Why I’ve been hesitant to criticize Greater Western Sydney

This entry was posted by Laura on Thursday, 16 December, 2010 at

For the past month or two, one of the Australian sport clubs I’ve talked most about via instant messenger services and e-mail, on the phone with a few acquaintances and in person with anyone who will listen to me is Greater Western Sydney. I’ve talked about their web strategy, their Twitter strategy, their off line engagement strategy, how they’ve reached out to Canberra, their team colours (or color if you’re American like me) and team name, their Facebook strategy.

I just haven’t blogged much about it beyond GWS Giants web traffic performance and Fundamental problems in the GWS Giants fanbase?. I’ve been intending to write a chapter on them for my dissertation. (I just haven’t been able to find the motivation to do that.) I’ve had a few conversations about why I’m not doing the blogging thing given all my obvious issues. The reasons are many: I might like the AFL to hire me when I graduate and I’d really rather not piss them off by being highly critical of their engagement strategies. (This was countered with: But what about academic honesty? Isn’t that inherently dishonest not to publish results because they are unfavorable? I’m not even sure how to answer that. True but not right?) I’ve argued that I would rather be some what clinical and have as much data as possible to support my conclusions. (I honestly haven’t done much research about the market implications of jersey color selection and the sale of merchandise/size of a fandom. ) I’ve argued that I can really only tell things three ways: Glowing praise, neutral/dispassionately with data to support my possibly unfavorable conclusions, tactless and attacking. Given my issues, I was stuck on the third one as I just don’t feel constitutionally able to set aside what I see as some major fail. I’ve also argued that I’ve been trying to get a hold of Greater Western Sydney to provide context for their actions so I can be more fair. (I’ve called several times. I’ve e-mailed a number of times. I’ve even used their feedback form. I’ve never heard back.) I’ve also argued that the one time that I did get to meet with GWS people, my advice seemed to be summarily ignored and a promised follow up never happened. I was later told by third parties that the GWS people I met with were not interested in numbers, didn’t have enough of a grasp of social media to understand what I was talking about… oh and yeah, one of the people I met wanted to do a PhD in a similar area as me. Thus, providing GWS with additional data and analysis that would fall on deaf ears? Not interested in it. I’d rather have my private discussions. I’ve also been avoiding blogging about the GWS Giants because my department has a relationship with them. I don’t want to be critical of their social media performance because I don’t want to spoil any potentially good work that my department may do with them. That would not only hurt my relationship with the GWS Giants and the AFL, but with my department.

I’ve also hesitated because I feel like I’m at a disadvantage. I’m an American who has been in Australia all of 9 months. I only started researching the AFL about a year ago. I’m a female operating in what I see as a traditionally male dominated space. Whine whine whine. In talking to some people who haven’t read my blog and seen the research I do and who don’t understand social media, I feel like this puts me at a disadvantage because who is this pushy American female who comes in and tries to tell Australians about their national game?

To a degree, I sometimes feel goaded into speaking my mind (even if I don’t actually post). Several people have told me to ignore my issues and insecurities and go for it. I’ve done that in the past. I’ve lived to regret it. There are certain people you don’t criticize in public because the consequences are that bad. There are certain people you avoid criticizing in private as you don’t want it to get back to them. I always fear when I am goaded into things, that I won’t have any support or that having promised support will cost people and I hate seeing people punished because of me. It makes me hesitant to do so.

The reasons why I don’t criticize Greater Western Sydney are similar to why I don’t criticize other sport teams and athletes. These reasons are why I tend to post tables full of data and dissertation chapter type material, and material where there largely appears to be a positive takeaway (or possibly funny, if I can write that post on Shane Warne and Elizabeth Hurley.). Is this hesitancy good for my research? I don’t know. By not criticizing, I could gain access to people and insight I might not otherwise. If I do, the research could be better.

There are no easy answers and I’ve yet to get over myself.

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  • Leigh Blackall

    Personally, I prefer this type of posting. A little like what Twitter does for people, it gives me insight into your space, helping me to know you better, where you’re coming from, eventually leading to trust. I hear your concerns which amount to self censorship. A long time issue for bloggers, perhaps more so today than before, although I am one who has lost a job for blogging back in 2005. Looking back on that, I see it now as a blessing in disguise. Had I continued working there, I would have become a miserable sod. So in a way, my frank expressions have helped me find happier employment. What I’m suggesting is that openness may bring you this too.. but you use the word “constitution”.. you have to have a pretty strong constitution to realise that long view. All that said, I’m not rock solid on the position. It seems to me that the acceptance and mainstreaming of social media since 2005 has significantly changed the implications of it, and not necessarily in the utopian direction we hoped. On a less complicated note, you posting this has led me to comment, so your having a conversation on the issue, which I hope you recognise as the support you wondered if you’d have.

