Time fades, more than I want to say, has gone away…

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The strange journey that has been AFLW Season 2 is almost at an end – 6 teams will play their final game for the season this weekend, the week after is that is the Grand Final at a venue to be determined (apparently to be decided on atmosphere, the vibe or Mabo or something according to our “leader”), and then…that’s it, at least until the state leagues start-up.

AFLW Season 2 has been a fascination of this blog of course, since we picked up a lack of marketing buzz and enthusiasm in marketing the competition as far back as December (a time when the website was being updated every 4 days), on top of the strange apathy in marketing the state of Origin game we discussed last year.

Whatever joy we’ve had in Season 2 has come from the games, the players, finding new heroes like Brooke Lochland and Courtney Gum, the joy post game, the personalities and from talking to our friends and our communities on social media about AFLW.

It’s too late of course to take away the sour taste a lot of AFLW fans feel about the way this season has unfolded.

We’ve shared anger, frustration and emotions. From Mel Hickey and Bri Davey going down injured, to Pepa Burrito, there’s been lots for fans to engage with online, to discuss, to lament, to savour.

Like any sporting competition, much of the joy is in discussing the sport, what just happened, what is still to happen.

And the joy of this season has been in the formation of a like-minded AFLW community of fans determined to fight the good fight on behalf of the league and its players.

Very little of this joy has come from official channels. The official website and Twitter feed of AFLW can best fit the description of “perfunctory” – outside of a tipping competition, there’s little to keep most people engaged, or keep them coming back.

We find some of our old writing quite sweet when it comes to ideas for fan engagements such as interactive apps and customised fan experiences, given the depth of apathy we’ve experienced towards AFLW this year, and the push to support AFLX as much as possible.

One of the causes of disquiet among AFLW fans has been the feeling that AFLM has been almost counter-programming against AFLW with AFLX and similarly timed JLT practice games. True or not, AFLW could do with shot of positive publicity and someone in authority showing they care about the product.

We wrote in the last blog post we don’t feel as though the AFLMHQ understand the AFLW community, the humor, the concerns and feelings of AFLW fans, other than taking them down in cursory and basic surveys. A sign of faith would be something.

These concerns of course also extend to the game in Tasmania – something we’ll touch on next time. At a time where AFLM is chasing growth strategies in far off regions, they aren’t focusing on closer to home concerns – with AFLW, from a PR point of view, you wonder why after a troubled season, there hasn’t been an olive branch extended to let fans know they are listening?

Who’s been speaking up for the game, who’s been fighting for it? Alternative media, podcasts and social media, but no one in authority. It’s been depressing, and for all the talk about fan engagement, AFLW fans certainly haven’t been engaged with.

All we can do is hopefully learn some lessons for season 3, but for this season, it’s too little too late to gain any kind of fan goodwill towards the way the product has been officially promoted.

There are simple steps that had have been missed along the way: for instance, AFLM fans would know that the AFLM website has a ladder predictor. Basically the ladder predictor is as it sounds, you can enter results of games yet to played, and simulate how the ladder will turn out and what your team has to do to, say, make the 8.

Pretty simple and easy means of creating fan engagement right? My team has 4 games left, lets see how they make the finals…

In AFLW that simple piece of software doesn’t exist – it’s a very minor example of things that could be done to engage the fan base, but it was particularly striking it wasn’t there given only 2 teams make the Grand Final. With 5 teams still in Grand Final contention, having this to play with and use would have been a good gesture of goodwill from the website at the end of a long season. Instead, it’s not available.

We know the software exists, and yet AFLW fans can’t get it – same with a properly promoted Supercoach or Dream Team game. One of the PR buzz words that comes out of AFLHQ more and more is “fan engagement” – there is no question a part of the regular season fan engagement of AFLM is the Dream Team game.

It would help promote and market the women of course – having the Traders discussing them as players on the main website, they could participate and promote through fantasy podcasts giving them another promotional avenue, another way to get out there and speak.

Also, it opens up media opportunities for women, someone could become the voice of AFLW Dream Team on a podcast.

Neither of these things are any more than ideas, and compared to things like longer season or properly being paid, they are small ideas, small picture ideas, but illustrative ones – ideas used to show that just thinking about the league and some of the things that could be done to make the fans feel valued shouldn’t be so difficult.

Part of the reason for doing this blog is discuss issues in sports marketing, and to be honest, AFLW have alienated their own fan base simply through marketing inertia. For season 3, they almost have to start again, build bridges. A ladder predictor and a Dream Team game are small steps in that direction.

