Posts Tagged interview

An interview with Georgie Herbert from the Melbourne Victory

Posted by Laura on Tuesday, 6 July, 2010

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 : ozziesport.com/Melbourne_Victory.pdf

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An interview with Ben Pollack from the Canberra Raiders

Posted by Laura on Thursday, 24 June, 2010

On Wednesday, June 23, 2010, I had the pleasure of talking to Ben Pollack and another staff member at the Canberra Raider.  I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to them as it was provided additional insight into how sport clubs view fandom and social media. 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 Canberra Raiders, they are a Rugby League team that competes at the top level in the National Rugby League in Australia.  They are based in Australia’s capital, Canberra, and play their home games at Bruce Stadium.  The NRL has a profit sharing scheme, where revenues are shared between all teams.

My purpose in talking to them 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 Canberra Raiders define fandom very broadly as people who barrack for them and who attend games.  Their goal is to have this definition encompass all ages, both genders and across the demographic spectrum.  They focus on the Canberra area. They want to take interest in the club and translate that into getting people into the stadium, with bums on seats.  They did not mention trying to get fans to watch on television or buy their merchandise.  It may be something that they define as fandom but I did not follow up to ask about that.

When I inquired about the regional aspect in the NRL helping teams by enabling them to develop a local fanbase, they said that this worked a lot in their favor as the Canberra area was very supportive of the team.  This may not be as true for some of the Sydney based teams where there is much more market overlap and a few teams play at the same venue.  There, clubs need to market more towards traditional understandings of who composes their fanbase.  Sydney based teams are much like many of the Melbourne based AFL clubs in this regard.

I had some data from Facebook that said that there were roughly twice as many UCanberra students and alumni who were fans of the club compared to ANU.  I asked them why their fanbase was stronger at the University of Canberra, if it had to do with different cultures or possibly class related affiliations that each university has.  The club responded that they thought they probably had more fans at UC because the university has a well-known sport program and tends to attract more sport fans than ANU.

I had some bebo related geographic data.  It showed that there were a number of fans from the Brisbane area.  I asked the Raiders if they could explain that.  They told me that this geographic fanbase dates to the club’s founding, when several of the players came from Brisbane.  The club has managed to maintain this fanbase in Queensland over time.

The club primarily reaches out to their fanbase using traditional advertising: Newspapers, television and mail outs.  They have a member list and every week they send out a newsletter to their members.  The newsletter contains injury information, game summaries and information on any special deals that the club has.  They do some outreach on social media, but that is primarily confined to Facebook.

The NRL is a huge influence in how the club handles their website and their social media.  The league requires that clubs post certain types of web and video content every week.  This includes a match report and the post-game press conference.  The NRL has incentivized clubs to try to draw traffic to their websites; at the end of the season, revenues earned by the clubs on their sites are distributed to the clubs.  According to the Raiders, the league brought in Bernie Mullin to help it develop a plan regarding their online activities.  The NRL also guides clubs by encouraging them to push to increase their membership.  Some of this push is based around the idea of local clubs and increasing attendance at local grounds and keeping that local identity.

The Canberra Raiders thus use social media as a way to drive traffic to their site.  Based on our conversation, I did not get the feeling that using social media to develop a fanbase was a goal unto itself.  Rather, I was left with the impression that social media was a tool to drive traffic to their site to help increase their revenue.

The NRL does watch other leagues to see what they are doing in terms of social media.  The Raiders do less of this and spend less time developing their own social media strategy.  This is largely because the Raiders feel the NRL has better resources and more money to handle this.  The Raiders also do not have much time to do this on their own.

One of the major areas where the team has acted regarding social media is in giving in their players training in the use of social media training.  The Australian Federal Police conducted this training.  Details about the training can be found on the club’s website at www.raiders.com.au/default.aspx?s=article-display&id=27038 .  This was something the club felt was important because a number of their players are on Facebook.  Some have 2,000 to 3,000 friends, many of whom they do not know personally.  There have been a number of high profile incidents involving players getting negative media attention as a result of their comments on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; they want to avoid that.  In general, the club advises players to be careful, not to talk about the team and to keep things personal.  The club does not ban the use of it and the NRL is aware of these problems and is encouraging training.