  • Klyons1952

    Laura, I wondered if I may use an alternative approach here. I think that rather than criticise you can support the development of GWS. You are placed perfectly to act as a social commentator and I think this can be done in a non-judgemental way. I take a different approach to Leigh but like him feel that your work puts my work into focus. The outsider has a crucial role to play in any discussion through you we can make the familiar strange and hopefully through discussion can enable the strange to be familiar.


  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    I vented sort of on Twitter (Should I criticize @GWS_Giants ? Should I not?) and after a number go arounds that led to yes, @GWS_Giants tweeted to me and this led to a phone call where I got to ask about some of my concerns for an hour or so, and discussed other things. Overall, it made me much less annoyed. (I should probably type of the notes for that as the comments in context are almost as interesting as the numbers, better in a lot of ways as they put content to them.)

    But yeah, talked to their social media person on the phone and feel much better and much less angst filled.

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    Oddly, a situation where I was willing to take on the unpopular opinion got me a job. It was really fun for two years. This was mostly a case of not siding with fans and instead siding with the powers that be. I learned a lot about social media there as a result.

    The type of behavior where you’re scared to take action? Documented here and Here and Here and Here. (Not sure why this tangent). This group also leads to some keeping of mouths shut.

    The long view is important because in the grand scheme of thins the Internet means that there is no form of privacy. Everything you do may potentially be documented or end up on the Internet. Any conversation you have might be discussed and potentially be blogged to a wider audience. You can go ahead and have sex in an elevator… but if there is a camera, the security guy might think it is funny and take that video and upload it to youtube. If you get into an argument with some one over say US foreign policy or Australia’s international student population, that offline conversation may get referenced online in a totally different context that could cause you problems. Thus, even in relative privacy, there isn’t any. (I’ve known this since the late 1990s.) It means a lot of self control, with fewer safe places to vent, which can potentially be dangerous if all that steam isn’t let lose the right way.

    And by support, I have had some run ins with fandom people. (See above Fan History links for an idea as to what. Or Google me [please don't] and get a perspective.) I’ve had people try to track where I work to get me fired. I know they’ve gone snooping on friends. That’s the extreme I kind of reference when I talk about that issue of support. I can’t see Australian sport community being that bad. I still just worry about the other implications of getting a job and staying in a country that is far less stressful than my own.


  • John Ryan

    I don’t know who you are but by the sounds of it you have been self censoring, this a common trait among AFL Journalists,but surprised to see a grad student doing it,you don’t write anything to as they say upset the apple cart,or by the looks of it with you upset the GWS crew, the BS which is being spun in ever increasing quantity by both the AFL and GWS.
    AFL is not the National game Cricket is much as I despise it rather watch Baseball,you could say Soccer (Football)is, AFL in QLD and NSW in spite of a constant barrage of Propaganda that would have made a certain German very proud says it is a sport that has a mainly Ex pat following and is not watched by many on TV in Sydney or Brisbane check the ratings figures.
    The Women thing and RL is an old carnard trotted out by misinformed people of AFL persuasion,I think hitching yourself to GWS could be a mistake as its existance will depend on how long the AFL clubs get tired of funding a loss making venture it will fail nobody to my knowledge when I lived in West Sydney for 20 odd years expressed the slightest interest in AFL and I doubt of it has changed much.
    Ozzie Sport is not only AFL, there’s NRL, Rugby Union, Soccer, netball, hockey, Cricket, American Football, baseball, basketball,to be honest you should change your blog to GWS AFL site, as to a neutral observer it is not about Ozzie Sport it is just another be nice to the AFL site and that I can read in the Newspapers .

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    AFL is not the National game

    Define national game. This zip file contains total fans by team on Twitter in Australia. Australian Cricket is a bit messed up because of a few top cricketers but AFL clubs dominate in a lot of smaller towns. (That data is the best information that’s likely to be available for a national online sport census.) If AFL isn’t the national game along side cricket, I don’t know what is.

    is not watched by many on TV in Sydney or Brisbane check the ratings figures.

    Not doubting the ratings. Given all the data I’ve seen, I feel the AFL has much better growth potential than say the NRL or the Super 15.

