When I get it, yeah, it’s alright, nothing can stop me now

Kelli-Underwood_Kate-Sheahan_Katie-Brennan

I want it real, are you afraid of me now

One of the recurring themes of this blog has been discussing how we live in the content era – no longer is it acceptable for a sports commentator to simply provide you scores and a sports network to tell you about the game you are watching in a sedate voice. Those days are long gone, as commentary and sports reporting descends in a chaotic maelstrom of voices: every loss is a disaster, every disaster a coach firing shambles.

Players go from the second coming of Leigh Matthews to not good enough to play in the country in the space of one game, one tweet is a fireable offence. We’ve also touched on how this is Channel 7 station policy – every commentator has to have a nickname and there can’t be a single second of silence in the broadcast.

Naked terror about losing a single viewer has led to a strident kiddification of sports broadcasting – everything is garish, bright, Brian Taylor is wandering around, Hamish is making jokes, there’s a band. It’s a fun fair of inconsequential noise, dad jokes and basic points. Educating the viewer? Forget it – why describe a passage of play when Cameron Ling can scream about feeling the love or Richo can talk about pickle juice? THAT’LL get them tweeting boys…

During the WNBL Grand Final between Townsville Fire and the Melbourne Boomers, something did occur though, which was worth noting. Three time WNBL champion Carly Wilson (a gregarious personality with a fine line in interviewing) had her insight eschewed and put to the side for generic Male commentators A and B, the latter of whom used the final play of the game to make a pop culture reference about cowbells. The final play of a championship game – hardly “The Giants have won the pennant”…

The commentary educated little and imparted nothing to a casual viewer about a ready-made rivalry between Suzy Batkovic and Liz Cambage and slipped easily into the Channel 7 playbook of bad jokes, over familiar nicknames and slightly awkward pop culture references. Of course, they also came up with our other bête noire, rushing away from live coverage of a celebration of a championship to show an old episode of the Golf Show. The hell is the rush to cut away? You can’t spare 10 more minutes before getting to a repeat?

It was worthy of mentioning, because one of the key reasons given for the lack of a female commentator at certain moments – most notably the Malibu Stacy Channel 9 cricket team – is a mumbled and embarrassed “oh no woman has played at that level”. So how does that reconcile with not fully using a 3 team champion of the very league you are commentating who has great relationships with the players she’s calling? And when she’s clearly better than the main co-commentator?

Womens sports narratives are still being spun on commentary (for the most part) by male voices: Brenton Speed does the Matildas games, Jason Bennett the prime Channel 7 AFLW games, Generic Male Commentator 82374 got the WNBL, hell Luke Darcy did the netball. When push comes to shove, the voices on the alleged “main” games are still male, and that’s on female sports…Stephanie Brantz gets some A League games, and Kelli Underwood gets the odd AFLW game, but most female voices at big moments are still fighting for mic space, fighting for air time…

Take that aforementioned Channel 7 house of jokes and japes – infamously when they launched their commentary team last year, it was all blokes all the time, with Daisy Pearce and Sam Lane not even in the launch photo and relegated to sideline voices. Pearce got a patronising “well done” from Hamish McLachlan on the boundary line for calling a boundary throw in. Channel 7 mutter something that sounds good in a brochure about “promoting female voices on merit” but it sounds hollow. And when their AFLW coverage has a male voice…

Part of the issue (aside from the obvious) is an interesting dichotomy – at a time when the volume is going up and up, there is still a stigma from the 50/50 Herald Sun writers about an opinionated woman. This is the opinion era, the content era. and a female commentator in AFL mens commentary would be expected to contribute to that volume, to that noise, to those jokes. To not just tell the score and call the play, but contribute loudly to the “fun”. It’s hard enough to get male TV producers to trust a female commentator but one with (gasp) opinions and volume? What fresh strain of madness is this!

The opinion and content era has empowered the misogynists, the trolls and those for whom every step of female progress is some kind of despairing regression from 50s values. TV producers can point to this as a defense mechanism: well the audience feedback show this, and we can’t really have female voices with opinions in our male sports. Stick to Brian Taylor. His negative feedback is “joining the conversation” after all.

It goes without saying that when Kelli Underwood got the chance to commentate on AFLM (as we want to call it these days) it was treated by Channel 10 as some sort of NAB Cup experiment, some sort of quirky rule change like a supergoal or first touch out of bounds. The experience made it very clear that a women’s voice in AFL would barely be tolerated, and only then once all the feedback had been collated. Her negative feedback wasn’t “oh she’s polarizing!” and the supportive people of her work were drowned out. It goes without saying, the barriers went well up.

It’s strange though and illogical that women’s sport still isn’t trusted to be its own voice, to be its own commentator, let womens voices tell their own story on their own sports. The altering of language, the altering of style, the move away from hyperbole and boys clubs, these are all seeming positives, and who could argue with the standards being equal: elite female athletes getting to tell their stories seems only a fair trade-off right?

