We’re fighters, and this aint what we came for…

2018-07-12

Whenever someone pens an op-ed piece in the newspaper or online these days, the idea is to create engagement – clicks, comments, anything that can generate interest, positive or negative.

The Murdoch template is strong throughout news content – stories always have something to respond to, the world is black and white, and nuance is rarely a consideration.

Opinion is king – even if the debate points you wish to raise are ill-considered or poorly researched, it’s still an article that is there to be clicked on,

That ultimately is what matters – it’s existence as content is enough.

And the pressure for content is relentless.

In terms of public relations, we’re equally guilty of finding the quickest way of getting our message in front of people.

We are time conscious, we speak of cut through, and when we put items out, we are often astonished by how some of our poorer ideas become the most engaged with.

It’s an imperfect science but it is an art form to make something almost deliberately bad just to get reactions.

Writing an article with AFLW that offers expert opinion in the URL? Without offering any expert opinions?

But something guaranteed to get those trolls clicking?

Can knock that up on a lunch break….

Mark Robinson’s Saturday opinion on AFLW has already became infamous in a short space of time, the final straw in a relentless blitz of negativity around the league and its product that seems to never cease.

It also was ill-timed – it came during a week where Josh Jenkins, he of the team that promotes “we fly as one”, tweeted something that generously could be described as unsupportive of his fellow clubmates on the AFLW Adelaide Crows.

It also came the day after the launch of the AFL “Mini Legends” ad from NAB that featured no AFLW mini legends, and the realisation as an AFLW fan that we’re so beaten down that a 5 second mini Daisy Pearce in an ad for a corporate bank would have been taken positively.

And when we can’t even get that well…

In the midst of battling AFLHQs ongoing attempt to shrink and pink AFLW, it’s been depressing that, as female sports fans, we can’t rely on male players to offer us support it seems when we need it most.

After all, it’s fair to say as female sports fans, we’ve overlooked a lot of indiscretions far worse than “not enough goals in the game” and kept supporting mens sport, however reluctantly.

Be it an Adelaide Crows player or the lead writer of the Herald Sun, this support isn’t being returned now by those on the AFLM inside….

There is sometimes a notion when critiquing an article about Mark Robinson that the man himself will be the focus of the critique, an examination of his “6 beers at the footy” style of presentation, but that isn’t the case for this blog post.

We’re sticking strictly to the article on this one, and how it came across, particularly that Robinson didn’t truly think through the consequences of his words.

Those consequences? Trolls. Lots and lots of trolls.

Robinson’s Saturday article on the woes of AFLW came with a headline and splash graphic that suggested over-promotion is the main reason for the “problems” AFLW face.

That was a lot of the articles thinking – that a mythical and non-existent advertising blitz somehow created over-expectation for the league that can’t be lived up to.

The relevant parts to Robinson’s article as it pertains to this blog revolve around the promotion of the league.

Robinson claimed the league was over-hyped, over promoted and somehow this relentless blizzard of promotion had led to many of the issues AFLW faces today, creating “rock stars”.

Regular readers would know that simply isn’t true – the launch for AFLW season 2 featured a website that was updated every 4 days as late as mid January, a W being put on a wall (which didn’t feature on the main website as a story) and skywriting on the day of the season opener.

We suggested at the time skywriting, as the song goes, is big and bold, until the smoke is cleared….

In the build up to the Fremantle vs Collingwood game, to prove they had promoted the game, the AFL Twitter feed sent to us a tweet that was instead a 90 second video of Optus Stadium with no mention of the teams (until the very end) and no shots of any women playing.

Rock stars indeed…

The lack of promotion got to the point it was raised as a concern and question to Nicole Livingstone at the AFLW Season Launch event, and she claimed they had a “digital media strategy” (ie – we sent a tweet out every so often), and that Season 2 didn’t need as much promotion because people were aware of the product.

Compare and contrast to AFLX, which featured launch events, press kits, teasers of the rules, a full clip of Patrick Dangerfield “grilling” Gil on footys “new format”, a live cross to the fixtures launch, and at least 3 launch events (plus to this day Gil teasing events in Hong Kong etc) and you can see what happens when proper promotional pushes are put in place by AFLHQ.

Overpromoted? The women couldn’t get a lighting budget, have been undermined by the lack of internal support, proper staffing and proper planning.

Overpromoted? Building on the success of the 2015 All Star Game, the 2017 edition didn’t even get an ad campaign, and as we’ve discussed many times, our PR firm got a press release about James Brayshaw commentating on the Whitten Legends game, but nothing about the womens game.

Overpromoted? That same night, the Under 18 curtain raiser wasn’t streamed officially, and unofficial attempts to offer commentary were rejected.

To suggest that this leagues issues stem from over-hype, rather than a failure to plan or commit to a vision is insulting on many levels.

It puts the blame for the leagues failings back on the women – and what mythical metric under that system could they succeed?

Is there something measurable in which they could succeed? A level they could fulfil that would put the trolls back in their box?

