Sunday, 8 January 2017

Meandering thoughts on the 2017 Victorian soccer media landscape

FFV has been circulating within certain circles its 2017 media strategy video. That it has released this publicly means there is the chance for the general public to make comment on FFV's media strategy, and that includes members of the independent and most fringe media such as South of the Border.

I'm not going to recount everything mentioned in the video (which is indexed, so you can easily skip ahead to more interesting segments), but rather I'd like to present some scatter-shot thoughts about the Victorian soccer media landscape as it appears in 2017.

To start with - if there has been one area in which FFV media efforts have struggled over the years, it has been in continuity. Limiting that concept of continuity to merely a lack of continuity of strategy is insufficient - the lack of continuity within the ranks of the media and communications departments has meant that even good initiatives have always been on the verge of imminent collapse because of personnel changes at FFV.

That's both understandable and unavoidable to an extent within an entity such as FFV. As a state organisation, whose constituencies are based mostly around participation rather than spectatorship - and with limited financial resources allocated to promoting its spectator tangent - there's really only so much that can be done.

Those limited resources in terms of funds and staffing at FFV are true for whomever is the media coordinator. Being second tier also means that its often seen as a stepping stone rather than an end in itself, which is understandable for young and passionate soccer people looking to get their foot in the door in the sports media industry.

Having said that, the attitude towards Victorian soccer and its media arms from those in FFV's media roles is as important as anything else in terms of what success may come on the media front. Do those in the role love and/or understand the game as it exists in Victoria? Do they understand the passion of those who love the game and seek to cover it in the media?

As an example of previous efforts I would consider below par: it took me three years before I had the courage and self-esteem to apply for an FFV media pass for my work on South of the Border. When I got given that media pass, I was over the moon, because even though this was and still is mainly a hobby and chance for me to muck around, it was validation that my work added something of value to Victorian soccer's media landscape.

That media pass access continued for a bit, until another media person came in and decided that what South of the Border did wasn't important or worthwhile enough to get a media pass. When I asked why, just to get my head around what they were looking for (with a trace of self-entitlement, I must admit), I was told that while my blog was entertaining it was not necessary for me to have a media pass.

The next year, my application was rejected again, because FFV's media reps said that if they gave every blog a media pass, they would have to give every blog a media pass, ie, thousands of them. Which was nonsense from even the practical sense that it was only me blogging week in, week out, let alone from the devaluing of the fringe parts of new media. But more importantly, it was evidence that those in FFV's media department had no sense of what was going on in the media landscape here.

When Alen Delic came in, things changed for the better, and while it was sad for Victorian soccer that he moved on quickly up to FFA, at least you can say soccer didn't lose him, and that we ended up training and promoting someone from within the game's own ranks. Now with Teo Pellizzeri still being FFV's main media person from 2016 to 2017, one can be confident that a continuity of attitude will also remain.

That doesn't mean that FFV, Teo and his offsiders have to like or endorse everything the Victorian soccer media does, but what was most reassuring is this group seems to get that we are all pulling in the same direction. When I picked up my media pass last year outside Kingston Heath before the Charity Shield, Teo was there to hand it to me, and he even knew my name! It's a long way from certain other experiences of older attitudes, where FFV's media people saw pretty much any media outside of the FFV bubble as inherently hostile.

So seeing as how at present we have an engaged FFV media group, as well as one with some continuity of personnel and attitude, we should move on to discuss some of the specifics the video has brought up.

In 2017 FFV will be looking to once again change its website (continuity be damned), this time with the goal of making it more tablet and especially mobile friendly, as people move away from desktop browsing, but also to make the website more about resources than news. Pellizzeri explains that this is down to how people engage with FFV's media avenues. So while there are very strong social media metrics - which is more news oriented - when it comes to the website itself, people tend to use that for resources - fixtures, documentation, regulations, etc.

Within that revelation will be a bit of a blow to those of us who value such things as match reports, previews and news associated with the NPL especially, but the reality is that these things do not drive hits to FFV's website, much like artefact pieces do little to drive interest here. (for the record, what you people like on South of the Border the most tends to fall into what one would broadly call 'controversy'.)

Now a blog like this or others like it don't need to worry about metrics, because metrics aren't our game. But FFV clearly needs to listen to its audience, and as much as someone like me will go through things like previews and match reports, it's not so important to most of the people who use FFV's media outlets. (more on what we lose on that front later though).

Regarding the NPL itself, in the video FFV/Teo are at pains to emphasise the need to present a quality or premium product. In using the pejorative term 'park soccer', a challenge is set out to the NPL clubs as well as FFV itself: we can't expect others to take us and our premier competition seriously, if we ourselves do not take it seriously.

