Just read the dialogue balloon…

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When last we left our travails through the second season of AFLW, things were at a decidedly low ebb: in the wake of the revelation from our “leader” Nicole Livingstone that AFLW had run out of lighting budget, anger and revulsion was in the air.

In the wake of a disrespectful summer of misinformation, poor marketing, articles and trolling and low scoring and THAT memo, it seemed sending our heroines into the murky darkness to play football was a tipping point, a final straw.

Not only that, but the residue of the gaudy, over the top world of AFLX was still the AFLMHQ priority, with the money spent on Giant Xs, mimes and acrobats dwarfing the AFLW marketing budget, which had to settle for some MS Paint posts on Twitter and a wig for Katie Brennan on the NAB ad.

As Brown, Johnson, Riewoldt (sigh) and Brayshaw screamed into a void about HOW MUCH FUN everyone was having, it wasn’t hard to wonder what had happened to our beautiful women’s competition and what the future of it and its marketing and its place in the football calendar actually were.

Things since then have relatively stabilised, although there are still several issues to deal with. Stabilised is a relative term: there simply hasn’t been any egregious insults from AFLM to the competition, which is a pyrrhic victory of sorts.

Sure, some belches of stale male air still exist – such as Rick Drewer writing on Roar Sports, a terrible, tired article best left on the draft board; he doesn’t like the low scoring! Poorly written and with nothing to offer, its fair to say that even the tired old complaints from old male writers seem tried and cliched now. What else can they do or say to AFLW fans by now we haven’t already heard and fought against?

To be honest, Drewers felt insulting but…old? Tired? Done? It didn’t invoke the old fight, because most AFLW fans are now aware of the score here. Whatever is done, it won’t convince the Drewers of this world. They should always be called out of course, but we’re at a point where we realise whatever we do, we’ll never win.

Too few goals, too many goals, too few stoppages, kicks not long enough….there will always be some mythical standards the Drewers of this world will say can never be met. If we haven’t reached a point of leaving them behind, we’re almost there. Almost.

The competition is too far down the track, too deep into the season to be any more let down, the season is where it is – the rusted on, the devotees, are still fully invested in Grand Final. For those still invested, there’s an obvious world-weary cynicism towards the way the competition has been treated, but the competition itself has been enjoyable to those with the most invested.

And the strange thing is, that through a marketing and PR perspective, while AFLM views it solely through the prism of some mass glass ceiling social experiment, and we spoke even in December last year that the “Dare to Create” recycled slogan was abysmal, lazy and uninspiring.

What is interesting is as it has become clear that AFLW has been left to its own devices it’s become clear that the fan base has grown apart from what AFLM or those who despise the competition think of it. Put it this way, AFLW now has its own sense of humor, it’s own language and it’s own heroes.

These are things that aren’t related to the barrier busting history making glass ceiling shattering monotone clichés. These are unique to the fans, and that’s what we’ll discuss today. A living, breathing competition would be aware of some of these little things that are happening. Of course, we’ve long since established AFLW isn’t, at least officially a living, breathing competition.

If it has a heartbeat, it comes from the fans, and that’s an interesting evolution.

You see in marketing, there’s always a tendency to overlook little victories, and to be honest, sometimes in PR we ruin special things that fans have created. Official intervention into a community of fans isn’t always welcome, but in this case, it could at absolute worst have been good to show they were listening, and build some much-needed goodwill. Instead there’s little evidence AFLW HQ understand its own fan base, let alone how to engage with them.

It’s been strange to watch AFLW fans build a community around this disgust but also a community that through alternative media, social media and shared posts has its own language, jokes, favorites and discussion points.

This is entirely outside of the sturm und drang of the AFLW website and official channels, and it’s been truly fascinating from a PR point of view to watch the community evolve and leave the official narrative behind.

AFLW marketing is still a little behind the times, if non-existent. While we feel a little naive with some our earlier posts talking podcasts and unique social media experiences, not truly grasping the depths of apathy towards marketing this competition.

Whether it’s Nat Exons mullet, Pepa Randall munching on a burrito (which we made a T-shirt out of), the glorious half time dog, or Sarah Olle running from the fight at the Pies/Dogs game with a solid “wowsers” to camera, things that are quirky, funny or interesting are not really being engaged with by AFLW social media or the website. We know they aren’t paying attention, but this stuff seems so easy and if the budget for marketing doesn’t exist, there are still ways to promote and show support for the game.

The most obvious example? There was a viral clip from a few weeks ago of a young girl about clutching her Sabrina Frederick-Traub drink bottle and pointing out proudly “Sabina” was “over there”, on the field, tangible and visual. And with this gift AFLW HQ did….nothing. Not a thing. The EASIEST thing in the world to do, get the kid, get Sabrina, get them to meet, and plaster it everywhere. They aren’t thinking, they aren’t trying, they aren’t picking up easy promotional wins.

