I look to you and I see nothing…


One of the things we wrote about in the last blog was reputation management – the day to management of your brands characteristics, the images you want to conjure, the want you want to manage your own narrative.

There is very little let up in reputation management, particularly in the social media era.

Reputation management is difficult to manage – what words you think are associated with your brand may be a long way from reality. You may think you are a woke, socially conscious brand, an employer of choice, a proud brand for proud times.

Reputation management isn’t putting up a poster or a flier or changing your logo, and it has nothing to do with advertising – its about influence on your own story. It’s about trust, it’s about what would be the first thing people think of when they think of your brand.

Not your ad campaign, not your marketing, not what you think, but what they think, the stakeholders think….

In reality, if you aren’t searching your own brand regularly, if you aren’t paying attention to conversations, to stakeholders, to those affected by your every action, well, its almost impossible to turn it around.

Perception matters, no matter what you think of your own brand…

Dare I say, no matter what you are daring to create…

For those in AFLHQ, they believe that AFLW is still in day one, still a barrier busting glass ceiling shattering up and at em girls can do anything league full of barrier busting ceiling shattering women they can put on posters and throw an arm around for PR and social kudos at appropriate times.

When AFLHQ want to tell a story about AFLW, this is the story they tell – each commentary laced not with tales of elite athletes, not even talking in terms of sport or competition, but cross-country skiers and moms and postwomen and whatever job they want to mention.

On one memorable occasion, it took so long for Kelli Underwood (of ALL people) to list all the pre approved “previous sports” and fluff and stuff and nonsense from the AFLHQ approved bio, the Melbourne player had a shot at goal by the time she’d finished talking….

They also feel they can control it, pack it in a safely assigned summer slot. Summer content, just like AFLX.

Dare we say a gimmick tournament?

One that safely provides content, just in a pre approved slot where Roger Federer isn’t playing, AFLX isn’t on and the Big Bash isn’t hitting any sixes.

Nice and neat.

Just enough to get PR and social kudos. Just enough to have the launch, just enough to get themselves in some photos next to Katie Brennan at the launch, and just enough to tick over a couple of pages in the corporate brochure.

No more, no less. Done and dusted, all on their own time.

Channel 7 don’t mind some of that kudos too, but that’s usually only on the opening night of the season, after that it’s off to 7Mate with AFLW, lest it have to compete with a repeat of the Jungle Book, but we’ll get back to them later.

And there they wish to leave it – in their mind, that’s all the reputation management they need to give AFLW.

Enough mind and attention to put on the games, enjoy a few sandwiches, until the “real stuff” starts right boys?

AFLW has thus been left in the starting blocks as a competition, where fans are still expected to demand no more than “look what we’ve created!” and aspirations, dreams of better and, hell, a lighting budget are subsumed because there’s no care and attention beyond the promotional narrative of day one.

But something has happened along the way, and it ties back to reputation management we’ve covered a lot of this leagues travails along the way. The lack of care and attention to the All Stars game, the missed merchandising opportunities, the accursed memo, the lighting budget, Kane Cornes hosting a show on Womens Footy, Bec Goddard leaving the sport…

Each individual action has chipped away at the reputation of AFLW – through no fault of the players at all. While the league has been happy to take kudos for the social capital of the league, they have mis-managed the day-to-day running of the league to an appalling degree.

Want to know what the drafting and trading rules were for the new teams? They didn’t know. And that’s with 4 more teams coming in next year….

Hey, you over there, our potential new recruit from another sport? Want to play in our league! Well, it’s only 6 weeks long now, sorry, we should have mentioned that…

Want to know when the fixturing will be finalised….October? Maybe….might push it back to November?

Want to know the rules of the competition? Not sure, there might be a memo out next week, check with Channel 7…

Want to know the leagues grand marketing plan? Well….um…we stuck a W on a wall….what more do you want….

Trying to pin down the overall vision for AFLW is thus nigh on impossible.

Should you have had any faith in a grand public relations plan or strategy for the league, a clear pathway, a notion that this league would be allowed to grow, that they had ambitions for the league, well, they should have been long disabused a while back, but today put the cherry on the cake….

The vision has stalled at “Look what we made!” and “Look at the TV schedule for when Channel 7 let us play” – there is no revolution, no strategy beyond that. It’s a gimmick now AFLW, a calendar filler….

And today showed us exactly that….

Forever in debt to your priceless advice

The revelation that despite increasing the leagues teams from 8 to 10, AFLW would somehow combine that with fewer games (6 instead of 7) is a significant slap in the face.

The idea that somehow you grow a league through subtraction, that you tell potentially elite athletes you have them pegged as summer filler to play at the appropriate Channel 7 designated commercial juncture is insulting.

Grow the league through subtraction of games? How does that work? Your sponsors are going to love having less exposure.

We feel somewhat naive in many ways thinking of potential streaming options to broadcast games, of personalised apps, of niche opportunities for members.

AFLHQ won’t even let this competition stand up for itself against other sports, won’t promote the sport beyond its alloted and approved time slots.

We’ve spoken before that AFLHQ won’t think outside of their relationship with Channel 7, that they strangely let a commercial television network decide so much about their product, it’s bewildering.

There are many broadcast options for AFLW, many streaming options, many content hungry providers who could potentially broadcast AFLW.

Instead, Channel 7 get to dictate, get to designate a specially approved time slot in which it is “OK” to broadcast the games.

So much of this stems from TV and what we spoke about last time, the pernicious influence of 7 and their need for goals = ads. AFLHQ are still in the starting blocks again in their marketing and thinking – that they are lucky to just exist, be on TV, they don’t challenge, don’t think of broadcasting outlets.

Instead, it’s Channel 7, in that narrow, allowable TV window…..

