When we fail to start, we hope it doesn’t fall apart…

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So whether you want it or not, AFLX is going to become a real thing played by real players. In the heat of an Arden Street summer North Melbourne acted as guinea pigs and stayed breathlessly on message, while Sam Landsberger in the Herald Sun acted as conduit reporter for the masses. Scott Thompson kicked a goal from the back line! No one tackles! Isn’t it just AMAZING…

We spoke before about how this strange board-room created version of AFL on a mini field where the full back can kick a goal and no one gets tackled is somehow meant to charm Americans and Chinese folks alike, but there is another strategic goal we haven’t fully explored yet, and that’s providing an “exciting” atmosphere for kids. Yes, a la the Big Bash, AFLX is almost certain to feature fireworks, LMFAO music after every goal and free giveaways a plenty.

In fact, you can almost hear the marketing wheels turning at AFLHQ. Those kids at the big bash, they wear buckets on their heads yeah? We need some of that gold…what can we do? Face masks? Wear a beanie night? Do we need our version of Gus the Goose? Lets spitball people, lets really work out the marketing part…

It’s important though to make an obvious distinction here: AFLX is marketed to kids, not teenagers. It’s important to stress that. It’s a child’s game, full of whoops and distractions and bright lights. More importantly, the result won’t matter. It’s about the entertainment.

To give an example, the New Orleans Saints had their season end on a single play at the end of the NFL playoffs, causing an entire city to plunge into sports pain and depression for a full week. Maybe longer. AFLX results aren’t designed to be remembered longer than the post game trip to McDonalds. As long as Dustin Martin signs a hat and you see a 10 pointer from Kamdyn McIntosh, all is good…who won? Who lost? Meh, pass the fries…

The trend towards this was born entirely because sports, once the staple of live TV, is now worried about its future. The idea of entire families huddling around a TV to watch a sporting event seems ridiculously anachronistic. And with that, came a naked terror from advertisers. Wait, entire families WON’T be held hostage watching things at a set time for us to sell our products to? This simply won’t do…

The answer was marketing to kids, and the answer was to speed everything up: AFLX, Big Bash (soon to become T10 because T20 is too long), Netball Fast 5s, whatever the A League could come with if its board wasn’t in permanent chaos, it’s all about speed. We touched before on the fact Channel 7 last year began turning it’s coverage into a chattering hyper speed mess, where the game was secondary to Cameron Ling talking about feeling the love or a Brian Taylor anecdote about cheese sandwiches. Faster, more content, faster, talk more, one viewer might switch off if you stop talking…

That is entirely deliberate of course. The hidden marketing of this is to the integrate the marketing into the coverage rather than break for advertising in which someone might turn off. KFC might bombard you with that weird ad with the bus driver, but the buckethead thing is integrated marketing at its best, they don’t need to break the coverage to have the commentators plug chicken and chicken related products. Marketing to kids means families are in the stadium, exposed to Taylor Swift songs and marketing messages so seamlessly integrated there isn’t time for a pause. Shake it Off! Sportsbet 6 promotion! Players gonna play! Look son, you can buy a buckethead…

AFLX isn’t just a means to sell the game to China or give what we’re referred to in marketing brochures as “real supporters” (marketing speak for these guys are so rusted on we don’t have to try with them) heart attacks. It’s about advertising, it’s about branding and it gives corporate partners a chance to try different marketing techniques. It’d be naive to not see it as a test run to turn up the volume even more during the regular season.

Again, to circle back a little bit, the presumption for those who fret about the kiddification of a genuine game day in the AFL season, the presumption is that the rusted on will still go to the game. The music and light show is for the kids, the “enhancement” of the TV/streaming experience through non stop chatter and wandering Brian and a half time laser show is so the TV audience doesn’t stop watching, and the game itself is pushed to the margins.

Thus AFLX isn’t just some strange concocted sport, it’s a glimpse of the future – the reporting of the game and the on brand messaging from the Selwoods, Atleys and Landsbergers is part of the bigger picture the AFL have been speaking about. The stars are an important part of the marketing campaign: AFLX is a glorified marketing trial, and it’s all about kids. Your rusted on fan objections to more kids at games don’t really matter. The volume is going up…

The strange thing is, and this is always part of the integration step of marketing, in chasing this demographic, again there is literally no follow-up to this thought. AFLX is a thought bubble, a new flavour of Coke. The entire point is not to take it seriously, not to consider it anything other for now than an experiment, but not the experiment you think it is. It’s not an experiment in sport, and it’s certainly not going to be something the denizens of New York or Shanghai are going to be playing any time soon, that is an absolute certainty.