If there is a promotional or marketing brain there, free marketing opportunities are everywhere for AFLW, simply by engaging its own community. Why the resistance, why the inability to work out the sensibilities and humor of the community?

Any adherents of the system theory of public relations would be aware that two of the key components are to understand changes in your environment, and also to engage and communicate changes effectively. AFLW is miles behind that, their public relations and communications hamstrung by not understanding their environment, and not focusing on their customers.

If anything, the message they’ve sent through memos, publically disparaging their product, not producing engagement or now picking up on the humor of the league, is the exact opposite of systems theory, and they are unrepentant about it it seems. Distracted by AFLX, passages to India, and a constant stream of badly leaked to media ill thought ideas, there isn’t time or resources being put into AFLW or engaging with it.

The other part of systems theory? Taking feedback on board, and correcting the communication style. Surely by now AFLW would be aware this season has been negatively received off field, but they’ve taken no steps to self correct these issues. It is incumbent on any marketing body to, in future cycles, change their methodology to keep competitive. However, again AFLW have done nothing to be positive, change their vision, or do anything other than the marketing basics. Sabotage? Indifference? Who knows…

We don’t think they’ll pick up an understanding of what they have in AFLW anytime soon, after all this season we’ve had to fight for any kind of positive attention from those in charge of marketing. We don’t now expect to suddenly understand why a post match interview with a burrito was one of the best moments of the season….

Tonight you feel cursed, and the music will only make it feel worse…

If you missed it, the AFL Footy Show came back onto our screens this week, and to be honest, if ever anything needed a memo, it was this show. The Footy Show has an unflattering and anachronistic residue of swagger from its glory days, and it has talked up a big game since Eddie McGuire returned, complete with front page Herald Sun treatment. Instead, the show seems doomed to drift and wander through a final year.

After all, in Melbourne the show was out-rated by Gogglebox, and the McGuire revamp is failing badly. There has been no magic, no revolution, and no televisual miracle lift in the ratings. Worse, they don’t know what to do with the show, whether to go fully “spirit of the roast” and throw caution to the wind with their humor (with all the attendant consequences) or glibly and cynically embrace the AFLW competition and try some social progression.

One of the big ideas was to pit Shane Crawford and Billy Brownless against each other in a James Corden style rap battle, without writing them any decent jokes or thinking the segment through. It was just, well, it works for James Corden (a chilling sentence on its own) so we should do it. Next week, footballers in a car will be in a carpool and…in the immortal words of Paramore, the rest you can figure out…

If this blog has one ongoing issue, it’s this: particularly on this forum, is an AFLW player appearing on the AFL Footy Show a victory or a defeat? It’s something that struck us firstly in the afterglow of the conclusion of the Grand Final Footy Show from last year, as they club thumped Beyonces “Girls Run The World” over the closing credits, while Eddie McGuire grinned inanely in Neil Diamond sideburns and Lily Mithen danced on a podium behind him.

It was as cynical a piece of television as we’ve seen – and it created an interesting dilemma. This blog entirely subscribes to the Liz Phair theory: it’s nice to be liked, it’s better by far to get paid. There’s no question that getting AFLW players like Tayla Harris onto mainstream football shows (albeit ones past their glory days) is a victory of sorts right? She got paid, that’s an absolute positive. And we can’t always expect AFLW players to fight patriarchical battles against Sam Newman, some will settle for inclusion over exclusion any day…

And yet, and YET…the cynicism of it is still tough to take. This is a show that needs female representation, and will point it out to promote and save itself. That it is THIS show, with all its baggage, history and Newman, it still is hard to endorse as a victory Tayla Harris getting to josh and jape with Fevola and Swan. It’s a strange pyrrhic victory if anything, the definition of getting what you want, and then never wanting it again…

It sometimes seems trite and churlish to argue over why an AFLW Womens Footy show on Channel 9 or AFLW on the Footy Show is a defeat as much as a victory, and maybe it is churlish. The aims and ambitions we had just a short period of time ago would have killed for these kind of shows. And yet, the victories are half-baked in some ways: players next to Eddie McGuire, Kane Cornes hosting and segments on Sabrina Frederick Traubs hair…the women getting on the superboot competition on Fox Footy only for Cam Mooney to describe Katie Brennan as “beautiful….”

It’s a difficult dilemma, and it’s not that’s easily reconciled. We’re having victories of inclusion we once wouldn’t have dreamt of, and if it gets pay cheques, all the better…but sometimes it feels like a defeat as well. When the players of AFLW are used as a marketing tool on a dying, once proudly misogynistic football show, it’s still possible to feel some victories might not be worth pursuing…

 

 

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