No dream is losing, it’s shining…

Daisy Pearce from Melbourne Football Club, AFLW (1)-thumb-300x449-276191

So the summer of AFLW slumber is almost over – one day away from the first game of the new AFLW season, pitting Carlton and Collingwood against each other. A time of hope and excitement for those keen to block out the outer extremities of those who write to the 50/50 column about how women playing sport is a social experiment and concentrate on all the positives: all the stars, all the inspiration, all those shots of little girls standing around Daisy and Katie and Lily for selfies. If you can forgive a lapse in the verbiage of PR, its pretty freaking cool…

If you were wondering, we touched very clearly that we should take a moment to always remember that a lot of this is fantastic – a lot of victories have been won so far just to get AFLW off and running. People have supported and embraced the league on alternate media, blocking out the trolls and creating their own space. We’ve also touched a lot on letting the female players find their own voice, their own style of story telling. As the league evolves, that could be its biggest legacy. It should never shy away from being unique…

And no, we don’t mean in having zones and “different rules” – we’ll get to that…

In terms of AFLW marketing, we spoke before about how the league needed more than a W on the wall, more faith than our “figurehead” seems willing to provide, more than AFLM ignoring it to promote its shiny new toy AFLX (update: there’s going to be facepainting!). Showing the game, playing the game, getting girls to the game and having a kick. That is its marketing. One day, they won’t be able to deny its effectiveness. Just remember those who had the littlest to do with the evolution of womens sport claiming the most credit….

Of course, the summer of slumber still leaves a lot of burning questions about what this league is, what it stands for and where its going. The AFLW Twitter feed doesn’t seem to know – it’s already tweeted out some strange tweets about how the AFLW socks are lighter and then provided teams for Round 1 that omitted Collingwood players and seemingly gave 1/2 the players the number zero (what a perfect visual representation of the summer of slumber).

And AFLM doesn’t seem to know – Gil McLachlan on Gerard Whateleys show didn’t even know AFLW had a last touch rule. This is a guy who can explain the vagaries and complexities of AFLX to a perfectly scripted Patrick Dangerfield but can’t explain or understand a radical change to an entire league? And then to top it off, it’ll be signalled by the umpire by a lasso motion – because…Wonder Woman? Yosemite Sam? Who the hell knows…

Where this league ends up, that is all to unfold, because the season is the inspiring bit, the brilliant bit, the bit that they can’t deny. The bit in which each week you get to block out the mansplainers and the sneerers, and enjoy. The worries can come later, for a little while at least. But before game 1, a quick recap, so we’re fully up to date…

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In my bank account, yeah (on God)

The NAB today launched an ad campaign today in which Darcy Vescio, Katie Brennan and Daisy Pearce donned retro wigs and were super imposed green screen style into old game footage. The tagline? “History in the Making!” – again, there’s nothing wrong with any AFLW player getting in ad, whether it’s for slimming cereal or pottering around a Chemist Warehouse awkwardly. We stick to a very simple mantra around here: it’s nice to be liked, it’s better by far to be paid…

The problem again is the marketing language, which we spoke about before – history in the making? Although NAB at least provided a clearer explanation of what they were trying to do than the AFLM did, talking about how the league lacks history and so every moment creates history (yeah OK…) it again ties into what we were talking about before with linguistics, with the marketing being stuck at AFLW day one. The AFLW slogan? “Dare to Create” – now for the second time more talk about “making history!” – again with the feel good, lacklustre clichéd tags…

History! Barrier busting! Barrier busting history makers! Creating history with their barrier busting history making ways! Honestly, it just keeps going. Talking strictly PR, the frustration with this is pretty simple. There’s no individuality to it, no selling of the sport, it pushes everyone together in one feel good, history making clump. This may seem weird, but can’t we hate someone like a real sport? It’s fantastic we have this league, and it’s fantastic that we have these role models, but not everything has to be promoted as some kind of socially fantastic history making event (complete with food trucks).

One of the things that is always frustrating as someone in PR is mis-understanding the audience, particularly in not trusting the audience. We mentioned above we’re well aware AFLM doesn’t understand what it has – doesn’t know how to market to female consumers (as flecked by the lack of merchandise options), doesn’t know what it has in the league. They understand AFLX because they can just scream FAST and DANGERFIELD (might play) in strobe lighting. That’s easy…but women? Selling to women? It’s not coming easily…

We spoke in the last blog post about how this marketing language puts AFLW almost back to square one – we’re still making history! How about selling Daisy Pearce the player, the athlete, the star, not Daisy Pearce the history maker? We’ve done that last year…

So to tie into above, what is the next evolution of the league? Less collective marketing, more individual marketing. We can’t get to season 3 still talking about history making barrier busting women (now with added barrier busting women from more teams).

We’ll judge going forward if the league can break forward and forge it’s identity more clearly (with better support of course). At the moment, it feels from the language impermanent, transient, like something still on trial…evolutionary and embryonic rather than here to stay.

Now to give the campaign some positives, we at least understand this one, sort of. We kind of get they were going for. They were going for the inspirational angle, the role model angle, the idea that if we had AFLW in the past we’d have role models from the 1970s etc, and like we said, it is kind of the ad we wanted, it does have actual players in the ad and everything. And hey, Nicole Livingstone said we’ll be promoting the players as athletes in the adverts at some unspecified point in the future!

