to break China!” – OK how, tell me how, tell me your marketing strategy, tell me the regions you want to break…if you can’t, it’s a glib line, it’s a fairytale, it’s a line on a pamphlet for investors.
So let me speak to a couple of things if this sport is going to break America for example (if you are new to this blog, hi, an American writing). Firstly, you can’t sell us on fireworks and music – bluntly, our budgets and bigger and we do that better than anyone. It’s true, the Superbowl proves it. You can’t sell us on hype, we do that better than anyone too – Stephen A Smith screams us down the TV set if Kirk Cousins throws two picks. We got that covered. Now we DO like big hits, but you can’t serve that up to us in the concussion era. But definitely you can’t sell us on music and fireworks, we can agree on that surely?
And here’s a sneaky American secret – we actually LIKE sports. New Orleans can play all the music videos they want and shoot fireworks after every play but if we’re 35-0 down to Atlanta we’re not sticking around. It’s strange to me so many people think Americans go for the hype and fireworks. It’s part of the experience, but the game is more important to us than many people are willing to believe. And our natural cynicism in sports media is pretty interesting: we can, contrary to most people’s beliefs, tell when you are selling us second-rate products. Take David Beckham, even Tony Kornheiser was laughing on day 1 at MLS saying Beckham was the best player in the world, and Tony isn’t much of a soccer guy.
So here’s some free PR advice – can the fireworks, can the music, don’t send us Dustin Martin but FASTER. Give us this: a narrative. If you are going to try this in America, water down expectations. You aren’t getting on the today show, but you can get on Bob and Pat in the morning. And Bob and Pat in the morning in Louisiana is different to dealing with Francesca in New York or the “everything is better in Boston crew!” in Boston or the state-wide cynicism of LeBatard influenced radio in Miami. And that’s just radio. TV is different, the printed media is different, the PR to get ON those stations is different, the parents are different, the spaces available are different…
So lets keep something simple here, lets just get an AFLX game mentioned on Bob and Pat in the morning. The best way to do that? Produce a local hero. It’s not what you want I know, you want Madison Square Garden and the Today Show, but bear with me here. Your best bet with this is to get an athlete out of this, one that steps into the big leagues. And your best bet of that is a female participant. Bob and Pat would love that, a local girl made good in a foreign land. That will get you traction in a state, and it’s a start. So the logical step of that is fund specific regional programs to find a player instead of putting the budget into Houston themed fireworks.
Because there is no “breaking America” to be done with this. Think niche and work backwards and you have a chance….
All this of course is fanciful, a speculative drive on a game contrived in a board room that no one has seen yet. It’s a leap of faith where more chance of going against it than anything else. The prospects of one day New York embracing AFLX is virtually zero. And to tie into the next blog, there is this crazy product out there already that’s kind of awesome, that has real stories, human interest, a massive untapped market of potential international talent that you haven’t tried to fund yet, that already has heroes and marketing and all kinds of goodwill. It’s called AFLW, and if you are betting on the game of squiggly lines and participants in Mumbai 30 years down the road when you could be marketing playing a short season of AFLW to elite female athletes all over the globe, well, I can’t help you anymore than I have….
Still – segregated fanzones huh….that’s something…
We’re only beginners, still looking around
Meanwhile, in other news Gerard Whateley signed on to SEN to host a 3 hour show. It sounds great, and it’s a great get for SEN for commentary, but a 3 hour show? Every day? That’s interesting, because it goes against the Whateley skillset at face value. If there is a skill set that seems obvious to Gerard, it’s hosting, and bouncing off people. His interviews can be a little fawning, but he does ask deceptively hard questions when the time is right. And he is one of the best panel hosting people you can ask for. He’s also the only person to have on air chemistry with Robbo (you can notice a definite drop off in the show when Hudson co-hosts). So give him a strong offsider, and you are away.
That’s not the skillset required to host a 3 hour radio show where you are the chief personality though, especially not on commercial radio. It’s impossible to imagine Gerard doing a 3 hour Colin Cowherd style solo show (Cowherd still bounces Kristine Leahy, but he has an ability to speak extemporaneously on a number of topics). The natural reaction to this news was “oh how will Gerard deal with commercial radio bogans!” which is a little unfair, but commercial radio does have a lack of nuance shall we say. There’s a lot more “how will the Tigers go this year!” than on the ABC, more space for talkback and hot takes from the callers.
That’s even before you delve into the more obvious issue around this – and that’s ratings. This is the first time Gerard has had to worry about ratings, or will have ratings figures told to him. What if the first survey doesn’t work? Does he become a Kane Cornes style spewer of hot takes? And is there a needle moving personality out there anyway in 2018? With the disparate way we consume media, the idea of a radio “game changer” seems very 90s. Will Gerard interviewing an old SANFL footballer or talking the history of horse racing translate to holding a radio audience transfixed in 2018? It’s an odder mix than you think…
If there is a solution, it’s splitting Gerard into radio Gerard and podcast Gerard. Podcast Gerard is an interesting idea, since it would give him freedom to talk about anything. Podcasts can be as niche as 30 minutes with someone who watched an old game in Tasmania, or an old horse trainer. There’s a lot of interesting to play out with Gerard going electric, but keeping him happy by letting him indulge his passions is probably something that should be definitely be considered as a potential goldmine…