There’s an emerging trend in the Australasian sporting world – sportspeople taking control of how they are represented.
In the past, they’ve had to rely on journalists and risk misquotes, or hold on to their stories until the end of career tell-all autobiography. Now, just like the rest of the online world, they’re finding platforms to voice their thoughts when and how they wish. When image galleries, live streams and 140 characters aren’t enough, sportspeople are building their own channels to convey their opinions.
The advent of social media opened this door slightly, allowing players to confirm or refute news, issue apologies, and start or settle beefs with counterparts, journos and fans worldwide. This would have been liberating for many initially, never previously having an opportunity for such mass reach. This has now been taken further, led by our trans-Tasman cousins, which is unsurprising given the enhanced professionalism of their sporting world.
Australia’s sporting stars created Player’s Voice, with names like Cameron Smith, Usman Khawaja, Sally Fitzgibbons and Sam Kerr validating the platform from the start. The site’s purpose centres around elite sportspeople tiring of negativity and misrepresentation in mainstream media, and feeling that social media is ‘too shallow’ to tell their story. The contributor list has grown to include names from more than six of Australia’s leading codes, as well as Olympians and a handful of Kiwis they’ve adopted as their own (Adam Blair and Mark Hunt).
The best thing about Player’s Voice, other than its breadth of contributors, is the quality of content and discussion points. The tagline promises ‘no beat ups, no clickbait and no agendas’. It is a refreshingly unique approach, cutting out the middleman and potential spin doctoring to hear how players are affected by various, and often serious, sporting issues. Stars have tackled the heated Australian same-sex marriage debate, the rugby league players bargaining agreement and stereotypes facing women in sport. Despite what’s seen on some Instagram accounts, players are capable of having an opinion on more than sponsored recovery drinks. Not every player is a scholar, but many have educated thoughts on life as a sportsperson and the psycho-social situations sport can throw at them.
Here at home, we’ve witnessed the seemingly relentless social promotion of Behind the Seams, a paid content channel of cricketers looking to give avid fans a taste of life closer to their favourite players. With Scott Styris as co-founder, the initial content has been quite Black Cap heavy, and has even gained the Sir Paddles seal of approval. Now established, the platform has seen appearances from international stars such as Glenn Maxwell and Rohit Sharma. As an aside, it’s easy to see how the T20 roadshow has opened up connections between players to boost these guest opportunities.
These snippets feature retired players telling yarns from their heyday, current stars giving insights to the state of the game, and coaching tips. As video-based content, Behind the Seams’ is following digital trends, with many in marketing circles aware that the dominant platforms rig algorithms to prioritise video. People are becoming more comfortable with paying for online content, and one can assume the major target market is the rabidly-hungry Indian market.
Platforms to enable this new communication between players and fans are increasingly cost effective. With a mass of fans interested to hear what their favourite players have to say, finding sponsorship and promotion of these channels is probably not difficult. What might become difficult is the balance between this celebrated independence and integrity and financing the platforms going forward.
Sports stars taking matters into their own hands and giving their thoughts on pressing issues is to be applauded. It is an interesting and fresh approach proving that players are just as frustrated by the deteriorating standard of some media outlets as the public. The ability to combat headlines or talkback with a well-thought out, convincing argument is a refreshing and unique selling point against the mainstream narrative. It’s certainly the type of content I prefer reading.
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