I hope you get all that you want, cause I didn’t…

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If ever there was a week to take a little bit of a stretch of the legs, relax and enjoy some football, it was this week: the marketing calamities of the AFLW summer of slumber seemed ready to subside, and we could enjoy some games. Sure, the Carlton vs Collingwood game at times struggled and brought out the trolls, but that’s fine: we were leaving them behind. It was a bad game, but that’s OK, we were ready to sensibly discuss that and hit the block button on the 50/50 Herald Sun writers…

By the time Katie Brennan and Richelle Cranston had seized control of the round, everything seemed set to be good again. We could enjoy the game….the sport…the stories…Sam Lanes swish jacket…

Sadly, we can’t have nice things of course…

We’ve spoken before that AFLW was pushed into the background in the summer marketing wars by the shiny new toy that was AFLX, but at heart, the one thing that we had relied on was people power yet again showing Gil and Livingstone that this was a competition people wanted. They even said if we showed support, we’d get rewarded.

Alternate media had done the leg work, and the players we all knew and loved were back: oh how we laughed at AFLX (while secretly being terrified of its marketing push) – once Katie and Daisy and Lily and Mo were back, they’d see that people cared about this game and they’d respond in kind…

After all, the AFLX launch was something of a marketing debacle – the parachutist missing the on field X seemed an ideal portent of things to come, and even Gil sounded plainly bored of the whole thing. Those grand plans to dominate China and India? Downgraded to Hong Kong in November….maybe. And by the time the 10 point goals were announced to be “Zooper Goals”, the whole marketing plan seemed to be on equal footing with Lady Doritos as the weeks biggest disaster.

Although this blog is very scornful of Nicole Livingstone (and more scorn will come of course) but she said plainly on stage “people power” will show people care about this league. So if we watch and support, we can have nice things right? Right?

Alas, as we said above, we can’t have nice things, we can’t have even our gentle marketing mockery….

As first reported by our Auckland correspondent Mark Stevens, and elongated by Jake Niall and others, the AFLM HQ decided to ring the AFLW coaches for a “pep talk”, that pep talk around taking away the defensive structures and virtually demanding more goals and actions.

As the day unfolded the news got even worse, with a truly horrendous and galling memo leaked that basically turned AFLW into a farce, requiring coaches not to win but to kick goals, be entertaining. If they didn’t obey in Round 2, Round 3 would have zones. The threat was on…

To be clear, any league of any gender where the headquarters pass on to coaches and players specific instructions to play in a particular way for entertainment, for scoring, to set up the team in a way that doesn’t give them the best chance to win, can no longer call itself a sport: it’s a reality TV project, a shiny farce, a marketing experiment. It’s AFLX, with shiny silver balls and acrobats and more space to play Wolfmother after every goal.

Call it what you want, because it damned sure aint a sport…

That it was inflicted on AFLW was a particularly dis-spiriting blow: from a PR point of view, you almost had to wonder who’s running the strategy? In the face of criticism and trolls and the LOLZ UNDER 14s crowd, instead of advancing, being positive, and strong, they retreated. The language AFLW and AFLM HQ use is weak, unappealing, apologetic.

In the face of negativity, they chose to panic. Instead of promoting Chloe Molloys debut or the excitement around Cora Staunton or endless other positive stories, they chose to do this? AFLW clearly right now doesn’t have a champion in the upper echelons: certainly not Nicole Livingstone, not Gil, not anyone…that’s the tragedy of this, the players have to be their own champion, because no one from above is supporting them.

Lest we forget, one of the first things we learn in marketing is the snowball rolling down the hill theory. That a story gains so much momentum that logic, sanity and facts go out of the window. AFLW is now in that snowball, filled with negativity. If you were wondering, one bad game has brought most of this about. The other games were perfectly fine. One bad game between Carlton and Collingwood appears to have been the entire measuring stick for the weekend. For the season. For the leagues future…

The AFLMansplainers also seemed to have a particular vexation with Carlton as a team, who used a defensive strategy to beat Collingwood. The key and strange part? They…won? As Herm Edwards would say “Hello…..you play to win the game!!!”. Again, we can’t emphasise enough, a memo instructing the coach of a football team who won to focus more on entertainment is beyond farcical, and outright disrespectful.

David King and Terry Wallace also seemed to tag up to suggest the solution to AFLW was “less coaching” – if only Richmond in the day had that luxury when those two inflicted themselves on the Tigers. Alas, no such luck.

For an embryonic league, less coaching and structure bordered on insane. Professional athletes aren’t being given time to absorb coaching and structures and (GASP) improve. No such luck. We must put them in zones, and study every game for attacking patterns…

So it’s easy and logical to laugh at AFLX and all it’s silly nonsense, but it’s the future of a league promoted by AFLM that seemingly wants to chase goals and fun and some of that Big Bash buckethead magic rather than find joy in the sport.

