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Stop the press! FFA get it right

by Teo Pellizzeri on Jul 14, 2011

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So just how much bang did the Matildas get for their World Cup buck?

As far as capturing the public’s interest is concerned, the online evidence is plentiful.

When Kyah Simon’s penalty hit the back of the net in late May last year to win Australia the women’s Asian Cup tournament, the publicity, at the time, was what I considered to be impressive.

There were at least double figures-worth of Tweeters celebrating the result (previously games at the tournament had been left to yours truly and fellow GGArmy blogger Ann Odong to exchange comments in a vacuum) and the Matildas managed to get a bump in mainstream media attention, peaking with Melissa Barbieri’s awkward appearance on a Wednesday edition of Hey Hey It’s Saturday.

But this World Cup blew that to smithereens.

On Sunday night when Ellyse Perry’s long shot hit the back of the net there was an explosion, pandemonium, wobbly-voiced “wooooaaaaaahhhs” in living-rooms all around the country. And then those watching took to cyberspace and blew the #gomatildas and #matildas hashtag up.

I had been a bit of a cynic about Ellyse Perry’s addition to the World Cup squad, perceiving her as a cricketer that the FFA was desperately holding on too in order to keep getting mainstream media attention. Sure, she may have been partially responsible for both first-half goals conceded against Sweden, but her goal has also re-paid every dollar the FFA maintaining her dual-sport status. With one of the iconic moments in Australian sporting history under her belt, Perry will hopefully find a settled position in the Matildas team and be a part of the squad for years to come.

But the FFA’s bang for its buck goes far beyond the one player that was identifiable, if not a household name, before the tournament. Rather than get into the nation’s living rooms via Perry’s good looks on a TV screen, the FFA used a far smarter tactic. They embraced social media.

This tournament was, to the FFA’s credit, an emphatic victory for fan engagement. If anything, it may have been groundbreaking model for all non-professional teams to take note of in order to (to use a modern sporting cliché) “spread their brand.”

By making the players and coach Tom Sermanni available to questions via Facebook and Twitter, the average fan had never got a better opportunity to feel like their support, their attention to a fringe sport, actually mattered and meant something.

While the answers for these exchanges rarely contained pearls of wisdom, the fact they happened at all is significant. Previously the communication to athletes at a major tournament was one-way. Fan sends a Telstra hero-message and that’s the end of the chain. The hope or assumption that the message makes it to the target athlete is satisfaction enough for the sender. This tournament was far more real, and personal.

The FFA and its W-League clubs now have a couple of months to take stock of what happened with this World Cup and think about how to harness the engagement, and emotional investment out there in the fanbase. A bump of even 100 fans per game to W-League crowds this coming season would be a significant mark-up on last year, so there really is no job too small.

While high-profile bloggers like Bill Simmons are calling for a rollback of “noble luxuries” like the WNBA in order to assist the NBA financially through its current lock-out, the FFA is at a point where the small potatoes in the W-League, once described to me by a former high-ranking business administrator within football as “a financial black hole”, could be the valuable ally to the A-League that soccer die-hards wish it could be.