It’s the ultimate marketing experiment, and that’s something worth noting. Give it a year or two and it will be a throw everything at the wall marketing car crash, with loud music, gambling ads and specially created mascots. If it’s everything you hate about going to a game day in the genuine AFL season turned up louder. A goal is pretty much meaningless, but it allows for more ads and some loud music. It will be like basketball apparently (we’ll touch on that below)

AFLX as a sport is probably doomed to fail, but as a marketing concept, you can bet everyone in the AFL will have a notepad and pen out to find out exactly what works and what doesn’t. What kids react to, who enjoys the “fun” and which ads work the loudest. It is a trial this summer, but not in the way you might think…

Don’t let it burn, don’t let it fade

We spoke rather hopefully in the last blog piece about the marketing of AFLW, about the integration of social media and the creation of podcasts and immersive marketing about the coming season. Even if things picked up for AFLW fans in the build up for season 2 to the point where we got sometimes an article on the website every 2 days instead of 4 (we are blessed), whatever the marketing plan for Season 2 is hasn’t resonated, and thus the season has been pushed aside in a deluge of AFLX teaser trailers and complacency.

To tie into the first part of the blog post, particularly about the difference between marketing to the rusted on fans vs kids and the new generation, some people think that AFLW having a rusted on constituency means the funds should be better spent on promotion and grass-roots, which is an interesting argument, and not an opinion we share.

This is the content era – it’s too crowded a marketplace to say “we don’t need to worry about marketing, we’ve got hardcore fans”. Immersive marketing is everything, and relying on a fledging league like AFLW to survive without marketing and giant flares in the sky that it’s about to start is very troubling. Think NBL, think A League…one good season doesn’t bleed into another. Participation is important, but so is momentum…

That said in the last blog post (cross promoted in better form on Girls Play Footy) we failed to make one important distinction – the things we talked about when it comes to immersive marketing and podcasts needed a little more clarity. That’s because AFLX is marketed to kids, and the things we were talking about were more slanted towards teenagers. This distinction isn’t made in articles about sports marketing enough.

Everything just references “kids” and “children” – the kind of loud AFLX experience people rail against is generally speaking against young kids, jumping on seats and dabbing anytime a camera comes near them. There’s very little research into what happens when the kid who can’t wait to become a member of the Melbourne Stars Buckethead army can’t think of anything worse than sitting with Dad in the outer while Dad has said same bucket on his head.

Everyone in sports marketing seems to be lumping everyone under 18 as the same, and it’s lazy terrible thinking, like saying (as we touched on before) all Americans are the same without acknowledging regional difference.

To break down the segmented marketing even more, we didn’t touch on the fact that the ultimate sporting marketing experience for teenagers has nothing to do with loud music or fireworks – it’s the NBA, which markets the personalities of their players, promote personal rivalries, allows chippiness (great American word) and lets players speak for themselves. The part about podcasts was to promote that in AFLW, because for young children, the fireworks and the star struck idolisation of youth is very much a thing. But it needs more than that…

When we talked in the blog post about authenticity, we needed to be stronger and clearer that we were talking mostly about marketing AFLW to teenagers. The podcast suggestion was also around creating personalities that resonate.

One of the things we may touch on down the road is whether with one of the unique features of AFLW being it’s still in a stage of women supporting women, whether one of those personalities could be a “bad woman” of the sport, someone disliked, someone willing to speak their mind and rock the boat.

AFLHQ and the terrified culture of football cracks down hard on any thing to do with bulletin board material and AFL media (especially in Victoria) can’t handle anything of maturity or (god forbid) an opinion without Kane Cornes or Garry Lyon having a coronary. The thought of a woman with an opinion is still something you can expect to terrify the 50/50 writers of the Herald Sun, which is one of the attendant benefits/perils of a podcast and a live mic.

Setting aside that digression, to finish on a positive, AFLW is still a sport that has the ability to market to all ages. It’s possible to give the young kids enough access to their heroes and a signed cap from Lily Mithen, teenagers enough heroes to emulate and a sporting career to pursue through participation, and of course people past the age of realistically playing can still go and support and send their goodwill and best wishes.

What is interesting to note though is that to tie everything together, sports path (this is just not AFL related) towards making every sport for kids (everythings made up and the points don’t matter) is that there is no coherent marketing strategy for teenagers beyond embarrassing out of touch marketers muttering about not knowing who is a Youtuber of influence or presuming a 16-year-old and a ten-year old are “all kids the same”

To be clear, AFLW does have an opportunity to market towards teenage female fans, comfortable going to games with their friends, comfortable meeting their heroes and being over the top excited about it, but also still concerned with who wins and loses. Marketing to kids doesn’t act in their best interests. It’s something we needed to make clearer in the last post, without going too deep into PR speak…

It’s an important distinction to make, and one that sports marketing hasn’t got right yet. AFLX anyone?



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