So the Superbowl is over for another year. For American Football fans that means 6 months while they look out the window and wait for preseason to start. In the meantime though, I believe it’s time for both Australian’s and the Australian media to think about why the Superbowl (and American sports in general) is something which will never be matched here.
Sport is great. Australian sport is great. North American sport is great. But they are different. From the way they are covered to the passions that you see coming from the fans. The similarities for mine start and finish with the fact that one team is trying to beat the other.
The biggest difference between sport in the two continents is the way that sport is covered, and how that coverage can bring a city together to support their team. The perfect example of this is Melbourne newspaper The Age. The Age have a great AFL coverage, but that coverage is split amongst the following teams – Western Bulldogs, Essendon, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Carlton, Collingwood, Richmond, St Kilda and Hawthorn. Regardless of how good the coverage is, the paper has nine teams to cover. How is that coverage meant to unite a city? Pure and simple, It can’t. I think that part of the problem the Australian media face in covering sport, the national competitions that we are running are far too condensed. Take the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as an example of one of many organisations in North America who have the job of covering one team. When the Pittsburgh Pirates run out at the start of April, one thing is for sure – the Post-Gazette will let people know that it’s time to raise the Jolly Roger as the Pirates hunt for their first World Championship since 1979.
When you have a media who are charged with the role of devoting everything that have towards one team in one sport, the results you get are a city who live and die by the performance of their team. You get a city who are united for a single cause, a city that when you are there you can’t help but be sucked into the vortex that is a one-team town in professional sport.
Yes, there are American cities with two teams, but often the lines in the sand are drawn from which side of the city you are born on (Chicago with the Cubs and White Sox is the best example of this).
This is something I had the opportunity to discuss with a good friend of mine, Myles Harris on the most recent episode of Chatter Up on Hewitt Sports Network.
Myles and I have very different sporting backgrounds, but as you can hear in our discussion, this is one of many points that we agree on, and I think it’s certainly something we’ll both discuss at length in the future.
Both Seattle and Denver were at a standstill today, but where is that in the AFL? Even when Fremantle were playing Hawthorn in the 2013 decider, neither Melbourne or Perth came to a standstill, why? Because there are other teams in that city, and fans of those teams would give anything to see their rivals lose.
So how does this relate to the Superbowl? I’m not going to use the halftime show from this year as my landmark, because even though Bruno Mars is a good artist, he isn’t my cup of tea. In 2009 the Superbowl entertainment was Bruce Springsteen. In 2011 the AFL managed to recruit an out of shape, out of date and well off-key Meatloaf. Meatloaf VS Springsteen? Hardly a battle for the ages. Sure, you can say that money is the reason that the AFL couldn’t get someone like Springsteen in their wildest dreams, but that isn’t it. Sure, you can say that the AFL is a sport played in one country, but so is the NFL.
It’s about how you sell your product. Despite what Eddie McGuire says, they’re aren’t legions of 18-year-old males in America who are dreaming of playing for Collingwood. There are however at last count 28 Australian’s playing NCAA Football in Division One. You know what comes after that if you’re talented enough? The NFL.
I’ve been an AFL fan since I could walk, but the AFL are deluded the way they currently act in the public eye. The product is safe, and as a result of that, it’s getting stale.
When I say safe, I don’t mean that’s it’s in a position to be around in 10 years. Of course it is. Safe in the sense means that they aren’t willing to try anything to get new fans, to grow the game globally, and to market themselves into a position the NFL has managed to do.
Yes, I’m a Melbourne fan, and I in one way or another watch my team every week. I long for the day that we win a title, I have had nothing but pain as a Melbourne supporter, but even a Grand Final victory isn’t going to cloud what I can so clearly see.
The NFL have done such a solid job that there are countless people in Australia who only watch the Superbowl. I know Australian’s who don’t watch Grand Final day, some of whom can be added to that list when their own is playing.
Why is this? The NFL and their clubs make fans feel wanted. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, content that is driven from the organisation rather than the local media. Why is this model working? Because people aren’t willing to sit around and wait for content. Everyone want’s something yesterday, and that’s what isn’t happening in Australian sport.
North American finds a happy medium to ensure they cover all bases. Australia ensures that very few fans are left feeling like they belong.
Just do something AFL. Make the clubs the main source of media. Get the passion going. Make something happen, because at the current rate, they are going to get left behind, because everyday it’s getting easier to watch sport from somewhere else in the world. With our foreign loves making it easier than ever to connect with what they are doing, that is where the passion that many once had for you is going abroad.