(Though of course, one can easily point to clubs such as Nunawading, who in their own quest to do whatever it is they are doing, devalue the competition, albeit at a level of lower consequence than if they were in NPL 1.)

In that sense, the framing of the competition as a package and an idea, and not just 26 rounds with 7 fixtures a week is worth noting. Being in the NPL means, whether licensees like it or not, being part of something bigger than themselves - after the A-League, they're the next step in promoting soccer as a whole in Victoria.

Now we all know the difficulties of trying to overcome our deficiencies, many of them inherited from previous generations and soccer's place as a marginalised sport in this state. First among these factors is that some (many) venues aren't up to scratch. That's improving, but it will never get to the point we need or want it to be.

We're also at the disadvantage, as noted repeatedly here, of being second tier, where spectator interest is very difficult to generate, competing as we are against so many other sports, but also against the limited amounts of leisure time available at people's disposal.

But that doesn't mean clubs should go half-arsed in their bid to be more professional. Yes, FFV is responsible for promoting the product, but so are the clubs. If clubs take a half-arsed approach to match day presentation, they harm the competition as a whole, not just themselves.

And that goes as much for the way the clubs present themselves to the wider public as anything else - and what's more, this is an area where clubs have some level of agency in the matter. Do they perform their media duties/requirements with the genuine sense that it's a worthwhile enterprise? Or do they do the bare minimum, because it's just another box to tick?

Mark Boric noted in his own summary of this matter that the NPL structure threatens the validity and ability of NPL clubs to get volunteers, and that's true enough. It has become more difficult to establish a club culture at the higher levels of Victorian soccer, as opposed to one where people outside of the senior wing of a club feel like they're only paying to use the resources of an NPL club for their own child's benefit, and the rest of the club be damned.

That kind of attitude obviously hurts the volunteer tradition, and with NPL clubs now being asked to have social media, and camera people, and all the rest of the media stuff, we end up in the situation where NPL clubs are just about obliged to pay for the services of people to run their media operations.

And while that's sad on one front, there's a part of me which says, why shouldn't they hire someone to do these things? If these clubs can afford to be in the NPL, and pay the still large salaries of their squads (vis a vis the economic value they bring to the club and competition through the gate), they can afford to hire someone to film and edit video, maybe run and update a basic website and social media service.

We can collectively choose to be run of the mill, and complain about everyone else ignoring us as a competition and as a sport - but the reality is that opportunities to get into the mainstream press are diminishing, as the mainstream press, especially print, has itself been backed into a corner. Relying even on suburban papers is a notion driven by nostalgia. I can't remember the last time I received a local paper, either here in Sunshine or where my folks have their shop in Altona North.

(and I maintain also that community television is also a looming dead end, in the first place because Channel 31 is on its last legs, and in the second because the pay television model where the Aurora channel exists is also on borrowed time in my honest opinion)

So what we do on the media front, we have to do better and, as importantly, with a measure of sincerity. Standards have to be raised every year. That has been happening of its own accord from some clubs, either from the noble sense of improving oneself for the simple sake of it, or from the less outwardly noble (but still emotionally effective) notion of jealousy - if 'that/rival' club is doing that kind of media, why aren't we, or why can't we?

And on that front, I am glad to see FFV setting out higher standards for the filming of games. Better cameras, better positioning, better camera work. Actually following the play, and not being zoomed out a mile away. And no stupid doof doof music, with the emphasis instead being on the ambient crowd noise (though that can present its own problems).

It is obviously difficult for some clubs, because their grounds are not ideal for filming, but complaints about who is going to pay for it miss the point. As I've noted earlier, if you want to act like boondocks clubs, go to the boondocks leagues. And as Pellizzeri noted in his video, what is being asked of as a minimum of NPL clubs in terms of their filming obligations still falls well short of what some NPL clubs are doing - thus we have the problem of sometimes significantly varying degrees of effort and quality. The fact that FFV is willing to provide advice and basic training means that there is one less excuse for clubs.

None of this will be a panacea to poor crowds, especially deep in winter, but sometimes you've got to play the long game and set yourself up for the day when the opportunity actually arises. Thus FFV is putting the emphasis on 'big events' and opportunities to create high impact interest. That means live video streaming certain FFA Cup qualifiers, and important finals. It doesn't mean live video streaming an NPL match every week, which while noble in intent, does little more than provide a service to overseas gamblers. Tuning in to a weekly video stream has never been a phenomenon that's proven popular for Victorian soccer, nor does it really encourage people to go to games.