After getting my questions answered, I asked the Raiders about specific aspects of their social media strategy and asked the club if they had any questions based on the data packet I had provided.  The club does have an official Facebook page and Twitter account.  Ben is most familiar with Facebook, which is one of the reasons they use it more than Twitter.  The club’s original Facebook strategy involved creating a user account, friending people and trying to convert these friends into fans of the official fanpage.  The conversion rate was very low and they did not find it very effective in accomplishing their goals.

They are not entirely certain how Twitter fits into their social media strategy and there is a question of how they chose people to follow.  (Compared to other teams in the NRL, they follow almost no one.)  They were interested in increasing their number of followers but were not certain how to do it.  They also did not think that anyone had replied to them or reTweeted them, though this could be a result of not being familiar enough with the site.

We also discussed Foursquare and Gowalla, how they were used and if it was worth it for the team to explore using them.  They were unsure in this regard, as their time is limited.  If it is the next big thing, it might be worth them investigating.

I asked the club about their web traffic, citing some traffic data from Compete.  They said that a number of teams in the NRL share names with other sport teams.  In the case of the Canberra Raiders, it is the Oakland Raiders.  During the season for the other team, they often see an increase in traffic from US based visitors who mistakenly find their site.

I asked if the club had considered using YouTube.  They had.  One of their ideas involved uploading preview clips to Youtube, with attached notices that the full clip could be viewed on their site. They were not certain of the potential ROI and in the end did not use it.  I then asked them if visitors could embed official Raiders videos on their own blogs.  They were not certain but said that fans could definitely link to their videos.

While social media is a big potential audience for the club, most of their dedicated fans online congregate on a message board not controlled by the club.  They do monitor it and find it occasionally to be a concern because of that lack of control.  The club is aware of the fact that the media also monitor this message board and occasionally use it to generate less than favorable story ideas about the site.

In preparation for talking with the Canberra Raiders, I completed an overview of the size of the online community for the team.  If you are interested in this document, please contact me at laura[@]fanhistory[dot]com or my university e-mail address, [email protected]

One of their ideas involved uploading preview clips to Youtube, with attached notices that the full clip could be viewed on their site.  I then asked them if visitors could embed official Raiders videos on their own blogs.

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An interview with the CEO of the Canberra United

Posted by Laura on Saturday, 5 June, 2010

On Friday, I had the pleasure of talking to Heather Reid and Russ Gibbs at Canberra United.  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 Canberra United, they are a W-League team based out of Canberra.  Unlike other teams in the W-League, they do not share a name or facilities with an A-League club.  Most of the funding and general support for the W-League comes from state based football associations.  This support insures a certain degree of financial stability that they might not be able to afford otherwise.  Some players in the league are paid but many are not.  The W-League was created in order to foster high levels of competition that could feed Australia’s women’s national football team, the Matildas.   The league intentionally schedules their games around the Matilda’s schedules to avoid conflicts for players. This has been successful in that many of the Matildas that played in the AFC championship played for W-League, three of whom play for the Canberra United.  The Canberra United have the highest average attendance of any team in the league, with over 1,000 people attending home matches.

My purpose in talking to them 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 research out there about sport fandom defines it differently depending on your relationship to it.  Sport marketing and management literature tends to define fans and fandom as spectatorship or viewers.  Sport sociologist and historians tend to define fandom as identity that is sustained over longer periods of time.  Newspapers and fans themselves tend to define fandom as identity coupled with actions to express that.  I was interested to see how a team would define that.  In the case of the Canberra United, they define fandom for their team based on spectatorship.  In the case of spectatorship, it is not a wide definition of any possible fans but rather a subset of people they have identified as having the highest potential to attend their games.  The group that the team has decided to target is the female players in Capital Football, the ACT’s state soccer organization.  This is a group that the team feels would turn out to see the games as they are already interested in soccer, have knowledge of the club, and may dream of playing on that level or for the Matildas.    It is also easy to target as the team has access to Capital Football’s membership list.  They can easily send out e-mails to the members before a game to encourage them to attend and after a game to let them know the results.

Beyond that population, the club also hopes to attract an audience of general football fans located in the ACT.  The Canberra United are the highest level of soccer in the territory and play during the summer, when there are fewer sport options for people to watch.  When watching the team, fans have the potential to see future and current Matilidas, something that they might not otherwise have a chance to see regularly.

