Grand opening, grand closing…

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There are still several adherents in PR and marketing to the Malcolm Gladwell theory of “The Tipping Point” – those people believe if the right people speak about the right thing at the right time, they will positively influence enough people to take a fad into a mainstream.

One of the key takeaways from the book was the idea about the dissemination of information. Tinkering with the presentation of information changes the way it resonates. Find the best way to disseminate information, and you win the war. It seems a simplistic way to market, but it still has several adherents. And those people are tipping point monitors, desperate to find their path to mainstream riches.

The less discussed point? The inverse, the tipping point of a backlash. The point where a target audience begins a backlash, tired of messages, tired of the information being received. Most of these backlashes are admittedly firework shows, the kind of content filling “why everyone hates the new Coke” clickbait that comes and goes in waves. But sometimes, if you pay enough attention, you’ll find genuine backlashes, genuine anger…and those tipping points can come from other innocuous events, straws that broke camels back, as it were…

And this week, for AFLW fans, we hit our tipping point this week…

For AFLW, all the negativity, all the lack of faith, all the marketing problems, all the Neil Roberts being given space to complain, all the low scoring complaints, all the passive watchers and all the 50/50 writers in the Herald Sun who want to tell you why you should watch what you love….we hit our tipping point this week….

All the Jon Ralphs feeling uncomfortable with low scoring, all the Zooper Goals and Giant Xs taking money from AFLW ad campaigns, all the Nicole Livingstone glib PR clichés, all the times Nicole Livingstone didn’t fight for the league, all the memos, Jeff Kennett articles about women’s knees and his “joy” he didn’t have a womens team….we hit our tipping point this week…

And it came through the strangest of social prisms and flash points: lighting.

Lets backtrack a little bit, firstly, in AFLW this past round, Carlton played the Brisbane Lions at IKON Park. The lighting at IKON Park was known to be poor for AFLW games. The venerable Susan Alberti left a game early due to poor lighting and an inability to see the game properly. Craig Starcevich, the Lions coach, was particularly vocal saying the game was borderline dangerous and “nowhere near good enough”.

We spoke in the last blog post about confirmation bias, the ongoing feel that AFLW is being neglected and pushed to the side. Had it not been for the summer of slumber, and all the things we talked about above, this could have been a simplistic oversight, the kind of come and go issue that a living, breathing league could deal with. Next time, we’ll crank the lights up, we live and learn.

Of course, this isn’t a living breathing league with living breathing leadership, it long ago abdicated all day-to-day responsibilities and pretty much left the players to play and fend for themselves, no matter what the glossy marketing brochures tell us.

And we know this because they show us they don’t care: the tipping point has been reached.

In a week where the lit up goalposts danced and sang and screamed WE ARE HAVING FUN in AFLX venues, Tayla and Nat and Kaitlyn and more slogged the dark and the substandard lighting. We discussed in the last blog post, this was more than just grim irony, it was a perfect, poetic summation of priorities. We discussed in the last blog post about AFLX being set up to succeed no matter the cost, due to AFLM confirmation bias. Garish colors vs the murky darkness.

Non verbal communication as it subtlest and finest…

I can’t say that, I don’t love the light and the dark…

Somewhere in between Kane Cornes botching the title of the show he was hosting and an in depth analysis of how Sabrina Frederick-Traub does her hair, Nicole Livingstone dropped in a quote that the woes of IKON Park were a surprise, but also that “oh we’ve run out of lighting budget for the year”.

It’s hard to imagine a CEO of any other sport (figure head or not) simply announcing on TV that his or her league had run out of money to feed the electric meter, or at least do so with such a glib helpless smile. In terms of PR, this should have been one of the single biggest gaffes of the season. Not even Kane Cornes, purveyor of hot takes, the man who said “I’m asking the tough questions!” challenged it. There was nothing…silence…nothing happened….

No one followed up. There it was…sorry girls, dream big, aim for the Premiership, but we can’t illuminate you too brightly. Time is money you know…

Of course, it largely went through to the keeper in the mainstream media, because the single biggest issue in AFLW to the mainstream media is…goalkicking. That’s the distillation of it all, everything can be fixed with more goals. And the bar for that continues to shift, because if there are goals, it’s likely Ralph and Roberts et al will shift the game to goals are now too easy to score. See what you want to see…

One of the PR arguments that seems to come up time and again with AFLW is – help yourself. Build it and they will come. Keep sticking in, keep playing hard, keep kicking goals (yes, that again) and the audience will come. But what if that audience can’t find the games because of a lack of marketing? If you have to endure fatiguing negativity on social media just to see Erin Phillips be amazing, if your inspiring athletes narrative is derailed by a lack of funds, by a lack of lights…

By a CEO who simply shrugs and abdicates her responsibilities to fight for her own sport…

