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Facebook, fans and footy: How relevant is your club?

The relevance ladder.

The relevance ladder.

When big AFL clubs are successful they appear even bigger again. When those clubs are not winning they somehow still seem to appear almost as big and interesting.

When small clubs are winning they become interesting. When they start losing they are prone to become invisible. When the team drops, the club falls off the cliff.

The Western Bulldogs have become invisible. St Kilda is fading. This is in part cyclical - they have stopped winning and they have become less relevant - which is why they have agitated successfully for those structural inequities to be addressed at a meeting on Wednesday of club presidents.

The presidents are expected to agree to a raft of measures that will improve equalisation funding arrangements for the poorer clubs.

The invisibility occurs because suddenly no one wants to watch them any more and they are hidden away in graveyard slots on pay TV. The invisibility also occurs when they cease contributing to the football conversation, to the conversation about them, about others, about the game. They stop telling any story let alone their own.

For the Western Bulldogs, the most prominent narrative about the club over the past year has been about the dry but important issue of equalisation. This is clearly a critical argument to have, but it is not the most engaging story to be told at the club. For fans interested in their team, the storyline has been only one of poor club fighting big club.

Plainly, with an articulate and intelligent president in Peter Gordon, who has been at the centre of equalisation negotiations on behalf of the smaller clubs, this was unavoidably the case. Gordon has given the Dogs a voice in the debate among presidents, and on radio slots and in the broad footy debate that they have needed.

The Dogs have a quiet and measured coach, a captain of a similar, understated approach, but no football manager to talk on football matters. Consequently, there is no one contributing to the conversation about the Bulldogs.

This is not said to criticise coach Brendan McCartney or captain Ryan Griffen, both of whom are good people doing good jobs. But as a club, one senior person in football must be comfortable to contribute to the football discussion to retain some traction in the market and give fans some reason to engage with the club. Bob Murphy, through his columns in The Age and on pay TV, is the most visible Dog.

The Saints have remained more prominent in a football conversation because of the change and unrest that has gone on there in the past 12 months. This, though, has not always been the narrative the club has liked, or needed, about itself.  

The newspaper coverage of the Victorian clubs this season tells part of a tale. The Western Bulldogs have appeared on the back pages of The Age or the Herald Sun with a story or a picture fewer times than any other Victorian club. Indeed, if that is broadened to all clubs, Gold Coast has featured on the back pages more often (courtesy, admittedly, of having the best player in the game at the club). The Bulldogs obviously do not make those decisions, but it is neither conspiracy nor coincidence that it is the case.

The Sweeney Sports Report, the authoritative sports marketing analysis used by advertisers and sponsors to measure performance and market penetration of sports and clubs, uses Australian Bureau of Statistics-weighted market surveys to assess the market. It found that of people across Australia who admitted to following AFL as their preferred sport, the Bulldogs were ranked lower than the Gold Coast and above only Greater Western Sydney.

When that filter was refined to AFL followers in Victoria alone, North Melbourne was the least supported team below Melbourne, then the Bulldogs and the Saints. Collingwood and Geelong were equal on top, with Hawthorn next.

These figures are largely unsurprising as they reflect the structural issues that the presidents will be discussing on Wednesday. But sports marketing and communications company Team Epic said the clubs fluctuated in their level of awareness in the market separate to their on-field form, and that their levels of engagement with their members was important in this.

According to sports marketing expert Ben Crowe, who left sports marketing company Gemba this week to launch a new digital sports story website, Unscriptd, the failure to tell your own story was a slippery slope in the sports market.

''If your story does not get told you become irrelevant in the marketplace very quickly and that is the biggest fear any brand has,'' said Crowe, who has written business plans for several AFL clubs..

"If you construct a business where you rely on the idea that winning games and on-field success is the only story you have to tell, that is a very fragile approach.''

Crowe said any football club had three stages: success, hope and despair. Only one club a year was able to win the flag, so the idea of selling the club on the basis of success was a wafer-thin approach. Hope was the market all clubs essentially wished to occupy. Despair was nobody’s idea of a place to be.

