And so, after a breathless summer of hype that took up 10:32am to 6:47pm on a specific Wednesday, a summer of hype that made some people feel swamped, a summer of hype that took several diversions around AFLX, a summer of hype around barrier busting glass ceiling shattering inspiring glass ceiling shattering women, and a summer of hype involving a W on a wall being unveiled, it was finally back. AFLW was back, Friday night, IKON park, Carlton vs Collingwood…
And it was exciting – Sam Lane was fantastic and rocking a particularly amazing coat, every five seconds everyone felt like eating some Special K, Jason Bennett proved no one in the football media is quite so stalkerish and has as much access to players personal records, the NAB Ad unveiled at quarter time (as opposed to pre season when it might have truly helped), and some bloke called Nudge also turned up.
Why? We don’t know. However Nudge did provide one memorable piece of commentary where he compared a player to a “shark…entering….(long long pause)….waters” – as opposed to what? Nightclubs? The lottery?
And the game itself? Some of it was good, and some of it was bad…and it’s OK to talk about the bad bits. Talking about bad teams and what went wrong is part of sports. You can market entire leagues around these conversations. Entire networks like ESPN live to pick sports apart. As this league grows, we’ll be able to market it, treat it as a sport.
Collingwoods forward line and it’s construction? We can talk about that. Mo Hopes form? We can talk about that? The hell Collingwoods coach is doing half the time? We can talk about that? We spoke about AFLW making linguistic leaps forward from promoting everything as if it was step one, focusing less on the history making and more on the players, and that means if AFLW has a bad game, we can talk about it.
From todays game Kate Sheahan just mentioned that the Fremantle Dockers had 5 players who didn’t complete their 2 k time trial. We can talk about that? And that’s not a call for AFLW to suddenly get its own hot take spewing version of Kane Cornes. We can up the sports coverage though to discuss day-to-day issues, without every player feeling that they if aren’t up to par it’s a gigantic let down for generation of inspiring barrier busting women. It’s a bad game….we can make that leap…
But here’s the problem: we really can’t. Because as female football fans, when there is a bad game, we know whats coming. And that feeling does sneak up on you like a shark entering…what do sharks enter again? Anyway, the problem is, a bad game of women’s football (or even a decent one with low scoring) brings those people out: yes, the Herald Sun 50/50 writing tribe, for whom the very notion of womens anything is some sort of left-wing PC anarchy gone wild.
The response to that is to fight back, to push back against that line of thinking. Because we’re passionate about women’s sports, and know the battles we have to wage to support it, we’re ready to do what we can as fans and call out the haters. There’s a tiring “it’s not as good as the mens” game rhetoric that’s still there to fight. That sets up an impossible standard, since the user of that phrase keeps changing the bar so they can maintain the sneering. Low scoring? High scoring? It won’t matter. Those people need to be left behind, but we aren’t there yet…
Low scoring seems to be one of the sticks used to beat AFLW, with Jon Anderson, Jon Ralph without the charisma, putting AFLW low scoring down the bottom of his or not list, having run of ways to say how great Gary Ablett is. Low scoring isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and an AFLW game can’t just be judged on that quality alone. Collingwood vs Carlton wasn’t a great game by any standard, but
It’s also true that most of us who like AFLW (especially those of us who don’t have a team yet) will support the game as a whole, specific players and individual stories. That means of course to support AFLW is to not just support the sport, but a lot of historic and systemic inequities that are still being fought and corrected. When there is a bad game of AFLW, it feels almost personally painful, because we’re still in a stage where we’re fighting against so much, even in season 2.
When it comes to PR and marketing, as we’ve discussed, we’re still in the embryonic phase of talking about this competition. We’re still in a situation where people like Kevin “Swamped” Bartlett believe liking one women’s sport means you can’t like another. There’s so much still to do with this competition, but the day it can just be a normal sport and accepted part of the landscape without having to fight for its existence, status and trolls. We’ve come a long, long way, but Friday night showed we aren’t quite there yet.
Again, to tie back into something we’ve talked about before, all of this is about faith. Those who love AFLW have enough faith to fight for its existence, and those who seem diametrically opposed to AFLW still feel the need to latch onto a 3 to 2 goal game as proof the entire league should be dumped. We’re still fighting that fight in marketing rooms and PR departments and social media. Trust this game, trust that it will go forward…
As a sidebar, the first ever meeting of Carlton and Collingwood in 1892 in VFAM? 3 goals to 2. Which obviously prompted a lot of angry letters to the Argus, a lot of talk about implementing zones, and changing the rules and why is this game existing in the first place? Of course it didn’t.
That’s to say for AFLW, that will be its ultimate victory: when a scrappy game of women’s football isn’t a tiresome argument for the existence of the league, and we can have normal conversations about it like a normal sport.
