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AFL and the media: An interview with Fremantle’s Luke Morfesse

Fremantle’s media and comms manager, Luke Morfesse, shares some thoughts on handling media requests and why he uses Blinder.

When it comes to sport in Australia, the biggest show in town is the AFL. In a country of 24 million people, there are 875,000 Australian Football League season members spread across 18 teams. The code – also known as Aussie Rules – dominates in the states of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

Last year, the AFL minor premiers were the Fremantle Dockers. Their star man, Nat Fyfe, won the Brownlow Medal as the best player in the game, while over 50,000 season members followed the Western Australian team.

Running communications for the Dockers requires an especially steady pair of hands. Luke Morfesse has provided those for the club since 2008. He came from a 21-year career in print journalism, including a decade as the chief crime reporter for The West Australian newspaper. At different times, he also headed the paper’s Melbourne and Sydney bureaux – covering anything from politics, to industrial relations, crime, entertainment and sport.

Here Luke shares his thoughts on what’s involved in steering communications for a team like Fremantle.

Thanks for chatting with us Luke. For starters, how would you describe the relationship between the media and your club?

There’s a symbiotic relationship between the media and any organisation. We need the media and they rely on us for stories and information to relay to their readers, viewers and listeners. Those people are also our members, supporters and sponsors.

Our fans invest in us by paying to see games, and buying memberships and merchandise, for example. And, even if they’re not investing financially, all fans are invested in the club emotionally via their support. We have an obligation as a club to give them a return for that commitment by keeping them informed. So it’s incumbent upon us to get information out there to the media via as many platforms as possible.

There are more than 1,200 accredited media in Australia covering AFL. That’s probably far more than those covering state and federal politics combined. There’s incredible interest from the media, fuelled by a thirst for knowledge by the people who follow the game. We regularly remind our players, coaches and executive team that the media are an important conduit to our members and supporters. Every time you do an interview, that’s who you are talking to.

We have our own communication platforms – our website, social media channels and club publications – but the mainstream media also play a crucial role in communicating with our members and supporters.

What’s one major challenge in the role?

It’s not so much a challenge, but it’s the reality of online news. The 24/7 news cycle and social media. There’s a lot of focus, not surprisingly given it’s always been the case, on being first with the story. But there is not as much focus from some of not only being first but also being right. There is also far more “opinion” based reporting, as opposed to factual reporting.

As Craig Hutchison from Crocmedia often says, football media is an opinion-based business. That’s not going to change and, depending on who is expressing that opinion, the story either goes nowhere or generates further speculation, opinion and news.

How big a media workload does your club have?

Last year, we completed more than 1,100 media engagements, including media conferences, one-on-one interviews and game day media. Included in that figure is a significant number of phone interviews for print and radio.

Fremantle was one of the first clubs to use Blinder's 'virtual team phone' technology. How has that worked out for you?

It’s going really well. There is the advantage of confidentiality with personal mobile numbers, which the players really appreciate, but for us it’s the time management and efficiency that we see as the real and tangible benefit that Blinder delivers.

When you schedule a call, the interviewer gets the information they need, the player gets the details they need, and we get that as well - and it effectively goes straight into our calendar. Then everyone gets an automatic reminder just before the call. So you avoid the situation of setting up an interview that’s two or three days away and then having the reporter or a radio producer come back to you saying, “I can’t reach the player.”

We haven’t had an instance where we’ve scheduled a Blinder call and the player hasn’t been available. And we haven’t had any real push back from the media. Once you explain how it works and why we’re doing it, they’re fine – especially those media organisations that might have had problems in the past reaching players or coaches.

Around the time of the interview, we can jump on our Blinder dashboard and see a call is in progress and, if we need to, download the audio.

We do all media calls for our club through Blinder now. We have a full record of what’s going on and it's saving everyone time.

Do you record a lot of your calls?

Most of them. Unless print journos have very good shorthand, they’re recording the calls too. I don’t have a problem with that at all, as it helps their accuracy in terms of reporting.

Recording the calls has a two-fold benefit for us:

  1. We no longer have to hassle radio stations to get audio of interviews. It’s there on our Blinder dashboard to download as soon as the call is finished. Then we have the option to put it on our website as content.
  2. We can use the audio as a training tool with younger players. We can listen to the interview and point out a few things. Often it’s just encouragement. Providing some positive feedback.

And how have the players responded to using Blinder?

They’ve embraced the system because they:

  • Get all the details about any call as soon as it is scheduled
  • Get a reminder
  • Appreciate the confidentiality that comes from their numbers not being circulated

If you give a number to someone, it may end up going to someone else and then someone else and so on. Particularly with high-profile players, they certainly enjoy the confidentiality aspect of it. But, for Fremantle, using Blinder is more around the overall efficiency and time saving.

What’s a suggestion you would have for someone looking to get involved in pro sports comms management?

  • Be genuinely interested in news and have an appreciation and understanding of how the media works and the demands and constraints under which all media operate.
  • You also need the ability and desire to tell a story. Informing your members and supporters about your players, coaches and your club, whether it’s via your club’s digital media platforms or the mainstream media, is essentially still about storytelling.

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