It’s nice to be liked but it’s better by far to get paid…

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The clock ticking over into 2018 brings us to within one month of the opening game of the AFLW season – February 2 at Ikon Park, Collingwood vs Carlton. In a summer of Sam Kerr back flips, cricket bucketheads and Izzy coming back to Neighbours, we would understand if you weren’t aware of that. However, there are definite issues as the clock ticks down to season 2.

In a crowded summer schedule, we’re still waiting on AFLW receiving even the most basic of launches and summer promotion. In a world of advertising and marketing and spin, AFLW is still seemingly being promoted as “look! women!” without any understanding of how far the league has come, and how much women’s sports IS something companies are looking to promote and sell in 2018…

So if you were wondering why the AFL hasn’t promoted season 2, it’s a fair question. For one thing, the AFL now has a new shiny toy, what we discussed last time, the game of squiggly lines, rules and fuzzy logic, AFLX. The AFL have put marketing resources and time into trying to work out how they are going to get Chinese people to watch Richmond vs GWS in Shanghai in ten years time. That’s also on top of AFLW having rule changes foisted on it, making it feel like a summer trial akin to the NAB Cup and Nicole Livingston making strange and bewildering comments to support it. In the middle of a crowded schedule, AFLW has no particular traction or momentum going into season 2, or at least, none created by the AFL.

We’ve touched on before that AFLW, for all the social kudos has received for it over time, is still something that AFLHQ doesn’t quite understand. It’s a wonderful, glorious thing as a female sports fan to have female role models playing sports live on network television, but the AFLs idea of marketing the competition has been to stand back and say “See what we’ve created!” and then miss glorious opportunities to take the competition further. To promote season 2, they’ve stuck the league with the lackluster “Dare to Create!” slogan to market the new campaign. Dare to Create? Haven’t we already created it? No one could come up with better than that?

We’ve mentioned before that the AFLW State of Origin game received minimal build up and support from the AFL, the Under 18s game wasn’t even streamed (and those that tried were blocked from doing so) and there was hardly any merchandise available (and of course, there was no press releases for the game) . Not to mention that the outstanding “Heroes” documentary aired with little AFL endorsed fanfare on the ABC, and that was one of the great showcases for the league you could imagine, since it showcased genuine personalities and genuinely interesting people. The AFL didn’t tweet about the documentary at all, and it passed by even though it was fascinating viewing. It all seemed very strange…

So aside from an apathetic marketing slogan and an AFLW update every 4 days on the AFLW website (it’s pretty amazing in 2018 there’s an update every 4 days) and a Foxtel ad that runs less than the ad for All The Money In the World, there’s really been nothing. It should be incredibly easy to come up with a marketing program that sells AFLW season 2 quite easily. It should be possible to come up with something better than “Dare to Create” as a slogan, to not accept just being grateful to exist.

The big buzz marketing right now is authenticity, the notion that marketing is seen as so slick and cynical, that someone who dares to be themselves is going to be a success story. To speak in language AFLHQ would understand, take Dustin Martin. There couldn’t be a more authentic story – good and bad – than Dustin Martin, who is unapologetically himself. AFLW has many amazing stories that are genuine and interesting (we’ll get more into that below) and it barely sells them, barely scratches the surface. A one page article of Cora Staunton adorns the AFLW website. Instead of promoting that AFLW has recruited a Gaelic football legend, it’s a one page article. This should be perfect summer fill in fare, but it’s not really told well. The girls have to tell us who they are, the league doesn’t do it…

And that’s just promoting the league in advertising – the AFL hasn’t put any thought into a game to launch the season, no kind of pre season cup or competition, not even letting the women launch the season with an all-star game or (gasp) letting them play some AFLX on TV. The league launches pretty much cold, one photo opportunity in the Herald Sun and that’s it. The league doesn’t think about the best way to launch or promote itself through participation. Even putting on an Under 18 game or Under 21 “All Star” game is something, creates content. There isn’t a televised pre season, Foxtel doesn’t send the cameras down to a practice game. Just something to launch the season, create a sense of anticipation…

To try to think of how to market the league is an interesting challenge for marketers. So lets take something basic about the league – the league is authentic. It’s a grass-roots league, a movement as much as a sport. It’s still a league where neutrals like me (until St Kilda come in) hope everyone does well. The girls are likeable, and accessible through social media.

It’s a league where you can still get selfies and autographs after the game. It’s a league where you can promote social inclusion – get down to the game, watch, have a kick, meet Daisy Pearce…it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a very quick and basic advert to promote this. After all, one of the great complaints from angry Herald Sun writers is that the league has lost touch with grass-roots, well here’s the perfect antidote. Depending on how you want to push it, you could trim away the fireworks and music pre game and promote that’s its something different, something more real.

To tie into that, the league (and this is a problem across a lot of women’s sports) aren’t willing to find a central advertising figure to use in a marketing campaign. To explain, the W League doesn’t use its most famous figure (Kerr) to sell the league, the WNBL doesn’t use its most famous player (Liz Cambage) to sell its league, and so on. For the AFL, there hasn’t been an innovative interesting ad campaign for AFLW that has been launched – now it may still be coming, but it should have aired all summer.

And that doesn’t mean a TV ad necessarily. Tying into authenticity and the fact that the girls have pretty much done the heavy lifting for the new season themselves on social media, this could be a social media campaign or attempt to create viral content. The AFL doesn’t seem to try promoting the game outside the “normal” channels. There aren’t any risks taken to promote the game, nothing outside the box. The league could have put a show quite comfortably online or on Fox Footy (which up to showing the 85 Grand Final for the 271st time over summer) to create content, instead of letting the league fade from memory. Even something very simple, like an AFLW version of Open Mike, takes us inside the game. Something, anything, that isn’t a website update very 4 days…

Not to get too bogged down in PR talk, but all of this is broken down into two obvious opportunities – one is integrating personalization into the users journey. If I’m a Daisy Pearce fan for instance, or an AFLW Carlton fan, I should be able to use an app to personalise the content I receive about that player or team. There’s nothing special, no unique content to be accessed as an AFLW fan, no exclusive merchandise, nothing unique I (particularly if I was a younger fan) to make my online content special to me.

The other opportunity? Integrating video to fans, improving the quality of Youtube output, finding a way to let younger fans see and hear from their heroes. Most of the AFLW content is buried on poorly designed male club websites, most of it hard to find. Again, it wouldn’t be hard to create unique content: you can’t make a weekly Youtube series where Daisy Pearce explains the skills of the game to young fans? To tie into the ad campaign, AFLW can’t run a basic trailer/teaser campaign on Youtube to promote the season?

Of course, the AFL websites for the mens teams are uniquely terrible anyway. but the women don’t even have separate diverse pages to click on, just adjunct links on the main male website. To into one of the ideas above, the AFL doesn’t seem to turn over some of its own website to “Players Tribune” style forum for the AFLW players to write about their journey or make videos about their journey.

Finding out about the players in “Heroes” marketed their individual personalities rather than the catch all lumped together “look! women!” marketing of the AFL. The AFL are content to barely market “the league”, now it’s time to market personalities. Tell me something about Cora Stauntons career, in video form, not a press release on a website.

We talked before about the Cleveland Cavaliers “Road Trip” podcast which took fans inside the Cavaliers locker room on away trips in the NBA schedule. It wouldn’t take much for AFLW teams to create podcasts and experiences that are unique to their team, even outside of the AFL website. Podcasts are not the AFL forte, since they seem stuck on only running AFL Trade Radio as downloadable content. The lack of streaming, the basic apps, the inability to access even the most basic of quality content from the AFL is a frustration. It’s holding AFLW back, since there’s no idea of how to think and engage a young female fan base.

The frustrating thing is, this is basic PR spitballing, done by one person. There’s many more ideas than that, all out of a basic understanding of what this league is, a grass-roots league with a young female fan base as its key consumer and purchaser of merchandise. The AFL can when it wants to be a brilliant and ruthless marketer, and you can be sure that will be putting a lot of effort into making AFLX seem like the most exciting thing in the world even without any actual game footage.

When it wants to, it really shows you the effort, puts in the strain. To build up Season 2 of AFLW they’ve recycled a lazy slogan and buried the website under a pile of links. That’s it. At some point, if this league is to thrive, it needs to be promoted beyond “Look! Women! What a novelty!” and think about how to sell itself beyond that. The frustration in all of that is, we know the AFL can do it, but at the moment they are choosing not to, and that’s incredibly frustrating. They are putting a brake on what they league can achieve, when they could take advantage of some pretty excellent marketing staff and genuinely interesting authentic players. At some point, that brake is going to have to come off or the league is going to stagnate.

The key to all of this, and this is pure PR hat on here, is this is the content era. Content is king, leagues can’t just fade from memory, fade from view. The AFL lets the AFLW fade from view, doesn’t put any effort into its promotion and then takes the kudos for “what we’ve created!” – they don’t put Bec Goddard into ad campaigns, let you hear a downloadable interview with Erin Phillips, don’t let your 10 old cousin find something special they can download on their AFLW app. AFLW is the most wonderful league, and it shouldn’t have to play second fiddle to AFLX….it should be vibrant, thriving, a living breathing competition. To prepare for the season with an article every 4 days is damning…

They should dare to create some content…

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2 thoughts on “It’s nice to be liked but it’s better by far to get paid…”

  1. AFLW content is part of the AFL club websites because the womens’ teams are part of the AFL club, not a separate entity. By piggy backing on pre-existing club histories, this allows significantly more eyeballs to view this content (if produced, as you argue above) than they would otherwise if there was separate sites. For example, Carlton’s lead story and video content today is that it has changed skippers, so you’re not entirely accurate that AFLW content is ‘buried’. But lets not pretend its not time and resource friendly to have this packaged on one platform. Simply, the AFL and the clubs afforded licences don’t currently see a commercial ROI to expand their AFLW footprint and as such, without further AFL funding or a realignment of the thinking you point to above, it will remain as an afterthought – I doubt each club has an AFLW dedicated media & marketing unit, rather it would be a tie-on to a pre-existing role and it appears likewise the same at the AFL, given your reported evidence of four days content-free in the season lead-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think anything is better than what they’ve produced so far man, it’s 3 weeks out from the season and they’ve done nothing, no ad campaign, no viral marketing…it’s been really worrying that they haven’t even made a 30 second ad to promote the season. The websites are terrible, mens and womens. They could easily have segmented marketing even under one club website…they could offer the bare basics of differentiating….it’s very frustrating….

      Like

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