But we’ll get to that in a moment…

Yeah I swamp with potential but I’m always just singing these stupid fucking rhymes. 

In a time where again Kane Cornes continued his one man pitch to be Australia’s Skip Bayless by launching an unprovoked angry assault on something to do with Carltons leadership group, again we were reminded that the AFLM media is transitioning fully to the hot take era. This is something we’ll cover more as the AFLM season unfolds, but first a primer for the Cornes/Bayless trick as something of a digression…

For those who don’t know the trick of the hot take era, let us explain how it works. So first, say something ridiculous like “Rory Sloane is heading to Richmond in 2019!” – this is not versed in facts of course, this is made up, so go with me. So then, we monitor Damien Hardwicks reaction (story #2) and whatever it is, we write about that reaction even if the reaction is silence (story #3), followed by some erstwhile Jon Ralph type (ie – Jon Ralph) writing an opinion piece on the reaction to the reaction to the initial story (story #4) and if you want to push it to stories 5 and 6, you can stretch it to the social media reaction to the reac…you get the idea…

As Bill Bailey would say, the whole thing unfolds with a tedious sense of inevitability…

Back on topic – Kevin Bartlett decided to announce to his audience that after seeing media swamped by AFLW coverage….whoa, whoa, whoa, lets just stop you there Kevin. Swamped? SWAMPED? Yes, that specific period of time between 10:32 am on a Wednesday and 6:46pm on the same Wednesday was exhausting and swamped the media.

The mitigation to this comment from some is that it ties into Bartlett’s oft held pre-occupation/bragging that AFLW will swamp “traditional” women’s sports (he means netball) because it’s got a big budget and lots of advertising muscle. Which is does, and none of that went into AFLW, thus making the swamped comment even stranger. I mean they stuck a W on a wall, look out netball! And there was that time Tayla Harris was on the back of the Herald Sun! I mean she had to share the page with Jon Ralph’s staggering revelation AFLX is going to be high scoring, but still…

Imagine if there was two days of coverage, Kevin might never recover…

To be honest, even if AFLW was over saturated and overpromoted…so? Womens sport can still demand things surely? Marketing can be segmented you know. It doesn’t have to be that liking AFLW means you can never watch “traditional” women’s sports (he means netball), or that somehow promoting the athletic skills of Sabrina Frederick-Traub in an article is somehow some kind of awful blitz marketing campaign you can’t get away from…

Only women’s sports seems to have to deal with this, its own fight for its existence. There isn’t anyone going “Oh god, not mens sport AGAIN! Get this off” – it’s very gender specific. When we talk about the marketing of AFLW, we talked about the lack of surety in it – the language that everything permanently is proving itself.

When we actually get to the point where a singular day of women’s sports coverage isn’t some kind of excuse for trolling, feeling swamped or threatened Herald Sun writers to get busy.

Play on children like it’s Christmas Day…

If there’s a nagging concern that won’t go away though for the upcoming season, it’s this – we’ll close the pre season marketing wrap up with this. A lot of the things that we’ve talked about pre season here come down to faith and trust. Trust in its own market, trust in itself, trust that this won’t go away on a whim.

Even this blog, fully supportive of AFLW, has been concerned about the rise of AFLX, it’s determination to become some kind of star featuring, face painting blockbuster with all the bells and whistles and DANGERFIELD (might be playing) promos they can muster. In truth, a lot of what we’ve talked about is because AFLW doesn’t really have a champion yet.

It has a lot of people who profess care and will get in the photo opportunities (Gil) but believing in it? Supporting beyond its seeming perma-trial? That’s all on alternate media for now. The podcasts, the tweets, the interest in finding about Cora Staunton? Where do you go for that information? You don’t go to the AFLM website or it’s myriad of links, you go to like-minded people. That’s the set up for season 2, as a fan, you’ve probably done the hard yards to find things out yourself.

When we talk about marketing AFLW, we’re conscious that AFLM genuinely doesn’t believe any of this should be done until after the Australian Open, but that’s so wrong. Again, the markets can be segmented. AFLM has left the marketing to other people, then jumped on with a few bits and pieces about socks and Ws on walls, and claimed it’s a “social media” strategy. We’ve talked about how this is the content era? Other people are creating the content for them, absent of the AFLM assistance.

Which is fine to a point, but the cracks in AFLM not caring are significant – there’s still no policy on transgender players, no official ad campaign launched by the AFLM, the website is still half-baked, and they are already talking about zones and more rule changes and making the game more (ahem) “unique” – if we boil everything we’ve spoken about so far down to one issue, it’s trust. We trust it as fans, but we aren’t get that support back from AFLMHQ. Look what they’ve created isn’t a full stop, an abdication of responsibility to get the little things right, never mind the big things…

The “figure-head” of AFLW, Nicole Livingstone, hasn’t stepped up to be that person, she’s been passive on a lot of things – the TV deal, the rule changes, the patronising “oh it’s up to the people again” shrug as to what the season will bring….she isn’t going to be the person to fight for the women. We don’t know who is, but we know it’s not her, unless there’s someone urgently needed to unveil a W…

AFLW is a wonderful, beautiful thing, played by brilliant, unsullied by media training women with wonderful stories to tell on and off the field. Season 2 will hopefully build more momentum, tell more stories, and give us more stars….the future is definitely female. When they start REALLY believing that beyond clichés and slogans, we’ll truly have something we’ve created..

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