And in the end, consistently entertaining and high quality footage will probably do more to engage audiences than some of the alternatives. For example, some people want a full fledged 25 minute programme ala the NSW premier league, but that's not generally how people watch videos online. You've really got to go full Big Bash League when putting video packages online - in our case, its got to be wall to wall goals and incident - and if people want to see all the bad moments where players sky one over the bar and into Albert Lake, they can come to a game and see it for themselves.

So what one hopes to see come out of this is for starters, better quality footage, from every NPL club, every week. We need to see the media duties asked of clubs, even in their limited form, approached with sincerity rather than grudging obligation, And on the media front, an acknowledgment from FFV and its NPL clubs, that the independent soccer media which exists in this state wants nothing more than to pull in the same direction as everyone one else - and that is the benefit of the game as a whole.

At the same time however
Some of the tone of FFV's recent engagements on social media have been, shall we say, leaning a bit more towards the 'banter' side of the ledger. That's all well and good when everyone's having a laugh, but i can quickly come undone when someone stops laughing. Tα πολλά γέλια τελειώνουν στα κλάματα, as they say in the old country.

You can also see Teo Pellizzeri's call to arms for FFV media types on the Corner Flag.

Rise and fall of MFootball
It looks like MFootball is on the brink of folding. Even though my preference was always for Corner Flag's style and content, that's still sad news because there's few enough media outlets covering Victorian soccer as it is. MFootball tried its hand at radio and video broadcasting in 2016, adding a much appreciated point of difference to its nominal competitors, but that's expensive stuff. They're trying to get a kickstarter fund going, but at a target of $55,000, it seems to my mind too ambitious - especially when most people are happy just to get stuff for free these days.

It will be interesting to see how FFV seeks to work with independent media outlets. In the past, when a new media person came into FFV and decided that the token donation that FFV made to Goal Weekly was in vain - 'because all they do is hammer us' - that essentially ended Goal Weekly's ability to run during the winter season (though blame must also be apportioned to the clubs themselves, few enough of whom bothered to assist).

What we lost when Goal Weekly retreated to summer was not only an independent news outlet dedicated to the game, but also a paper of record so far as Victorian soccer is concerned. We still haven't figured out as a soccer community how we're going preserve all those things that are now online, and only online. FFV record keeping in terms of even the most basic statistics is atrocious (and again, some of the blame must go to the clubs, who show little interest in performing their allocated task of providing team lists and other info).

We also don't want a situation where only FFV or the clubs themselves provide news and information about Victorian soccer. Losing MFootball means losing another centralised and legit seeming avenue for ambitious soccer writers to get a start in this state. I think here also of the combination of amateurs, veterans and budding professionals we lost when the Goal Weekly print edition stopped. Victorian soccer has been historically resilient at creating its own independent media - if one group fails, something usually comes up to replace it - but at what point does that well of entrepreneurship dry up?

Questions of history
One thing that often gets sidelined in discussions of media and promotion are questions to do with history, Dealing with history in this case means contending with the twin problems of accuracy and preservation.

Accuracy has been a persistent problem. FFV expects clubs to do a lot of the legwork on this, and yet we find that beyond recording scores, we get little more information. I know I've made the comparison with local cricket before, and it's not an entirely fair one to make - after all, cricket's scoring proclivities are tied to that game's ability to attract a certain kind of anorak, as well as being a game whose pace is suited to the task of collecting statistics.

But for soccer, why is it so hard to input the starting lineups of both sides, and the scorers with minute scored? Substitutes? Red and yellow cards? You'd think in this modern age of computers and such, it should be easy and quick enough to do so. A junior cricketer in this state can trace his playing statistics across the age groups, across clubs, across representative tournaments. Meanwhile in Victorian soccer, we get bogged down in arcane arguments about where players played their junior football at, in order to be able to claim the point bonuses for a player points system that ends up with myriad errors anyway.

Preservation is a harder beast to deal with. As much as the web has allowed us easier (and cheaper) access to information, the drawbacks in terms of durability are often ignored. While it was a sad day when Goal Weekly ceased publishing its print edition, at least its archive of print editions have survived, and they could conceivably in future be sent to the State Library of Victoria or the Melbourne Cricket Club Library, for perusal by future generations.

If MFootball is seemingly on its last legs, how will its repository of photos and stories survive? It's a problem also shared by FFV. After myriad website changes and switches between different fixture and results packages (often out of FFV's control, because they are compelled to buy into national systems), the proper treatment of archival material tends to be the first thing that gets thrown on the scrapheap.