As a sidebar, our “figurehead” then went on to say “oh this league is immature, we need coaches help to find issues!” as if the very notion of a properly lit ground never entered her head. For gods sake, high schools in America can work out lighting for sporting events, never mind a national football league. How immature a league do you have to be to not work out lighting? Have you remembered to mow the grass? Book the venue in the first place…

No wait, that last one is too close to home…back to AFLW helping itself…

Also, who exactly IS concerned by this conceit, that believes now with the lack of faith shown in the competition that simply kicking more goals and being more entertaining is some of kind of panacea to soothe the false concerns of Jon Ralph, to get a positive mention from Garry Lyon? What are the strategic goals of AFLW anymore? What is the long-term goal? Can anyone say? Is this how it is, a perpetual state of trial, a continuous battle to prove the leagues worth against criticism from non fans?

The mere notion that you might actually ENJOY women’s football is some sort of strange negative experience right now: do you deal emotively with the derisiveness, do you engage in infuriated disbelief at each slight, each aging “champion” Neil Roberts “fighting political correctness” and slamming the sport? Now we can even get the respect to light up the ground….

And this wasn’t even the tipping point…

Time for a few small repairs she says…

The tipping point came in an article that suggested the lighting issue would be fixed…for a mens game. The “lighting will be upgraded ahead of next Wednesday night’s JLT Community Series clash between Carlton and St Kilda” trumpeted the press release, because of course it will be. Maybe they can illuminate the goal posts in garish Zooper goals just to really point out the difference.

The interesting part, the real tipping point came in another throw away line in an article from Sam “Scoop” McClure in another buried throw away line. In an extraordinary sentence, it was quoted that one of the reasons that there was haste to fix the lighting so quickly ahead of the mens game was “because there are more players on the field in a mens game….”

And that, that, is the tipping point…

The reality is, this is the PR and marketing tipping point, the finalization of everything that is obvious and apparent, the ultimate message. It’s mean made (pardon the irony) blindingly clear this league is not being supported, not being looked after, not being nurtured. A full stop to concerns that now simply can’t be contained.

When first we delved into the world of AFLW many months ago, we had naively sweet concerns about lack of merchandise and thinking about podcasts and player marketing. That seems a world away now. Now we’re dealing with a league that’s suffered budget cuts, an obvious marketing push for a rival competitor that now dreams of invading Hong Kong, a CEO that undercuts its own importance with every blundering appearance, and not having anyone to stand up to trolls and haters.

And the panacea to all these woes: a few more goals! Look a bit prettier for the cameras! Here’s a memo! It’ll show you how to look prettier!

The marketing hype for AFLW Series 1 was about barrier busting inspiring glass shattering glass breaking busting barrier women, and it was unbelievably exciting. Women playing football: what could be simpler to sell than that? What could be more exciting than that?

And even if the victories were pyrrhic, like Lily Mithen standing on a podium on the Grand Final Footy Show Revue, behind Eddie McGuire grinning inanely (with Neil Diamond sideburns plastered on), or the awkward interplay between Mark Robinson and a female guest who wasn’t allowed to sit at the 360 desk, well, they were still victories. Ramparts down, barriers busted…

But somethings changed, and its sad. At some point, everyone in a position of authority moved on: and here’s where things get interesting. An embryonic league in need of support isn’t getting it, and those who stood in the brochures and took the kudos for the leagues progression are missing in action. When was the last person in the paper defending the league? Who fights for it in the mainstream? Is everything going to be a negative story?

So is there a leap forward for this league this season? Probably not, and the key marketing phrase here is strategy: what is the strategy to combat negativity? What is the strategy to build good will, to repair burned bridges? What are you going to sell for the rest of the season? We feel a little naive thinking apathy was the sole reason for the lack of engagement. Apathy is nothing compared to….nothing. No plan, no foresight…

Apathy could be combatted by an engaged audience asking questions, but this league isn’t listening. It’s put the shutters up. It’s almost like the league looked around and couldn’t invest the patience and capital to promote something long-term, couldn’t wait for the Chloe Molly generation to come through. Instead, they went for the sugar hit, the quick fix, the vague market capitalisation of AFLX as their promotional vehicle. You can’t market Courtney Gum? Because you want to…to….spend more money on mimes for AFLX? OK then…

And they don’t get that marketing opportunity back, that reservoir of goodwill is gone. A no brainer sales opportunity to bring back all those players you know and love back? Squandered, passed over for Brad Johnson being a DJ, an internal shot in the foot through the memo…

They don’t have a plan, they don’t have a vision – they have nothing to offer you. The players? The games? They will succeed in spite of everything, but AFLW marketing is not a dead topic, because it doesn’t exist, and how can you critique something that doesn’t exist? And beyond that, exists basic dis-respect, dis-respect to the women plying their trade this week…

And they showed you because they didn’t extend the courtesy to turn the lights on. And that, that is a tipping point…

 

 

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