    The Women thing and RL is an old carnard trotted out by misinformed people of AFL persuasion

    Have the NRL stated what their membership percentage is for men vs. women? The AFL numbers that I’ve heard from official sources is 48% of their club membership is female. I think the NRL is probably closer than people would suspect but I like data to back that up. The numbers I’ve seen historically suggest 90% male audience for rugby league. My numbers suggest 70% male is closer for online fandom.

    I think hitching yourself to GWS

    Totally not hitching myself to GWS. I’ve got data on over 550 different Australian and New Zealand sport federation leagues, clubs and non-team athletes. My dissertation chapters so far feature the following teams/athletes in this order: Melbourne Storm (re: salary cap), Western Bulldogs (re:Julia Gillard), Western Bulldogs (re: Jason Akermanis), Melbourne Demons and Port Adelaide Power (re: Playing games in Darwin), Canberra Raiders (re: Joel Monaghan), and Anna Meares (re: Winning 3 golds.) I’ve got a blog post about the Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers that I need to convert into a chapter. I also need to write up GWS4ACT as that movement seems the easiest aspect to write about, given the social media/web structural issues as a result of how the team launched their rebranding.

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    I’m not as coherent as I’d like to be so I apologize. This is also very long. A lot of that is because I tend to comment to explore my own issues.

    this a common trait among AFL Journalists,but surprised to see a grad student doing it,

    To be honest, I assume this goes on quite a bit in academia. It just isn’t vocalized that it is being done. If my research is dependent on the AFL, then I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds me. On the other hand, because I do quantitative research about AFL fandom, I’m probably less dependent than other types of researchers focusing on the AFL because I little dependency. Some access is useful in that it provides context for what is going on.

    And in the end, I want to stay in Australia when I leave. I don’t necessarily want to work for the AFL because my research can be useful for them but a lot of it isn’t. (They don’t need Alexa data, Twitter and Facebook growth data. They have some of that on their own. They can get traffic data from their own internals. Facebook has stats that get sent out to Facebook fanpage maintainers. Twitter data is pretty publicly available, though less so on historical changes in locations of their followers.) I’d rather work in academia as a researcher, where this data can be contextualized… and talking out of turn about power brokers might not make departmental people happy.

    BS which is being spun in ever increasing quantity by both the AFL and GWS.

    No doubt there is some of that going on. The fan community for the GWS Giants isn’t really developing. (But then again, they don’t have a team.) They do appear to have about as much growth as the Suns right now… but some of their demographics early on felt really skewed towards the wrong area. )

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    West Sydney for 20 odd years expressed the slightest interest in AFL

    I’d argue that there clearly is an audience for it. It just comes down to how the AFL wants to develop it. Historically, they’ve neglected the region. If they can make an argument to parents that Aussie rules is safer than rugby league or rugby union, if they can capture young fans, then they probably could succeed. At the same time, they need to support and promote senior clubs. Total picture, not isolated.

    And I really think that if they can harness social media right, plug into the community in a way that the NRL can’t, they’ll endear themselves to local fans. (I’d rather follow the Raiders on Facebook and Twitter than the Wests Tigers because the Raiders do more organic stuff than league mandated content aimed at the media. This has resulted in increased interaction on the Raiders fanpage than the Wests Tigers.)

    to be honest you should change your blog to GWS AFL site

    Seriously? I might have written about GWS a few times recently but they generally aren’t the focus of what I do. I posts lists of most popular people on Twitter (with a pull out list for women’s Australian sport), of fans on Facebook (often with a pull out for women’s sport), and Alexa ranking. (The Alexa list is dominated by Australian and New Zealand sport federations.) This morning I posted total Foursquare checkins to several sporting events around Australia.

    Recently, I posted a 90 page packet about the NRL. It isn’t complete because it got to the point where I realized it was going to be about 300 pages if I completed it and I was hesitant to continue as doing one packet for the whole NRL didn’t seem right as the information wouldn’t be digestible.

    I recently did two posts about Anna Meares.

    I’ve been debating posting about the Twitter growth for Shane Warne. (It just would be helpful to see the geographic shift of his followers. Did he pick up a larger British audience in response to this stuff?)

    Trust me, my focus is not on the GWS. It won’t ever be solely about GWS. It will likely continue to be mostly data dumps with analysis, commentary, dissertation drafts tossed in.