It then falls down to groups like OzFootball and its volunteers, which do as good a job as they can, but they work with antiquated technology (html) with which it is nightmarish to compile data, let alone update it - and forget about easy-ish cross-referencing ala Wikipedia.

It's a problem that's going to persist, because for many clubs, history is the last thing they think to invest in, relying instead on oral histories. FFV itself is hardly in a better position to make a difference here, unfortunately.

On the blogging front
Of course South of the Border keeps doing it what it does, but West of the Quarry seems to have variously re-booted and stalled - even its Twitter feed of late seems to be more interested in South Melbourne than Knights news. Related to that however is the argument that blogging is now long past its heyday, and looking around the traps, that certainly seems to be the case.

With the onset of the A-League and the associated 'boom' in interest in Australian soccer, there was a burst of activity of people creating blogs. Not many lasted very long, because that's the nature of blogging, but there were others that did manage to stick it out for a bit but which have also fallen by the wayside.

Then I suppose people moved into writing for The Roar website, or trying to come up with more legit looking websites with their own domain names. But even there, one wonders if there are more people writing for websites or forums (what's left of those) or social media than people actually interesting in reading.

Even if they only exist to serve the interests of a very niche audience, the existence - and persistence - of supporter blogs and forums is indicative of the health of the competition they cover, in the sense that if the most die hard fans don't care to write and read about their clubs and the competition they compete in, what hope for getting anybody new on board to do so?

Football Chaos and the lower leagues
Outside of the NPL, there are some clubs and different groups attempting to maintain a Youtube presence, either by doing it themselves or using the services by private videographers such as NMS Media. Of course the lower down you go the more niche this gets, as I think everyone involved with Victorian soccer media is well aware of by now.

And yet the best of the Victorian lower league action - indeed, of any grassroots soccer in Australia - of course continues to come from Steven Gray and Football Chaos. Covering games off his own bat where others fear to tread - including non-NPL women's games, non-FFV sanctioned tournaments, as well as the odd regional game - the interest levels are still niche, but the quality of Football Chaos' work has rightly earned it its own cult audience.

I've lost track of how many games I've watched courtesy of Football Chaos. Since Football Chaos is not the kind of organisation to go out there soliciting funds, often times it feels like you're sponging off someone's tireless efforts, but if you did want to donate something visit their PayPal page.

7 comments:

  1. We get our local paper like clockwork in Reservoir. Is a good read too.

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    1. I used to religiously go through all three newspapers that were delivered in the Hobsons Bay area. Good local footy coverage, and VFA/VFL coverage, too. Soccer didn't get completely short shrift in our area, but you still knew we were also rans on that front.

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  2. An excellent summation Paul.

    If the clubs wish to be taken seriously, then they ,must adapt and change their outlook on how they want their product to viewed. It is important that some standards are maintained, and poor filming/editing/production cannot be tolerated. If you want to be an NPL club, then there are certain obligations you must adhere to. Decent media content is a must. Otherwise, step aside and allow other clubs who wish to grow and improve off the field to strive to achieve that.

    Kudos to FFV for pursuing this. Hopefully this leads to more clubs following the lead of the bigger NPL clubs.

    As for live online video/audio broadcasts, there is no need for every week. Just the big derbies and key matches.

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  3. I should note that the Twitter discussion spinning off this post has focused on club websites, which is a whole other kettle of fish, and another persistently underwhelming aspect of Victorian soccer's media wings.

    On the other hands, for those who use Twitter, the @ffv365 handle which retweets scores from club twitter accounts (or whomever happens to tweet from a ground) was an excellent initiative.

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  4. I think the FFV is poorly funnelling resources into the NPL2. You only have to look at the banner of club logos on the website to see that.

    The FFV should cut media ties to NPL2 and focus on NPL1. If they want to elevate the game from the perception of park football focus doing it right! That means FFV produced match previews and match reports on every NPL game, and a an FFV produced highlights package at every game.

    Anything more that "match of the round" treatment in NPL2 East and NPL2 West is a waste of resources.

    Manny

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    1. What would you suggest the FFV drop the fee for NPL2 clubs then? Can't expect them to pay the same as NPL clubs for less service/coverage can you?

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  5. I think the VSF/FFV is the most extraordinary example consistent incompetence I've had the displeasure of knowing in my life. Even somehow defying the generational changes, like it's some bermuda triangle of sporting governing bodies.

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While I like people commenting on the blog, it would be useful if different posters could at least leave some sort of nickname to make it easier to sort through all the different 'anonymous' posters. If your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet. Lastly, just because I approve a comment for publication does not mean that I endorse its content.