“Your story does not just have to be about on-field success,'' he said. "In fact, you probably do not want to tie your story to what is happening on the field.''

Regardless, a club has to be the one telling that story and you can’t stop talking because your club is not winning.

“Great brands do not make you feel good about the brand, they make you feel good about yourself, and so you want to associate with that brand. That is what sporting clubs do,'' Crowe said.

30 comments so far

  • Footscray Football Club don't even feel good about their brand so they hide behind the unidentifiable "Western" moniker.

    Commenter
    BendigoBomber
    Date and time
    June 03, 2014, 9:17PM
    • Agreed. Go back to Footscray or become Western Melbourne. No such place as just "Western".

      Commenter
      tim
      Location
      east melbourne
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 11:36AM
    • Id like to see them again as Footscray. I have spent some time in Footscray and I love that ground and the working class feel. I cant help but wonder just how hard they would be to beat if they still played at Whitten Oval.

      It would be great if they went back there to a re-vamped Whitten Oval. Put those terraces back in so it can house 30,000 with the old standing room. And the club would thrive financially and it would be a "real" home ground advantage no other Melbourne based club could have. I think Etihad is not a great fit for them. They need to get back to their roots and if they did, they could really move forward. And I firmly believe such a huge sporting code with only 2 grounds in the Melbourne CBD is not good. They need another suburban boutique venue and Footscray would be fantastic.

      Commenter
      Syke
      Location
      WA
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 2:48PM
    • I agree the name does'nt do us any favors , living in Tasmania i often get asked why i support a Western Australian side. The once distinctive Footscray Football Club is now drowning in a sea of Westerns (each football code in australia has 2 or 3 western sides) just having an extended mascot name is doing nothing for our identity.As pointed out in Michael Gleeson's article we are low profile in many other areas also, however the A.F.L. have an obligation to treat all clubs equally in regards to the fixture, giving our club 14 sunday (many of which are twilight) and zero friday night games 2 years in a row is simply not fair and is compounding the equalisation dilemma. We want, we need and we deserve the Good Friday Game.

      Commenter
      william
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 3:41PM
  • I've noticed that with St Kilda - up to half time before a game that is lost their social media and website will be buzzing. Once they lose you get one article or email saying we lost then radio silence for the next 3 days until they try and drum up the next game and the Saints chances for it. Read this article Saints and take note.

    Commenter
    Lost saint
    Date and time
    June 03, 2014, 10:52PM
    • I couldn't agree more. I noticed the same thing with their social media recently and it seems that the powers-that-be controlling this section of the club appear to follow the submarine approach; only come out when the weather is good. It would be great to have more consistent information, both good and bad, from the club directly instead of waiting to read about happenings in the newspapers first.

      Commenter
      cam
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 11:01AM
  • This is why its imperative that the bulldogs are given good friday. Eddie McGuire spewing propaganda that the bigger clubs should grow the pie is complete crap and will further marginalise smaller clubs, it's boring watching the same sides play friday nights? And who says we need bigger pie? So that players get more money? Footy fans couldnt care less about that, players are merely pawns dressed in our club colours to entertain us.

    Commenter
    tedjam
    Date and time
    June 04, 2014, 1:30AM
    • Absolutely sick to death of hearing and reading football clubs being referred to as 'brands'.

      Commenter
      dave
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 7:13AM
      • here here dave

        Commenter
        Coaster 92
        Location
        WA
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 11:19AM
    • The media can take some of the blame. How often in recent years have we read or heard how sad it is that Carlton hasn't won a Flag for several years ? But the Blues have 16 Flags , equal first with Essendon. We aren't reminded the Doggies have only one Flag , won 60 years ago ! And the Saints just one Flag way back in 1966. The AFL seems more interested in getting the Suns and GWS a Flag than the poorer Melb. clubs. (And if you think i;m just grinding an axe here , i've been a Hawthorn supporter since before the Hawks won their first flag in 1961 , when almost nobody followed them and they were easybeats like the Dogs and Saints are now . )

      Commenter
      Daniel
      Location
      rural NSW
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 7:24AM

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