Amid an unprecedented off-season horribilis and considerable online debate the AFL and NRL recently unveiled their 2013 promotional TVC’s.
Whether branding statements of this ilk prompts masses to ramp up their investment in a sport, be it via their eyeballs or in more active fashion, is debateable. But in light of myriad scandals shrouding the nation’s two most popular football codes, the ads demonstrate a fascinating contrast in positioning, and how administrators handle their respective strengths and weaknesses.
The NRL commercial is slick without over trying or over thinking the objective. Local play seamlessly merges with balletic flourishes of elite level action, interspersed with Jessica Mauboy; mums and stacks-on frivolity in the park, crooning Mauboy, Billy Slater, flirty Mauboy, teenage girls playing on the beach, gyrating Mauboy, Barba wizardry, flick passing Mauboy, Benji scoring, Storm celebrating… I think I’m there!
The grandiose statement League is ‘the greatest game of all’ is unprovable but the NRL makes a persuasive case with a fresh and contemporary offering which stands up to multiple viewings. It’s also a bullish response to all the negativity, not least ticking the right boxes as a fast paced family friendly sport, skilful, and joyous to play or watch.
The AFL’s promo is also well produced, however ‘there’s nothing like our game’ lacks the same zest. Across the globe random individuals (with envious match coverage) convey their first impressions of Aussie Rules, backed by an almost-too-old-for-GoldFM AC/DC classic. Rather than a proud celebration of footy’s unique skill and athleticism, it could also be construed as cultural cringe; that Australian Rules needs to be validated (in an imagined sense) by a gobsmacked world audience. The AFL has traversed similar ground previously, albeit in more clever and dynamic fashion (remember AFL stars storming onto foreign fields and ice hockey rinks?).
Describing Aussie Rules in 30 seconds is nigh impossible, so selling footy is a fraught mission. At the risk of being over critical, ‘uniqueness’ is also an overworn, misused substitute word for indefinable quality. Whilst the over arching message is clear, who exactly is the AFL targeting here?
The ad has been defended on the basis anti-AFL types will disingenuously choose to misinterpret the ad’s intentions, and that the game’s wow factor to the uninitiated is a sound proposition well executed. A fair call, but consider what’s missing, apart from Jessica Mauboy.
Besides the curious absence of footage from last year’s dramatic finale, the AFL’s new frontiers, rusted on fans and grass roots participants, neglecting to feature women’s involvement, despite HQ’s reputation for misogyny, is the most glaring. And to compound matters, a decade old highlight of Nick Riewoldt’s fearless/frightening mark whilst colliding with oncoming Swans players, to which a Gridiron player mocks suspected concussion before his teammate chimes in with “fo real, you see yo teef hit the floor”, beggars belief.
Fears around degenerative brain disease also worries the hell out of the NRL, and of great concern to both codes is the influence mothers have on junior participation as the bona fide ‘world game’ looms large on the SWOT analysis. The AFL’s lurch into the headwind by ignoring both women and universal concerns around life threatening contact is odd to say the least.
So rather than going down their oft travelled blokey road, the NRL speaks to a crucial demographic, notwithstanding the soft drink style confection shirks the collisions, glossing over the reality that League is still a brutal game (even sans shoulder charge).
Typically, the NRL demonstrates an enviable capacity to soak up bad publicity like a sponge, pragmatically rolling with the news cycle. On the other hand, the day the AFL’s TVC was released it was reported that in light of the ACC investigations a seemingly impractical recommendation that players register their friends and acquaintances was not ruled out by AFL 2IC Gillon McLachlan. Whilst one empathises with the AFL’s desire to wave the integrity flag from the MCG light towers, that such an invasion of privacy is being considered says as much about the AFL brand as any TVC. This is an organisation that has OD’d on serious pills. So much so that a new acronym; the Anti-Fun League, with the tagline ‘game of drones’, may be apt.
It’s a shame because there are positive stories to tell. Despite allusions to the contrary, most players are good citizens and often engage in community work, some of it confronting and sad. Perhaps for the purposes of effective promotion the AFL might consider less public self-flagellation for a while, and instead share around a few more of League’s sweet fizz? As Kim Crow concluded in her Sunday Age piece, perhaps sport, and in this case specifically the AFL, needs to revisit why Australians (born here and abroad) fell in love with it in the first place, not what the baying media or some annoying Yank in a ten gallon hat thinks.