And what about that cross code athlete you covet? You think they are going to be lured across with your shorter, lacking in ambition league? A league that won’t stand up for itself? A league with limitations?

When you shrink to the challenge of promoting womens sport, you think you can really go to the market place saying things like “this league is your home” and “this is our highest priority?” – with a straight face? Really?

And as for that aspirant womens coach – one of the things we wrote about previously was the networking opportunities that AFLW was meant to open up. It’s gone the other way, Bec Goddard lost to the sport but AFLM coaches and aspirants getting AFLW jobs because they know who’s doing the appointing.

Now they (if they ever get a job) get a shorter time period and season to communicate, meet people? Feel less important?

In PR we often talk about how our best laid aspirations falter with mis-management. Human beings falter in their communication, that’s understandable. But to claim “the league is your highest priority?” – the glib, passionless statement to try to make it go away – is a ridiculous piece of communication.

Also, as a digression, Craig Moore is right – shouldn’t the CEO of a major sport be more informed about his competition than to ponder the World Cup is a “four-week tournament”, ignoring the qualifiers that start around 2-3 years out?

Who’s running Gils PR department and his public proclamations these days? Is he feeling empowered to deliver ill thought out thought bubbles on every topic? Is there no prep that someone might ask him a question?

In the last blog post we talked about how AFLHQ had lost the ability to talk, to communicate, to spin or to control their own narrative – today was a prime example.

There was no communication strategy, no talking points to get through, not even a thought out phrase, no idea of going into the interview even vaguely informed.

And the less said about the bland, uninspiring, typed out by an intern “statement” from Livingstone, the better….it’s obvious by the way that all professional statements and crisis management strategies should be posted as Instagram stories, that’s how all the major leagues do it…

They lost the narrative to far more passionate, engaged and informed alternative media a long time ago, an alternative media that sees through the spin and now wants more than PR fluff and can see through the narrative and smoke screen that they want to create.

Not to mention the AFLW players palpable frustration on social media at the absolute dis-respect they felt and are feeling – far from feeling like barrier busting women, they feel like sideshow participants in a summer gimmick, second class citizens.

How can anyone be expected to genuinely feel women are important to this game when the fixture contracts, when everything is so vague, when the league goes into abeyance after such a short period of time.

When female coaches aren’t allowed into the fold, but male coaches get full-time opportunities, when the players are in open revolt, when fans have no faith in the future, there’s only so many times you can show a small girl with a footy in the Herald Sun before the gimmick and the PR photo stars to wear impossibly thin.

Reputation management? This is now crisis management, because in the traditions of “for the want of a nail”, the day-to-day reputation of the league was allowed to wither, wane and falter without anyone standing up for the women playing it.

An active sports league would seize this moment to professionally communicate, to assuage the fears, to listen, to engage, but there is no historical proof of AFLHQ listening to female fans, their own players, coming up with coherent marketing strategies.

If anything, their own actions, their own communications serve to talk the league down – the memo, the spirit of the game “initiatives”, the constraints they put on the league…even when they legitimately think they are “helping”, they are either deliberately blinkered or actively sabotaging the league…

Again, we’ll circle back to something we said in an earlier blog post – it was dis-spiriting during the memo days to see our most inspiring of leagues be told by men to look prettier and be more entertaining, like a vacuous entertainment property.

Today was the day that really hit home, and the anger is rising. Do they care? Will they change their narrative? It’s highly unlikely, and it’s getting scary….

It’s a PR entity now, not a sports league, and the realisation that’s what they were telling us all along is totally dis-spiriting….



6 thoughts on “I look to you and I see nothing…”

  1. Forget Gil’s gimickry; It’s time for you to get along and attend the VFLW Becca and support a real competition. As Emma Swanson says, it appears the more authentic entity compared to what’s become a summer carnival. Whatever the AFL posture, let’s not forget it’s an excuse to fill empty pre-season AFL time and to be able to tick WGEA KPIs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely correct I’m afraid, it’s become clear it’s a summer gimmick, content filler – they don’t treat it even the illusion it’s an elite sporting competition. It’s becoming a very sad joke….


  2. I am so disappointed in this. For a brief time the AFL was on the wave, the women’s sport wave, riding it and looking great and people were saying, shit man, I hadn’t noticed it before but look – that is a massive wave. Then they tried to get a bit too funky, toes on the nose, a few cutbacks, and started to think THEY were the driving force, Look at us making this happen! Now they are are off the board, it’s clocked them on the head and they are dog paddling hopelessly. The women’s sport wave is still there but it’s left them behind. Gutted for all the serious athletes who committed energy and time, broke contracts, moved families interestate and overseas for this dog-and-pony show.


    1. And the problem is, y’all don’t get that opportunity again. Once it’s exposed y’all don’t have a plan for the league beyond the social kudos and “look! What we’ve done!” you are WAY behind

      They weren’t prepared for players and fans (GASP!) asking for more….

      It’s pretty amazing, that in year 3 they weren’t prepared for people to be emotionally invested, that they’d be content just with this summer gimmick….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can’t remember who said that the AFL pushed inaugural season of AFLW forward so that they could justify bringing in their real baby: AFLX. Can’t help but think this is actually true now. Because they knew there’d be a kick-up if they didn’t get a women’s league in first. Now that they’ve managed this, they’re just letting AFLW go to whatever… it really seems they just don’t care or they’re actively sabotaging it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is scary, because it’s either incompetence or sabotage

      I hope it’s incompetence, I hope it’s a case of mis-understanding their market place, that’s the less cynical view – but I am very scared

      The fanbase now has zero faith in them, the players have no faith in them

      They want it to be a summer gimmick and no more, and that’s become blindingly clear…

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s