To turn things back to PR, Robinson lamented “they (AFLHQ) marketed too hard and created personalities and expectation when the lack of talent was soon obvious” – which suggests that the league set up to create role models shouldn’t have attempted to create role models?

That was the initial aim of the league after all, to increase junior participation.

The “rock stars” Robinson came from had increased their profile through two well received All Star games.

In fact, the 2015 All Star game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs outdrew the AFLM game between Adelaide and Essendon that week in the TV ratings in Victoria, with images of Tayla Harris kicking for goal going viral on social media.

It would have been negligent to not at least promote some individuals on the back of those games, and those impressive ratings.

At the end of season 1, the leagues best promotional asset was Erin Phillips.

She became a personality because of her talent, and that was the point of the league.

Over time, each season would create its own stars, and it’s own heroes – to make a blanket statement like “they marketed too hard” is ridiculous.

If anything, Phillips could have been used a lot more.

To exclude her from the promotional material for season 2 was beyond careless.

And if Robbo is basing his entire thesis of over promotion and exposure on the first season struggles of Mo Hope, well, what does that say that a singular player having a bad season is somehow proof that the entire league is flawed….

Got a feeling it’s a mixed up sign

It’s also worth noting the article opens with a paragraph asking to, as a man, to be allowed to discuss the issues of AFLW without being called a sexist or dismissive, a plea to offer an opinion without gender being considered.

The trouble with that starts with the outlet of communication – the Herald Sun itself. Making a plea for fairness and understanding in the Herald Sun is rich with its own problems and issues.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Herald Sun featured an “amusing” cartoon comparing Colin Sylvia to Spiderman after he stalked his girlfriend.

It’s also the paper that made a bad “beaten” pun about Shannon Grants domestic violence court case.

Most notably, Robinson’s article came just a few days after the Herald Sun devoted the splash part of its letters page to a discussion of AFLW.

The comments that made the paper from readers included a comment that AFLW existed so manly women could be admired by their girlfriends, and another that simply lamented the loss of the old days when men played footy and women ran the canteen.

Unmoderated, the comments section of any AFLW article on either the Herald Sun or News Limited website will range from someone mocking it with comments akin to “yawn” or “no-one cares”, through to all the genuinely offensive stereotypes you can imagine (and indeed, have printed in the letters section).

It doesn’t matter what the topic is, any mention of an AFLW player on any subject will have unmoderated comments section, and the same emboldened trolling on every single article.

So for said outlet to let a writer begin an article with a plea for fairness and understanding from female readers already grates from a communication point of view.

Why extend fairness to a medium that will (doubtless) continue to publish letters pages prominently in which you can say anything about the women who play AFLW?

Robinson also mentioned the women appearing on TV and radio next to a carefully placed quote about “the AFL creating the beast” from an un-named “club executive”

This ignores the mutual PR relationship that TV shows like Robinson’s show AFL360 get from having female players on.

At its lowest ebb, the Footy Show ended a season with a heavily promoted appearance of Erin Phillips on the panel and ended the Grand Final footy show with Eddie McGuire grinning inanely after the AFLW players concluded the show with a routine in the revue.

It’s a strange thing for someone in media to not understand the mutual PR relationship between TV and AFLW players, and almost phrase things like these uppity women are pushing themselves onto the 360 set (where they are sometimes even allowed to sit at the desk, but not always).

The worst part of Robinsons article though was when he said the women involved were “lashing out” at the AFL, and even worse, he suggested the women involved should “chill out a bit”.

It’s impossible to imagine a more condescending way to end the article than to say “chill out a bit”.

For an article that opened with a plea as a male writer to be given the opportunity to discuss womens football without being called sexist or dismissive to include the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head and a “calm down dear” is beyond insulting and outright rude.

Even taking that out of the equation, the notion that the players should chill out a bit is quite the way to wrap up and sum up the womens fears about the way the league is going.

Chill out when the lead writer at the biggest selling tabloid in Melbourne describes your competition as “quaint” and “an exhibition tournament?”

It’s almost impossible to imagine that players in any sport expressing a point of view about the future of their league aren’t encouraged, but instead told to “chill out”, but here we find ourselves.

Chill out when not one figurehead person fights for the league or defends beyond Gils glib monotone PR.

Chill out when the rules aren’t even in place for the new season, when the league lacks a structure, when AFLW players have made personal sacrifices for a competition they don’t even know the starting date for or the number of games they will play.

Chill out when the Herald Sun prints “stay in the canteen” as a feature letter…

Mark Robinson should be assured that his article wasn’t judged as written by a male or dismissed for that – it was judged because it was a terrible piece of writing, one that only creates clicks and encourages another round of trolling.

At a time when the league needs to build or die, on a day when the W League got itself onto ESPN+ in the USA, the notion of “chill out” isn’t one that works anymore.

This league needs to build, and it needs a more optimistic outlook, communication strategy and PR planning than “everybody relax”…

At the end of a week where we looked to the AFLM community for support, we got “chill out”….no more communication need be entered into….

 

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