On Monday, July 5, I had the pleasure of talking to Georgie Herbert at the W-League Melbourne Victory. I’ve tried to convey as accurately as possible what they have told me based on my memory and I asked their permission to reference them in my blog and paper while I met with them.
If you’re not familiar with the Melbourne Victory of the W-League, they are a W-League team based out of Victoria, playing most of their fixtures in Melbourne. They are affiliated with the A-League Melbourne Victory and are run by Football Victoria. The Melbourne Victory have one player who plays for the Matildas.
My purpose in talking to the Melbourne Victory was to help provide background knowledge for my literature review and to generally enhance my understanding of Australian team sport as it may apply other parts of my research. Going in, I had four questions I wanted answers to. These questions were:
1. How do you define fandom?
2. How do you reach out to the fan community?
3. How much influence does league management provide in terms of defining fandom and how to engage in outreach? Do they give guidance on social media policies?
4. How much do other sports, teams and leagues play a role in development and implementation of concepts related to fan engagement and social media?
The Melbourne Victory defines fans as spectators. Most of their fans are friends and family of current players, and players from women’s clubs. These groups account for a large percentage of attendees. Beyond these groups, they have limited definitions of the fan community for their club and appear to use an operating definition of “Fans of the A-League Melbourne Victory club.” The limited definitions appear to exist for several reasons. The first is that Football Victoria places a greater emphasis on promoting their top level Victorian based league over the W-League club. The second reason is because they rely heavily on the A-League Melbourne Victory for the promotion of their club; they piggy back on their promotional activities so it makes separating out the fanbases difficult. The third reason is that it is extremely difficult to carve out a niche for women’s sport in Victoria given the number of spectating options available to fans in the city. Fans just have too many choices of what do and the club doesn’t appear confident that they can successfully market the club in this environment.
The team doesn’t do much outreach of their own. They rely heavily on the A-League Melbourne Victory to do much of that outreach. This includes getting W-League Melbourne Victory news into the A-League club’s Twitter stream and Facebook fan page updates. This is a solution that they have found to be rather effective as they get a number of comments on Facebook in reply to these posts and their does not appear to be any backlash for including women’s updates alongside the men’s news. Beyond co-branded social media and other media spots, the club has an e-mail newsletter they send out and does school offers. They feel that some of their outreach is hampered because they do not have a fixed location for their fixtures; last season they played their five home games in five different venues.
The media comms coordinator does much of the club’s outreach. This is another issue because the media comms coordinator does not work exclusively on the Melbourne Victory W-League team; she is responsible for all of Football Victoria. Outreach is also problematic at times because they have to rely on the A-League Melbourne Victory. While there is an agreement in place that the two clubs will be co-branded, many of the people working for the Melbourne Victory are not used to working on the W-League team and that can take prodding. They were clear that the Melbourne Victory on the whole though are very good at updating when asked. Outreach with the A-League also requires people at Football Victoria remembering to pass on information to the club, which can be an issue as it is not always a priority.
Another issue that effects outreach involves contractual issues with the Victory’s star player and Matilda captain. The Victory only get so many contractual appearances with her a year outside general club requirements. The player is also heavily involved with her own personal branding. This can make it hard to use the player as a way to push their own brand as she has her own agenda that may not match with the club’s agenda.
Football Victoria has several young staffers who work for them whom are big soccer fans and who are social media savvy. They do not officially monitor social media sites for Football Victoria but if they see something that other clubs in leagues like the WPS or A-League are doing that they think would work for the Melbourne Victory, the club will consider implementing it. If they do find something that is extremely problematic on social media sites, fansites or forums, the club will inform the W-League who can then address the problem.
The W-League gives some guidance in this regard but much of the Victory’s social media, fan definitions and policies come from Football Federation Australia (FFA) who first try them out on the A-League. After that, these policies are often implemented on a much more scaled down version
Beyond the answer to the general questions, there were several other interesting things that came up in the interview.
First, the team does not have a formal social media policy for its players. This is similar to the Canberra United and the Canberra Raiders. They haven’t felt a need to have one because so far it has not been an issue. Most of their players are also on Facebook, not Twitter, and Facebook tends to get less media coverage. (Though this is not always the case. There was a player for one of the women’s national team who got into trouble for what she said on Facebook as it got picked up by a Melbourne newspaper.) Added to that, the team gets so little media coverage that the media is unlikely to care what players say on social media sites. That said, the club is planning on offering media training before the season starts. Part of this media training will involve teaching players about safety on social media sites.
The club sees its success as fundamentally tied to the A-League club. If the A-League Melbourne Victory succeeds, they should succeed too. This explains why Football Victoria has pushed to co-brand the W-League club with the A-League club and get them involved. They feel that they can increase their audience, build better awareness and raise the stature of women players and soccer in Victoria this way. Rather than turn to the W-League for guidance, they tend to be much more focused on their A-League counter part.
This decision to tie themselves with the A-League club means that the team finds it hard to get data about their specific fans as there aren’t different channels for the two: The Melbourne Victory of the W-League does not have its own Twitter account or its own Facebook fanpage. This could be problematic down the line as it may harm their ability to effectively target fans as they grow.
The Melbourne Victory are aware of the issues of branding the W-League correctly, finding that balance where you avoid lesbian stereotypes that might harm their brand and the growth of soccer in Victoria. At the same time, they don’t want to swing so far from one end of the marketing spectrum that they end up on the other by using glamour shots and heavily made up super feminine women. They want to find the middle to maximize interest in fans and future female Victorian soccer players.
The Melbourne Victory are in a tough market because of the presence of so many other sports and leagues. In Canberra, the United can garner a lot more media attention because there is less competition. The United and ACT Football can get attention for food eating contests; in contrast, the Victory are lucky if they can get the scores in the newspaper. This is part of their challenge.
Attendance at Victory games is very low. When they talked of high attendance matches, they were talking about 450 people at a game. The average attendance is much lower with a number mentioned of around 250 to 300. Their most successful games have been when they have played outside of the Melbourne area.
In preparation for talking with the Melbourne Victory, I completed an overview of the size of the online community for the team. It can be found at : http://ozziesport.com/Melbourne_Victory.pdf