Thursday, June 3, 2010

Matildas in the media - time for a change

WAIT...stop there for just a minute...I know what you are thinking, it's just another rant about the Matildas should be getting more media coverage. But my point is different.

I think it's about time they stopped whining about it and did something instead.

Now, don't jump straight to the comments, just let me explain myself.

I've worked at a daily newspaper, I've seen how television newsrooms work too, as much as the world has progressed, sports newsrooms have not. Men’s sports are the way, but there is a reason for that. Simply, more people care, there are more letters to the editor, more comments on the internet, more readers. It’s actually vicious cycle for women’s sport, many Australians don’t know much about Aussie girls teams, that’s because they aren’t on the TV or newspaper every-day. The newspapers and TV then don’t cover them because they think people don’t care.

But people, we're in the age of the internet, Facebook, Youtube, blogs and Twitter. These days, anyone can create their own media. So the way Australian mainstream media works isn't going to change soon, but the way the Football Federation Australia put together its own Matildas media can.

So how about a Youtube channel with Matildas interviews and maybe even a few skills? Facebook and Twitter inviting fans to ask the Matildas their own questions and have that put up in a public forum? More stories on the FFA website, or a separate Matildas one where fans can interact with the players more? Cost is also an issue, but Youtube, Facebook and Twitter? Free. There is already 1500 supporters on the Matildas Facebook page, there is a video of when Aussie World Surfing champ Steph Gilmore visited the camp. It’s a great start, but let’s have more.

I think the most important thing is to break this self-defeating cycle that's been across what media the Matildas did recieve this week. The whole, we did something amazing, but respond with a 'now, we should get more media coverage,’ comment. As a result, the story ends up being how women’s soccer hasn’t changed.

Actually tell the story of how amazing that game was, the conditions they had to overcome, you could make people who read the story realise, wow, these girls didn't just win the Asian Cup, they put in a bloody good performance. Maybe I should have watched. Maybe I will watch next time.

Here is a story from Dan Silkstone in The Age. It's just what happened in the game, and gosh, it's interesting and also kind of hilarious. On Tuesday, that story was the third most popular item on the The Age sport website.

Heather Garriock makes this comment at the start of the ABC's 7.30 Report story, “It's important for the newspapers to report on all our games and just try and do individual things, publicity things, with us.” This is a story on how female football in Australia is behind the eight-ball and she was obviously asked that question, but this is exactly what I think needs to stop. This plea is not getting the Matildas anywhere. Instead, I think it’s time that Football Federation Australia took some steps to help the Matildas make it on their own.

Hopefully it will start with the W-League this year.

I cringed last year when a quiz on ABC Grandstand asked 'Would you go to a W-League match if it was a curtain-raiser to an A-League game?' I heard a number of people call in and say, sure, I'd love to watch the girls play if they did that. Problem was, there has already been several games played as A-League curtain raisers that season. Similarly in a comment on a fourfourtwo story on the girls return a few days ago, one said they would go to curtain raisers if they put them on. THEY ALREADY DO. But unfortunately it just seems the message isn't getting out.

So why do I even care? Well I love the Matildas, I love the W-League and I believe there IS the support from fans out there in Australia. Last year I won an Australian Sports Commission media award for the best coverage of women's sport for my stories on Canberra United in their first season of the W-League. I hate to boast, but I'm super-proud of this one. But the reason I was able to do so many Canberra United and women's football stories, I pushed and pushed and pushed. Why? Because I believe that women's football is damn entertaining. And people responded, they read it, they came out and followed the team.

In the first year of the W-League, when Canberra United made the grand final, I annoyed my boss until I got a huge broadsheet pull-out team poster. It went in and the following night at an open training session, I had a huge grin plastered on my face as little girls (and boys for that matter) brought along their posters and had them signed. The reality is that Canberra is a different market to any other major city, there is no major men’s sporting team in summer, so United already had a step-up in a limited sporting market and I had more space to fill. But I think it shows there is potential.

I believe that Women’s football in Australia can be huge, but instead of feeling defeated all the time, how about we empower this Matildas team? Stuff the mainstream media, let’s give the fans more using this new amazing set of interactive social media tools we have.

Then before the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, get together the major players in Australian media, after a bit of self-promotion. Show them the W-League attendances, the fans on Facebook, the followers on Twitter, show them how many people do care about the Matildas. Tell them the amazing stories, like Sal Shipard’s return to the game after two-years out and everything that goes with it, how almost every player has had a knee reconstruction, plenty of them three, but keep going. Show them the characters, how Tom Sermanni never gives a boring quote, Heather Garriock’s honesty, Lisa de Vanna’s wild streak. Show them just how bloody well they actually do play. Show them the Asian Cup penalty shoot-out, those five perfect penalties.

Dare them not to cover the Matildas then.


  1. I'm glad you brought this topic up, & 100% agree with everything you have stated.

    Last night, I was walking through the house, past the TV (Hey, Hey was on, awful show), I got to my bedroom when my brother yelled for me to come back, Melissa Barbieri was on. Now, I'm not big on exerting energy to watch that pityful piece of TV garbage, but I broke out into a jog to see the Matildas captain. What I witnessed was embarassing. Darryl Sommers, you are a joke. He had no idea about the Matildas, but instead of just coming out & admitting that (maybe even getting Melissa to explain to the audience who they are, & what they have achieved), he asked ridiculous questions that confirmed to me he is a halfwit, even at one stage recommending that the Matildas turn to:

    "Mud-wrestling instead of soccer".

    How the hell are the Matildas supposed to be taken seriously when they are portrayed as barbie dolls playing a mans sport. Sure, Hey Hey is probably a top-rating show, but is it worth getting airtime when it comes with such a price?

    Over the last few days, it has been fantastic to see the team get the recognition through the media that they deserve. But as you state, now is the time to pump it up ten-fold! The FFA needs to take advantage of their success. Women's football is exploding throughout the country at the grassroots level. So let's give the grassroots players greater access to the big-time players. Fans can practically live their lives alongside some of the NRL/AFL stars, but yet we know very little about the backgrounds of our champion girls. Who are they away from the game? How many girls are playing overseas? How many have families? What local club did/do they play for? There is info out there, but only if you are willing to do the hard yards.

    The players need to be more accessible, the teams (both W-League & Matildas) need to be out there amongst the grassroots clubs. The FFA should be throwing information to the young, aspiring footballers, as well as the general public. As you mentioned, the internet is a media playground. Get the Matildas out to local clubs, meeting celebrities, get the video camera out & whack it onto YouTube. Get the girls to show us what a day in their life entails. Having a Facebook page is a start, but I still don't feel that they are putting enough on there. The players have been away for 4 weeks, yet all we know is they played a few matches & won the tournament. Fantastic, but what else did they do in China? What did they do on a rest afternoon/day?

    Football is only half of the story...

  2. Thanks for the input Douglas! More great points, hopefully if we keep prodding, we'll get more stories out there. I'm very glad I didn't watch Hey Hey.

  3. Great stuff Merryn and Douglas. Heartily agree. It seems to me though that the Matildas need a marketing person, who I believe could easilly pay for themselves, to just even be on to it with press releases (and much more if they have a bit of imagination). You're right that fans could do a lot, but if there's not a basic strategy coming from the Matildas management themselves, it's gonna be pretty hard.

    The Matildas' own official site almost never has news, unless they're about to play a game or have just played one. It's not enough.

  4. Merryn, you are spot on! One thing I would like to see is access to the players and I've rather given up on official channel for this (contacting the FFA)... thankfully, I'm building my own sporting networks and am slowly getting there. Like the Matildas, those of us with passion for the sport who are able to help with promotion and communication have to pay the bills some how. Until the FFA sets aside a dedicated promotional budget (and employ someone like me!) things are only gong to improve slowly.