After all, male commentators have had clunker moments trying to deal with this new female football fad: uncomfortable anyone? Tyson Edwards? Garry Lyons opposition to Erin Phillips babies? Eddie McGuire and the awkward Girls Run The World “victory”? Dermot asking a bewildered Gil about “grooming”? Surely this proves males can’t be trusted to comment on female sport! It’s a joke of course, but no female commentating on male sport would be allowed this level of blunder.

In marketing, we often talk about how women’s sports is overcoming certain gender markings and imposed verbal restrictions: female athletes are still “girls”, female athletes are still more likely to have their relationships discussed than male athletes, still more likely to be defined by their partners, more likely to be judged on their looks. Female commentary is one way to change the established methodology of sports broadcasting, but still it’s lagging behind.

Again, one of the things we want to hone in on this season (particularly the AFLW season) is how female stories are told, and how. Female commentary isn’t the be all and end all, there are bigger issues we’ve discussed, but part of what we’ve discussed to far ties into marketing. Female commentary is part of that marketing. Part of that branding. There still needs to be an inspirational figure in sports media, someone commentating without fear or favour on a genuinely big AFLW game.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t a blanket rule – if you can get, say, Martin Tyler to commentate a Matildas game, you can clearly see this is getting the best in the business to commentate a game. The infamous “merit” Channel 7 and Channel 9 preach to apply to male sports hasn’t yet filtered through to women’s sports commentary, leaving Carly Wilson stuck on the WNBL sidelines and Tom Rockliff doing co commentary on AFLW games to say things like “she can really kick”…

Hey! Wait! I got a new complaint!

The key thing to note about a lot of this – to tie it all together – is that women’s sports still isn’t fully trusted yet. It always feels like (even with strong and growing evidence to the contrary) like womens sport is a fad, a passing phase. Womens sports should feel greatful to be on TV, to be shown, to be greatful that it exists at all. It’s strange that even as 25000 tickets (and counting) are sold for the AFLW game between Fremantle and Collingwood, the game itself feels on trial.

James Sutherland says we can’t have Womens test matches, Gil McLachlan is “surprised” how good the AFLW State Of Origin game is, and no one will test segmented marketing strategies. The kudos and the marketing stops and ends at “we created this!” – that’s pretty much it.

Taking risks in 2018 should theoretically be easier, but barriers remain. The risks are being taken by outsiders, the promotion done by players in social media. Sport is still being covered the same way, with the same aging voices. Even those male voices who dare to buck the system are “sucked into the fun” of Channel 7, or vacuumed into the dispiriting opinion business, the one Kane Cornes is raking it in from.

Marketing conformity is still a real thing: it’s a bewildering thing. Channel 7 promote their “personalities”, but every tweet and every tweet of feedback pushes things the same. Do more of this, less of that. Receiving feedback and monitoring tweets to the extent Channel 7 (and to a lesser extent Channel 9 does) means less risk taking.

What is interesting to this PR blog of course is that conformity spreads to the media reporting, reporting style and commentary style of AFLW broadcasts. Conformity kills a brand most times, and football broadcasting in general is risk averse, but if ever anything was built to buck convention, it’s AFLW commentary, it’s AFLW broadcasting.

It’s easiest to stay at home

We’ve been discussing in the blog the strange build up to AFLW season 2, where everyone but the AFL seems to care about the season launch, and the AFL have abdicated all marketing and promotional responsibilities to social media. Want to find out a practice score? Look on Twitter.

Want to see photos from a training session? Not around here! Want a wrap of the weekend practice matches? Not until Monday, and not until after we’ve tweeted out the AFLX prices, and footage from North Melbourne playing AFLX….only then…

If there has been good news from the grass-roots support AFLW has received, it’s still been a summer of negatives: don’t forget having the last touch out-of-bounds rule enforced on the competition, Nicole Livingstone doing….whatever it is she’s supposed to do. The lack of an ad campaign. The social media inertia, the website barely being updated. We could go on…

The news that Channel 7 have shunted and shifted the vast majority of AFLW coverage to the less important and less advertising friendly confines of 7 Mate (what a weird combination: a channel designed specifically with the Straayyaan “Alpha Male Maaateee” demographic in mind and AFLW) doesn’t seem all that surprising.

It is truly bewildering to consider that rather than investing in growing female sporting audience they’ve hitched their wagon to a made up game with fuzzy rules and loud in-game graphics. We’ve discussed our concerns with this, but seeing AFLW now fully relegated to televisual minor league status is officially dispiriting.

To be honest, the issues of AFLW marketing are even worse than imagined. We spoke before of segmented marketing and bounced ideas around, but now we aren’t even getting the basics right. To not even fulfil a basic website requirement of providing scores of practice games until two days later is just inexcusable. When Channel 7 in the midst of a tennis game do more to promote AFLW than anyone at AFLHQ can be bothered to do in a summer, it’s really worth screaming about….

Still, 15 dollars for an AFLX ticket…

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