Doubtless people have their own ideas, but for a league intent on fan engagement, there are a lot of AFLW fans who could do with some support and a show of faith. Grand Final week might be a good place to start rebuilding some of those bridges, but we wait and see what happens…

Emotions come, I don’t know why…

However, there is a stranger trend that emerged in AFLW marketing, and it goes a little like this. The rather bland uninspiring tagline to the second season of AFLW has been “Dare to Create” which failed on impact, but as anyone would know, part of the marketing strand of the league has been around the inspiration this new league has provided to future generations of girls to pick up a football and get started kicking goals.

Only a churl would deny that the league hasn’t had a major social impact and increased the participation of young girls playing football, to the point that state government in Victoria have to look at improving facilities due to increased participation. And it IS genuinely inspiring to see female role models playing football and inspiring people, on and off the field.

However, to tie back to the strange trend that’s happening in AFLW, this isn’t being followed up on enough even when promotional gifts are given to the AFLW that could be used to promote the game.

We’ll explain: the first season of the NAB ads for AFLW, before “Daisy Pearce really is a star”, the ad featured a young girl jumping the fence during a staged training session to get on a chain of handballs and kick a goal after a handball from Daisy Pearce. The implication was clear in the ad: hey little girls, YOU can do this! This is your league, this is your place…you can finally kick goals that matter in a prominent league…

What’s been strange though is now the league is fully functioning, these opportunities are happening for real and don’t need to be staged on a NAB ad. Every week little girls are out there watching the games and cheering on their heroes. And for some reason, the official channels are passing up the chance to create some free positive publicity. It’s a strange trend, and we want to highlight it here.

There are four specific examples we’ll give you of missed opportunities, and these are the ones we know of. Firstly, we spoke last time that early in the season, a clip was posted in which a 3-year-old Brisbane Lions fan hugged her Sabrina Frederick-Traub drink bottle and pointed out to her mum “Sabina” was right there, on the field in front of her.

Brit Bonnici during the game at Alice Springs gave her colored game helmet to a fan over the fence (the photo above), and during this weekends GWS vs Bulldogs game, there was a shot towards the end of some young girl fans banging the fence and passionately cheering their team home, and finally in the post match a photo was posted to social media showing an awestruck young fan being given a football by the Giants Alicia Eva.

Now, while all of these individual events are wonderful, there was a distinct lack of follow up from AFLWHQ towards these events and moments. Take the girl with the drink bottle. AFLW could have generated some quite easily publicity simply by finding the girl, and offering her something of a special treat, a surprise visit from “Sabina”, a photo opportunity, it’s easy done.

And if that doesn’t work out, move on to the next opportunity, but always keep an eye on these opportunities to show what this game is about. This is a week where AFLM released a spell binding video clip of Damien Hardwick recapping the Richmond AFLM Premiership – rightly the clip went viral. It’s an established brand though. AFLW needs that kind of support, that kind of marketing effort.

Given such free opportunities as the weekly publicity provided simply through the medium of television and photography, simply through girls meeting their heroes, through girls cheering their heroes, through the post match meeting of the players and fans, it’s surprising they aren’t taking and making more of these opportunities.

Fox for instance often cuts away before the players meet the fans and sign autographs, and the AFLW Twitter feed isn’t showing it. If there is interest in showing these unique weekly interactions, they come from the fans, sharing the images.

In the face of a negative onslaught of publicity, AFLMHQ blinked, and panicked at the reaction from (mostly) male fans who would change the bar on AFLW anyway. More goals, less goals, more stoppages, they would always find a stick to beat it with. AFLW has lost it’s way, it’s long term focus.

It’s also lost some of its short-term focus – dare to dream? Dare to inspire? Here are free opportunities to inspire, to show girls meeting their heroes, and they aren’t being taken. It’s a lack of creative thinking that’s hurting this league.

Every single game creates an opportunity to market and showcase one of the best things about this league – that every single game, every single goal, inspires a young female fan. The league has lost sight of that, and it’s probably something that should be more discussed.

AFLW is about more than winning and losing, more than the W on the wall. Part of the reason we love this league is seeing the opportunities it creates. If the lasting legacy of season 2 is just squandered goodwill, that would a tremendous shame. With one week to go, it should be incumbent on the league that they build some of the bridges we discussed above.

They should spend at least one week of the season, this one, doing something special for one of the young female fans attending the game. It’s simple marketing 101. Something over and above fretting someone on Twitter will criticise the game for low scoring.

Dare to create? Live up to the motto, even just for one day…

 

 

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