  • John Ryan

    The Problem with relying on Statistics is the old saying, there’s lies dammed lies and statistics,as for your remarks about AFL being a “Safer” game than RU or RL I would suggest Soccer is a safer game than AFL mum may want the kids to be safe but in the end the kid will play what his mates play and while I lived in Blacktown and surrounds it was not AFL.
    My god the AFL send a few footballers to a school chat to the kids and hand out free tickets ect then go away,next thing you read is the school is now an AFL school,BS of the highest quality,I think you have a lot to learn about Western Sydney its a bit like me commenting on Compton in LA after listening to NWA Album (i have odd musical taste)than a bunch of transplanted Victorians with a few NSWelshmen who will sing the tune of their paymaster.

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    The Problem with relying on Statistics is the old saying, there’s lies dammed lies and statistics

    I’m more than happy to provide you with all the raw data I have and you can evaluate for yourself. Better yet, visit www.facebook.com/ads/create/ and look at the statistics yourself. I’m pretty aware of how statistics can be manipulated to make a point but I don’t have an investment in either league. If I’m going to see a game, I’m more likely to see an NRL one than an AFL one. (Thus, if I’m going to have any bias based on who I support, it would be towards the NRL instead of the AFL.) Most of the research I’ve done so far involves oversharing data and making sure the methodology is repeatable. I tend to be elastic in what conclusions I draw so I can be corrected as I know I can be wrong.

    So if you have a general problem with stats, understandable. If you have a problem with my stats, please point out exactly where they are problematic.

    AFL being a “Safer” game than RU or RL I would suggest Soccer is a safer game

    I honestly don’t know what is safer. I’m just providing additional perspective to explain part of the narrative for why the AFL may have success. (This research piece actually addresses the issue “While rugby league players suffered the most injuries, AFL injuries were on average more severe and consequently the total time missed through injury by players in these two codes was very similar. Rugby union had a significantly lower injury prevalence at the élite club competition level than rugby league or Australian Rules football.”) Beyond this, perception of which sport has more injuries probably matters more than actual injuries if this is a concern amongst parents.

    I think you have a lot to learn about Western Sydney

    Except, really, I don’t. I can look at the data and figure out what is going on with out knowing the exact causes. I can tell you’ve identified only one person on Twitter who lives in Blacktown and follows some one on this list. The person is not a fan of an NRL team, but a fan of the Sydney Swans. I can point you to the total number of Twitter followers by club in Parramatta. I can’t tell you much beyond a community for the AFL actually exists in this area. It isn’t particularly large but it is there.

    Personal observations and cultural knowledge is great, but it needs to be supported by data. The two methodologies compliment each other. And the type of research I’m doing is important because it benchmarks these trends so that people can take their observational analysis and have a framework to support their conclusions.

    Randomly going further, you might not know about Compton by listening to an album. I imagine though, if you read over 100 articles about Compton and Los Angeles, if you spent 9 months gathering statistical data about the area, if you spent an hour or two a day discussing your reading and research with various people from California, it you spent time asking people who live in the Los Angeles metro area if your conclusions make sense… I’d imagine that you would be able to do a good job and that not being a native would actually be beneficial as you wouldn’t have native bias regarding your work.

  • Robin Mcconnell

    I don’t see the problem! If the data support an inference or conclusion then I do not see anything wrong with framing such and inviting responses. The more problematic domain is when the inferences and/or conclusions are framed in a sport-national culture setting which may have some dimensions that need an understanding of Australian sport in society (and society) over time but even assumptions we make about those need constant challenging! I think one can argue, convincingly, that AFL is our winter national game and cricket our national summer game.

  • http://www.fanhistory.com LauraH

    I don’t know if the data supports the conclusion and some of it could very well be a subjective issue of implementation… like when do you delete a Facebook fanpage? Right when you do your rebranding? Or later after you’ve given your audience time to switch over? (In this case, the earlier page gained more fans than the new page.) And for things like Twitter, how you implement a Twitter strategy is a bit subjective… All the advice in social media is engage, engage, engage. GWS4ACT didn’t engage at all on Twitter or Facebook. Thus, in my opinion, their numbers didn’t grow at all. Now, that could all be wrong as the Twitter and Facebook communities in Canberra could function differently than elsewhere (I doubt it) and the movement might not have seen the ROI (my guess) and didn’t invest because why bother? (Thus these metrics are less representative of active development by a club. The numbers that are seen are more organic growth online inspite of the club.)

    The numbers are rather ojective but there is very much a subjective element at play when talking about their strategies.

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