Saturday, January 23, 2010
(An unstructured rant. Blame Q McCall and Megan Hueter for sparking it with their fine articles.)
Imagine that you are the new head of sales for Coca-Cola. You want to maintain your dominance over Pepsi in the soft-drink market.
Furthermore, imagine that you are presenting your new marketing campaign to Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta, GA. You make the following argument.
"Our market research has indicated that most of the people who drink Coca-Cola also drink orange juice. Therefore, we are going to limit all of our Coca-Cola advertising to the hours of 8 am to 12 noon, when most people drink breakfast. I guarantee success."
This is the problem that the WNBA faces in its advertising. Indeed, it's the problem that all sports advertising faces. It appears to me that the promotion of women's basketball takes place in only two contexts:
The first advertising is limited to a very narrow spectrum, namely, channels mostly devoted to sports programming. The only place I've ever seen WNBA commercials are in the middle of women's and men's basketball games. ESPN, or NBA-TV or maybe on of the local sports networks that carries a game. If these commercials are on network television, I've only seen them in those rare circumstances during hours when a women's game was shown on television.
The other type of advertising takes place strictly at the word-of-mouth level. Visits to schools and clinics. Community building at a basic level.
The problem with the first type of advertising is that the WNBA is fishing in a pond crowded with other fishermen. The demographic that the WNBA actively seeks - heavy consumers of male sports - is a demographic that is actively courted on a daily basis by better established leagues. Furthermore, these consumers are already aware of the WNBA and have by and large rejected it. Why the WNBA wishes to seek converts among an actively hostile audience is beyond me.
The other advertising is the most successful advertising of all - but it has to be followed up. Repetition equals truth. It reminds me of a joke about a movie that had such a high budget that "we can sell it to one viewer at a time".
This ties in to to two articles recently written by Q McCall over at Swish Appeal and Megan Hueter at Because I Played Sports regarding the opportunities that women's basketball sometimes abandons when reaching out to a new audience.
McCall writes about attempting to obtain media credentials for Swish Appeal writers:
So I sent out about 20 emails inquiring about the process of obtaining a credential for both writers and all of the great photography you see on the site. Some didn't respond. Some responded immediately and simply said they would grant us access. Others granted us access after a follow-up discussion. But some said they had a policy of only granting media access to writers for "major news media outlets" and would not provide us with a credential.
Hueter tells the same story:
When I (a small, yet proactive blogger who has an interest in your team) calls you to ask for media credentials, please don’t tell me you “don’t do blogs” (yes, it’s happened). That just makes my heart hurt. Who are you waiting for? ESPN?
This type of attitude certainly doesn’t make friends. Embrace any type of journalism that comes your way. Give up some control and trust us. It’s a rare thing these days.
It seems that bloggers fall into what Brad Hicks would call a "f***-you constituency" in women's sports. Hicks's term is used to describe political groups with influence but no power to set an agenda. Bloggers appear to fall into a middle ground between traditional sports reporting and fandom. Economic progressives and social conservatives are a "f***-you constituency" - major parties ask for their money but they then get no role in setting agenda, because the message is then, "well, f*** you, what are you going to do - vote for the other party?" Likewise, if a blogger is turned down, what is he or she going to do - not support the team?
If media directors had their way, they would prefer to deal with newspapers, radio and television rather than with bloggers. The problem is that, as in the WNBA's approach to advertising, this vein has been mined dry. We all know how it's been in many WNBA cities. The local papers cover the team grudgingly, if at all, and seem more interested in scandal or failure than in any successes that the W might experience. My suspicion is that sports reporters would rather remain masters of the two or three sports with which they're familiar rather than learn anything about a new sport - which drives sports departments to cover the same sports over and over and over and over....
New journalism, as Hueter wrote, needs to be embraced. So how does this tie into my opening statement about advertising. Because journalism IS advertising. What do you call the sports section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? Free advertising - at least for the men's sports in Atlanta. However, journalism is not practiced only by people who have a four-year college degree, although many people define those graduates as "journalists" and everyone else as "not-journalists". McCall writes that
Good writing usually involves the writer making some sort of claim about what happened and fleshing out the argument with the facts or provides the context and justification for a question that people should be asking but aren't. In that regard, it seems that good sports writing not only requires a desire to inform by reciting facts or just repeating what people have said, but a genuine interest in understanding what you're seeing better.
The WNBA's problem with advertising is exactly the same as its problem with journalism - go to the same old places. Preach to an indifferent audience., while ignoring the audience that is eager to spread the message.
If the WNBA is going to climb out of its self-imposed ghetto, it needs to go to new places. For advertising, this means broadcasting commericals in venues where one wouldn't expect to find them. What kind of audience do you want? Free thinkers? Then maybe you should be putting some commercials on the ScyFy Network. Hey, if Happy Herb's Used Cars can put together a 10-cent commercial and sell it, why can't the local WNBA teams sell local commercials.
For journalism, this means going to new places as well. Bloggers. Social media. Read Hueter's article for suggestions to make the game experience more immediate and more intimate. The old model where a media director completely controlled the message is fading fast - too many holes in the dam. The only way to control the message is to get it out there first, and that's where social media is kicking traditional journalism's ass.
What I can't understand is why women's college basketball refuses to try anything new. The WNBA is embracing social media and live telecasts - yes, I know that there are complaints but I'm in the minority of giving the WNBA thumbs-up in its efforts. It's time for women's college basketball to do the same.
More non-traditional advertising. More non-traditional journalism. Because I go to women's games and look at the empty seats and let me tell you, traditional ain't making the grade. For women's sports, it starting to look like that quote by G. K. Chesterton - it's not that promoting women's sports tried and failed, but rather that it was never tried.