Consistently over the past decade, the internet has become a bigger and bigger part of the sports media landscape. Just recently, the NFL steered away from TV and started to unveil new broadcast opportunities via games on Twitter. One of the world’s largest horse races, the Melbourne Cup, became the first global event live streamed on the social media network last October. Online broadcasting is the way of the future, and it’s quickly becoming the way of the present as well.
For teams, the challenge becomes presenting not only traditional media opportunities to news stations and TV networks, but generating their own content to interact with fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. It forces them to be creative, think outside the box and also creates broadcast opportunities for sportscasters looking to embed themselves with a team.
Paul Riordan is the Media and Public Relations Manager for the North Melbourne Football Club, in the Australian Football League. Paul marshals the resources of one of the league’s smaller clubs, producing one of the best digital footprints in the league. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Paul to discuss North Melbourne’s strategy, their creativity and where sports media is trending.
Can you give us an overview of what North Melbourne does to utilize social media, YouTube and other platforms to engage with fans?
We aim to be really open and accessible, we want the fans to see everything that goes on in the club. In the grand scheme of things, we know we’re one of the smaller clubs in the AFL. But if you look at the media exposure that we got last year, it shows that we’re making things more accessible. Broadcasters and reporters are getting more access to our players, inside the inner sanctum on a game day and it’s something that we pride ourselves on. Whether they’re North Melbourne fans or not, they’re still getting an inner look into the club seven days a week.We extend that on our digital channels through the week as well with everything we produce. There’s so many stories, whether it’s what the players are doing off the field or stuff from training, it’s all great content. In developing this, we’ve been able to get the playing group acustomed to having a camera around a lot so it helps them not be shy and helps us produce great content. It’s a trust thing, with the players knowing we’re not going to make them look bad with all the content we produce. It all comes down to just being open, accessible and bringing the fans as close to the club as possible.
TV ratings have been consistently dropping over recent years in a lot of sports with more and more content, live games and other media being shown exclusively online. How do you balance your focus on a traditional platform like television, with new media?
Every AFL team is a part of the AFL Network. In some cases, we are restricted in what we can and can’t do in terms of broadcast opportunities, and we certainly understand these restrictions, given the significant funds broadcasters put in to the game. Digital is a huge part of what we’re doing, adopting new technologies, as well as taking new approaches on traditional media management. I think that everyone is seeing the impact that something like a Facebook Live has had over the last year or so, it’s changed the whole video landscape and we definately try to find unique and innovative ways to use those platforms for our fans.
When comparing sports in Australia to major North American teams, the setup is very different. Teams in North America, in many cases, produce their own broadcast opportunities, or have broadcasters tied to the team all season from regional radio or TV networks. Australia tends to be more station and network coverage, rather than team generated. How do you as a club manage the level of communication with networks to feed information and story ideas to them, instead of relying on an in-house broadcaster to tell those stories?
My main job is to deal with the media on a day to day basis, and those contacts that we have in the local media are crucial. Being open and accessible, the media love that and seem to enjoy coming here. During quiet days in the sports world, we’re always one of the first ones they’ll call to see if they can come down to training and chat with a player. 90% of the time it’s not a problem and we make it work.
In relation to in-house broadcast opportunities, I think it’s something that we’d all like to achieve in the future. You look at major soccer teams like Liverpool or Manchester United all have their own TV networks that are global now, and it’s 24/7 content about a team. But to get to that point, and it’s a long way off, but is no doubt something we’d all like to see in the future. Some teams are maybe a bit closer and have their own in-house media production studio.
We’re always looking around the league and around Australia to see what other teams and leagues are doing. We do have conferences and events where we share some ideas, past case studies, campaign results, things like that to try and generate new ways to expand our clubs and expand the league, but naturally everyone is a little guarded with their secrets.
I certainly think that it’s again moving towards more in-house broadcast opportunities. One of our ambitions in the future is to have our own in-house studio that we can go live with at any moment, broadcast to all of our platforms with player interviews, features and other content. Fans get notified on their phones and you’re reaching out to them instantly. The technology to go live is just so easy now, compared to three or four years ago where you had to buy so much gear…it’s completely changed.
North Melbourne has assembled a staff of digital media personnel, reporters, producers, etc. What do you look for in people to come into a situation where a lot is required by a small number of people?
It’s tough to work in the sports media industry. In a lot of cases developing these broadcast opportunities, you have to do a lot with not too many resources, and it’d always be nice to have more…but I think we do a lot and produce some great work with what we have.
But to give a real world example, on a game day our digital and video guys are at the venue clipping the game up, producing post-match interviews and things like that, then everyone re-convenes at the club and cuts all those up, share on social media, send emails to media outlets with the game story and all that information. So a game on a Saturday night that would finish around 11pm, you do all those interviews after the players do recovery…by the time you get back to the club, cut up everything, upload and share you’re probably not leaving until the early hours. So I think just being flexible is a huge asset.
Overall, it just comes down to be willing to go the extra mile and be a bit of an all-rounder as well. For my position as a Media Manager, the job’s responsibilities and expectations have changed a lot in the last three or four years. For example, I’ll take photos on the training track, and while that’s not technically part of my job description, it’s what is expected and it’s what is required to produce the content that we do. We all need to pitch in, and we love doing it.
It’s important to have a wide set of skills. You make yourself more employable if you have those secondary job skills where you can record video, take photos, be on camera, edit packages and know social media. If you have an attitude of “it’s not my job”, then you’re not going to be successful in sports media.
To put it in perspective, there are people who would do this job, or most jobs in sports media for free, or even pay to do the job. So being able to go to a game and get paid for it is a pretty good feeling. Like every job, you have days where they drag out and you want to go home, but at the end of the day, we watch sport for a living and I absolutely love what I do.
Having been involved in sports media for the last ten years or so, where do you see sports media and various broadcast opportunities and other aspects heading in the next decade?
The next TV rights deal for the AFL will be very interesting, as will the new collective bargaining agreement with the players…the issue of access to the players will likely change as they look to increase their wages. Whether that means there will be more journalists in the rooms after the game, I think a lot of that will evolve moving forward.
In talking with the broadcasters, we’re always looking at ways to discover new initiatives for a game day. All teams have mic’d up players, had commentators sit in coaches boxes, had cameras in meetings…all these behind the scenes things have run through a broadcast at some point, so there’s probably not a huge number of things to do on a game day outside of strapping a GoPro to a players head which isn’t maybe the most practical situation. But as we go forward, it’ll be about giving the TV networks and the online networks more access during the week will be a challenge in itself.
AFL is massive in Australia, but it’s far from a global sport when you compare it to something like soccer. There are certainly league-wide plans to take the game to a more global audience and steps have been made into places like China and India recently, and I think the media side will contribute to that. Hopefully we can see even more global exposure, which will only benefit clubs and of course our sponsors.
Thank you to Paul for his time and the North Melbourne Football Club for being very accessible and open to talking about their media setup. You can find the team everywhere, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.