To take everything to its logical conclusion: in a week where Tasmanian football begin to sink into the sea while Gil said “everythings fine!”, in a week in which AFLW began the slow decline from inspirational sport to crassly marketed entertainment product, AFLM was gathered showing off silver balls and posing next to acrobats, spruiking “the future”…

And that’s not funny, no it isn’t funny…

And if you listen carefully you’ll hear the sound

So in the immortal words of Ric Flair, “what’s causing all this?” – the clear push for this starts with Channel 7. Channel 7 had shunted the AFLW off to 7Mate, but lest we forget, goals equal ad revenue, so the prospect of not being able to throw to ads and having to listen to Nudge without a break for ads has sent Channel 7 into a tailspin. If any of this has a start point, it’s that.

7 even sent chief scout Tom Browne to Twitter to say leagues have a right to demand teams produce high scoring and fun. Which is of course, absolute rubbish. They have a right to say the product isn’t entertaining, but this is way above and beyond. This is throwing an entire competition under the bus and changing rules mid-season based on one disgruntled TV channel.

From that starting point, AFLW and AFLMHQ have started jumping at shadows: lower ratings, slightly lower crowds, a game with few goals even though scoring was up across the round from last year…and the thing we continually talk about in these situations is trust.

Who has faith and confidence in this league? Who has a vision? What do they want? It’s hard to with a straight face say “girls this is your home” when as soon as they get there, they are told to play in a different manner, seemingly on an ad hoc, week to week basis. Who knows what the AFLW Grand Final will look like? Maybe some Zooper goals will implemented? The value of a goal increases the longer the game goes? Multi Ball minute? Where does it all end?

To circle back: AFLW had no ad campaign, no focus, no integrated strategy. The lack of leadership is pretty striking. Nothing has faith, nothing has planning. A skywriting sign in the sky? No one being around for Livingstones W unveiling? Once you lose focus, you throw everything at the wall: one bad game (or review, or set of sales figures in other markets) and things are needlessly changed.

The marketing focus of AFLW needs to get as many positives into the marketplace as possible. What happened to telling the individual stories? What happened to using stars of the league to sell the product? To getting Daisy Pearce in front of the cameras or making interesting visual documentaries and montages to put out on the web?

When we first started talking about AFLW marketing, we had bold dreams of podcasts and video streaming…that seems some kind of archaic dream. We can’t even get HQ to be proud of its own competition…

In marketing, we simplify everything to focus, a simple focus that we can explain to people: ask yourself, work in the industry or not, what is AFLW and it’s strategy? What does it now stand for? Inspiring women? Confident athletes? The actions don’t match the words…it falls hollow when after one bad game, the rhetoric about inspiring athletes falls away and everything suddenly has to be beautified, fair means or faux…

The summer of slumber showed a lack of faith, a lack of confidence in the league. Strip away the history making-glass shattering-history making-dare-to-create rhetoric and you were left with….a couple of tweets from the players? Podcasts on alternate media? Certainly not a strategy, certainly not a focus. A Twitter account is not a social media strategy. Lack of faith? Lack of competence?

Who are we appealing to anyway? Hard to know, hard to work out. Are we still thinking of marketing to inspired young girls? Are we chasing approval from those who aren’t interested, approval from David King? At the expense of the rusted on? They can’t tell you. Are we telling inspired young girls “don’t aim for a Premiership! Don’t aim to succeed! Kick some goals and have fun!” – the message is a mess…

So when Channel 7 come calling with “concerns”, the unfocused leadership crumbles: quick! David King has concerns! We must act! Marketing plans? PR strategies? Self confidence? It all goes away. What happened to Livingstone talking about marketing the players as athletes, as professionals? That was her words on Sunday in the paper, and by Tuesday she was haranguing Bec Goddard on a conference call to kick more goals and be more fun.

Everything comes down to that: from a lack of focus, from a lack of strategy, from a lack of faith, comes an absolute PR disaster. How do they turn it around from here? How do they face the marketplace with confidence? How do they speak to sponsors with a straight face that they believe in their own athletes when they blink after one bad game?

Dare to Create! But if it’s not instantly perfect girls, it has to be destroyed…

To tie back to AFLX, Gil is already talking up the competition without worrying about the metrics: if no one turns up? If the play is poor? If no stars play? They won’t care, they will plough on without question. They believe in a concept that no one else believes in. They have marketing strategies, ideas, press releases. AFLW? None of those day-to-day things exist, believe me – not the faith, not the marketing plan…

The infuriating thing is, if AFLW had a proper leader, and a disciplined marketing plan, there is a very easy sell. Fremantle vs Collingwood this week will conservatively attract a crowd north of 40000. What could be easier to sell than that? Alas, as we’ve come to understand, those who come to stand in the photographs have the least invested in demanding more for the women, for the athletes. After all, again, we’ve been told today AFLW isn’t a sport, and winning isn’t everything…

This is your home, this is your league…not quite.

Not yet. Dream big girls! But not of winning a flag! Oh no no no, kick some goals for us! Structures! PAH! Forget it

Instead of Dare to Create, you end up with an all too familiar situation: inspiring females being told to be less serious and act prettier by men in high places.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

 

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