Most of the outreach that the team does involves reaching out through Capital Football.  They have a database of members which makes this easy to access this population.  Beyond that, they do outreach through sponsor related events.  Their major form of outreach beyond those two venues involves their website:  canberraunited.com.au. The site includes information about the W-League, the team and local Canberra football clubs.  When shown data regarding how the club ranked on Alexa compared to A-League clubs, they were pleased.  W-League sites, with the exception of the Canberra United, are hosted as subpages inside A-League sites.  It is not possible to use publicly available data to distinguish between different pages.  Using Alexa, the Canberra United ranked 52,076 in Australia.  This compares to 50,430 for the Adelaide United, 60,807 for the Central Coast Mariners and 26,091 for the Sydney Football Club.  The Canberra United outperformed two teams, are about even with one, and are behind three teams.  This comparatively high rank happened when the team is not playing and against A-League sites that have a bigger attendance draw than the Canberra United.  In addition to the website, the team has ventured some into social media with an official presence on Facebook, where they have 460 fans. When we looked through a list of networks that their followers belonged to, they were able to explain pretty much every network on the list. The team has a Twitter account but they do not actively maintain it.  In the future, they plan to grow their social media presence.

The club has a fair amount of autonomy when it comes to making decisions regarding how to promote their team in their own market and online.  The W-League has their own promotions that are intended at promoting the league as a whole and the Canberra United participate in those promotional events.  The club also has some guidance from Capital Football.   Still, there is no indication that there are a lot of restrictions regarding how the club goes about promoting themselves.  The W-League does not have a formal policy regarding social media usage for its clubs or players in the league.  Canberra United also does not have such a policy as it has not been an issue so far.  Senator Kate Lundy is involved with the Canberra United and is keenly interested in social media and the law.  She is apparently helping the club think about the legal implications involved with this issue.

The team is aware of what other teams and some of the other leagues in Australia are   doing.  They were able to discuss how the AFL handled things compared to the NRL, and were willing to speculate as to how each league would handle certain situations.  They are also aware of what is going on with the Socceroos and the Matildas.  However, they did not know if the FFA had official policies regarding player usage of social media.  This was interesting in that player usage has been an issue the media has paid attention to in the run up to the World Cup, with the US allowing players to use social media but England banning players from using it. The team appeared to be more aware of other Australian leagues than they were of how international footballing bodies handled social media and marketing related issues.

Several other things were discussed that are not easy to categorize as part of the four questions.  These were rather interesting.  The team is aware of the major blogs and message boards that cover their team.  One of these included Girls With Game, girlswithgame.blogspot.com/ .  Another was Capital Punishment, capitalpunishment.forumotion.net/canberra-united-w-league-f3/ .  It sounded like they monitor them to see what people are saying.  They were not as aware of the Wikipedia article about themselves.  They did find it thorough and assumed that some of content was generated by finding information from their site.

Another issue discussed was the marketing of the W-League.  If you’ve been to their site or seen some of their promotional pictures, the players look like models with their hair done and wearing lots of makeup.  This was originally done as the W-League was aiming for a teenaged girl audience and because some in the league believe that sex sells.  Players were given the option of it they wanted to be photographed like that and participate in a sponsor-related event where they were asked to model clothes.  There was a question of “Was that sexist?”  The team told me that the players did not necessarily feel that it was because they were given a choice and they were portrayed positively.  Some of them considered it very feminist in that they could be high level athletes who are also capable of being beautiful women.

One issue I brought up was the issue of being female fanspace.  I referenced a study done involving the WNBA and how lesbians carved out their own space and definition of the league as being lesbian friendly.  This happened in a space that is not obviously queer space and is shared equally by other groups that a team might have greater incentive to maintain.  I asked how this type of issue was handled inside the W-League.  According to the Canberra United, part of the early marketing attempts by the W-League were to counter stereotypes of female athletes as lesbians by using advertising that played up on the players’ femininity with the modeling type pictures. I was also led to believe that this was an ongoing issue with women’s sports defined as pinks vs. ponytails, where some teams and players have gone out of their way to identify one way or another. My impression of what they said was that this was a regular battle of how to be as inclusive as possible while realizing that certain segments are not going to be very tolerant of each other.

In conclusion, the Canberra United use a definition of sport similar to those described by sports marketers.  The only caveat is that they more narrowly define spectator to specific populations they are intentionally targeting.  The club has a great deal of freedom to define their target audience and create their own social media policies.  Most of the team’s influence for how to handle marketing and social media policies comes from within Australia.

In preparation for talking with the Canberra United, I completed an overview of the size of the online community for the team.  It can be found at : ozziesport.com/Canberra_United.pdf

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