Now, on that – the hell was Sarah Darcy thinking…
A hurricane of aggravation
In what might have set a record for setting off the “don’t read the comments” alarm going off, Tiffany Cherry wrote for the Herald Sun about the issues surrounding the hosting of the show “Womens Footy” by a male host. Cherry wrote that one of the reasons this was problematic was because of the message it sent, quoting Gils “this league is your home” speech from the pre season (as we didn’t have enough reason to snort painfully at that speech…)…
There’s a couple of things to unpack with this: first of all, Cherry was accused of whinging and complaining because she lost her job on said show to said male host (Clint Stanaway). The other argument against this was “Bec Maddern is on the AFLM Footy Show and you don’t complain about that!”. We’ll try to address those things as we go. But before that, a little history lesson.
We’ve spoken before on this blog about how one of the evolutions we have enjoyed with AFLW even in limited doses has been that women get to tell their own story. The Heroes documentary was a lightbulb moment for a lot of people because suddenly Daisy Pearce and Lily Mithen and Sarah Perkins were individuals with their own stories. Those stories are still being told, and if we’re honest, we do feel those stories are best told in a female voice. Not to the exclusion of male voices entirely, far from it. But if ever there was a league to nurture female sports voices, it this one?
Part of the reason we do this blog is to try to find marketing reasons behind decisions. For a long time there was no commercial interest in an all female football show, pitches for such things were routinely turned down unless a man championed the show or there was a familiar male host attached.
And TV companies and media companies are still, even with the greatest of will in the world, skittish to turn an entire sports program over to women. As we speak, Leigh Montagna is commentating on the Bulldogs vs Fremantle AFLW game with Kelli Underwood and Kate Sheahan (with Ben Dixon on the boundary line). Jason Bennett and Nudge got to do the Carlton game, Montagna is on the panel for Fox Footy’s “Womens Footy on Fox” show….
Cherrys article was as much about that historic inequality: to tie back to our infamous 50/50 commentators, mens footy is for men, that’s just how it is, and women’s footy asking for womens footy to be for women is whinging. Correcting the under-representation of women in sports commentary and coverage is a valid conversation to have without shooting messengers. Was there some personal aspect to the attack on the show? If there was, it doesn’t invalidate the conversation about correcting some past wrongs, and how far the rise of womens sports making it to TV can go to correct those.
Male commentators on women’s sports is a problematic message in so much as this: one of the marketing reasons given as to why women can’t commentate on male sports is male fans reject it. Male fans want to listen to male voices talking about sports. The other reason is “male players have played the game” which is the reasoning given to dismiss female commentators as a viable option. There are years of diagrams and marketing charts to support this. It is seen as “how it is”.
The Bec Maddern comparison isn’t necessarily an apple to oranges comparison: if anything, that Maddern stands out so much as she does exacerbates the point. Cherrys article was about correcting historical issues with sports broadcasting. Pointing out the one female on a male panel show isn’t a reasonable comparison, especially given Maddern has had to “fit in”, was almost relegated to being a barrel girl and has to put up with Sam Newmans jokes to get by.
Womens sports on the other hand has to have a male presence because those same marketers believe a male voice is “re-assuring” and “professional”. It’s why Steve Robilliard and Luke Darcy have done netball, why Nudge has a gig on 7mate, Brenton Speed does the Matilda’s games and why 3 time WNBL champion Carly Wilson was relegated to boundary duties during the WNBL final while generic male commentator 83752 was dropping cowbell jokes in the final moments.
Craig Hutchison, head of Croc Media, used the phrase “best person for the job” to describe why Clint Stanaway was hosting the Womens Footy Show. This is a loaded phrase of course, because that simply isn’t the case when the reverse is invoked. Which is part of why the Cherry article struck a chord for anyone interested in sports media history. Clint Stanaway might be the best person for the job, but that courtesy isn’t extended when females cover male sport. It’s changing slightly, but it’s not there yet.
So the Tiffany Cherry article touched a lot of historical nerves, not just from PR meetings, but sports fandom and knowledge of sports in general. To be specific here, the presence of males in women’s sport coverage isn’t always problematic, nor should there be a blanket ban.
The example we always use is Martin Tyler is the best commentator of soccer in the world, so if he commentates a womens game, fair enough. But that courtesy needs to extend to situations where Kelli Underwood is the best commentator for a job.
The “Womens Footy Show” being hosted by a woman? It would have corrected some of those wrongs. If Clint Stanaway really is the best person for that job? Well good luck hosting Clint. But when media and marketing companies truly believe in their heart of hearts that courtesy extends of other aspects of AFLW coverage, never mind AFLM, we’ll truly believe Tiffany Cherry was just whinging…