THE ARL Commission has set up a sub-committee to look at overhauling media relations; and it’s going to meet in the next week or so.
Before I go any further, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve already got your hand on the bottom corner of this page, about to turn it. Here’s a journo about to waste your time whinging about how hard his job is. Even though you buy Rugby League Week, you’d rather the players wrote it themselves and cut out the slimy middlemen you trust less than used car salesmen.
I’m not going to convince many of you otherwise – so let me try another tack. From a personal point of view, I am not worried about access to players. At this advanced stage of my career, I can sit here and pontificate in columns like this, perhaps grab a player at fulltime on the radio each week and one for A-List, and collect a paycheque or two without a problem. Happy days.
If the majority of them don’t want to talk to me, no worries.
The reason I am throwing this up as a so called Big Issue is that as a game, my friends, we are outflanked by the enemy. AFL will prop up their expansion teams with that war chest we keep reading about, rugby union still has the big end of town onside even if everyone else has forgotten about them, and no matter how many team owners go bonkers in soccer (which I still call it, free country right?), they have an international dimension we can only dream of.
But when we talk about winning these battles, we talk about getting into schools, getting on TV in Melbourne and Perth, players behaving themselves and $1 hot dogs. Why does the most obvious, completely free strategy not even pop up on the radar?
That is, what if we threw the doors open to our sport once more? They were wide open until just after the Super League war…
Here are some excepts from the NFL media guidelines:
POSTGAME ACCESS – After a reasonable waiting period, defined as 10-12 minutes maximum after the completion of the game, the home and visiting team locker room areas will be opened to all accredited media with immediate access to all players and the head coach.
WEEKLY LOCKER ROOM ACCESS – Each club will open its locker room during the normal practice week (based on a Sunday game) on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to all accredited media for player interviews for a minimum of 45 minutes.
HEAD COACHES – In addition to holding a news conference after every game, head coaches must be available on a regular basis to the media that regularly cover the team during each practice week of the season. At a minimum, the head coach must be available to the local media at least four days during each practice week from training camp through the end of the season.
PLAYERS – Players must be available to the media following every game and regularly during the practice week as required under league rules and their contracts. It is not permissible for any group of players to boycott the media. Star players with heavy media demands must be available to the media that regularly cover their teams at least once during the practice week in addition to their required post-game media availability. All NFL players are, upon request of his club public relations director, required to participate in weekly conference calls with the media from the opposing team’s city.
And so it goes on. And On. Not being truthful about injuries, for instance, seems punishable by a slow, painful death.
The NFL is the most successful sports league in the world and gets more TV rights money than baseball and ice hockey combined. There will be those who say it’s not in our culture to turn an Australasian sports league into a media circus. But why do we want to turn it into a premier league-style prison camp? Why is that better?
As someone said to me, you throw open the doors of the dressing room once a week (four times and it might be like a Spinal Tap in-store appearance where no-one shows up) and you get nine good stories and one bad. Why should we be obsessed with that one bad story? Our players have got too used to hiding behind media managers, sneaking out back doors, putting themselves on bans.
Our stars know they are role models now – but don’t appreciate that when they are talking to hacks, they are actually reaching the very people they are role models for. All these measures have to backed up by fines, of course, or else they are worthless.
I would love to see the look on the faces of our competitors if the ARL Commission calls a media conference in a month or so to announce there will be dozens more media conferences, interview opportunities and the the like, week after week, month after month, year after year, forever.
See, with wealth and power often comes arrogance. And our rivals – soccer bans reporters from rooms completely, AFL players are unreachable during the week, rugby union has sterile all-ins – will find it hard to change their own cultures to keep pace with us.
I didn’t set out to be negative in this column. I’m not complaining about this club being good at that and that club being bad at this when it comes to media relations. What I’m proposing is something positive, a whole new philosophy which costs absolutely nothing.
Instead of trying to stay out of the paper and off the TV, let’s wake up every day and do our darndest to get in and on them. Those other mugs won’t know what hit them.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK