What happens when you lose a blog somewhere, somehow, and its just too painful to rewrite? You get a waffle like this …
The NRL has had another week where it must be wondering ‘what’s the bleeding point?’
You can’t please everyone all the times, but the NRL can’t seem to please anyone at all right now!
It is steadily losing the battle of engagement (with the fans and the media and, if it’s not careful, the clubs too). And if the Allianz Stadium entertainment coughed up last Saturday is any guide, well it looks like they’re on the back foot there too. I always find its best to own up to a stuff up, and after all, rugby league is the epicentre of forgiveness, for anything no less, is it not? You can’t engage when you’re trying to put one over the fans. Trust me, NRL, you will be better for it.
It seems so long ago now that a bright-eyed, fresh-faced CEO stepped into what he thought was a fluff piece interview designed to ease him into the job, trotted out a bit of new-age management-speak in the form of E-squared (engagement and entertainment … and jumping castles), and has been unable to right the listing ship from there.
Now, some of the NRL’s problems are of their own making – ok, a lot, and we’ll get to that – but it certainly isn’t being helped by the constant undermining throughout the media, which has been using its bully pulpit to fan the flames of fan disaffection for the entirety of the season. In so doing, it is diverting attention from what is an awesome product and distancing fans from the game, though it would never admit that.
The unfortunate part about this is that the NRL and its media partners should be considered (especially by themselves, as a matter fact) as a consolidated, symbiotic whole. They are in this together and feed off each other. The NRL gives commentators the opportunity and space to fill pages of copy that cover a wide array of subjects, from game previews and reviews, to news and developments and profiles, right through to the potentially incendiary opinion pieces. It is quite simply a rich source of material.
The media on the other hand is the vehicle through which the NRL can market the game. It publicises and propagates the game by engaging its own readers. It is one of the ways the NRL can engage the fans, whose excitement and interest build through the week leading to matches, and who spend half of the next analysing every last play. The whole process should be a virtuous circle.
Given the interdependence between the two, it’s therefore difficult to understand why many in the media approach rugby league as if it were their mortal enemy. In some cases it is downright impossible to discern a love of the game, let alone an appreciation of it. There is always room for constructive criticism, which is actually helpful, and infinitely preferable to the outrageous slings and arrows of poisonous keyboards that assassinate character faster than Sylvester Stallone can murder dialogue. Yet, there has been a distinct lack of suggestions or recommendations from this source, precisely the opposite of what you’d expect in a perfect world where those whose bread is buttered by the NRL have a distinctive interest in helping to improve the game.
Part of growing the game is having the stakeholders pulling in the same direction. Some would counter that it seems to be doing rather well in terms of increasing salary caps and broadcasting deals despite the internecine relationship between the NRL and media. I would counter that by suggesting where the game is situated now is better defined as settling rather than striving, and there is a significant amount of work to be done to take it to the next level.
The NRL needs to help heal the media relationship, but first it needs to heal itself and re-engage its stakeholders who have become disillusioned at the Inspector Clouseau-like progress they have made throughout the year.
Organisations don’t grow and flourish from a macro perspective (top down). They grow by building a stable and sustainable foundation, They grow from the micro level, in other words. It can be no other way, and kudos to David Smith and team for recognising this, reorganising the team, and beginning on the road to redemption. Results are now key, but it’s almost like they have so many things to accomplish, they don’t quite know where to begin, even with the new silo approach.
What I think I see here is the (the very real) Ziegarnik effect – the state of mental tension and imbalance that is caused by uncompleted tasks. I’m sure we can all understand the feeling of not having even one extra atom of space in our head for more information. Because the brain becomes overburdened during these periods, it doesn’t have the space required for the information to move about and reorganise effectively. Quite simply, it is locked into a state of paralysis, and little to no progress is made – on anything.
Sounds quite like the situation the NRL finds itself in currently, doesn’t it?
This is where it becomes crucial to not only define and prioritise your tasks and focus on delivering each one in order, but also to do it effectively. Multitasking on a grand scale, especially with so many moving and contingent parts such as in the NRL, is a road to precisely nowhere. And they sure as hell are not getting the support outside the game that would assist them in this endeavour.
The result so far has been a slow drip of solutions that haven’t been prompt enough, many of which have been misdiagnosed and misdirected, and which are struggling to coalesce into a coherent strategy, yet this is what the NRL management need to sell to a sceptical fan base.
Each fan, each club, and each stakeholder of whatever type needs to know the game is being organised around a set of key, well publicised principles that are easily measured (I would be starting with ticketing policy and crowds as a matter of priority, the standard of refereeing, and tweaking the rules to make the game an even better spectacle, just to start). I have confidence this will happen under David Smith, even though this year has been a slow start.
But first, they need to engage with stakeholders.
Open discussion is useful. Passion is useful. Talking to people with different views and perspectives is extremely useful.
I remember having a client who was a real pain in the arse, abusing anybody at the slightest provocation (or even without on the days where the Prozac hadn’t kicked in).
But rather than take the bait (client is always right, right?) and react without considered thought, there was a lesson to be learned that worked for us. Hard to imagine, I know.
The positive lesson learned from this was that, hey, he might have underdeveloped frontal lobes and social skills, but let’s examine whether he has a point before reacting. His method of expression may have been obnoxious, but if his complaints actually had some value, could it possibly be that our more mild-mannered clients were thinking the same thing, but were too polite and non-confrontational to say it?
Needless to say, the situation turned out to be a net positive because the complaints were well (and loudly!) defined and structured, and we were under no illusions as to what was expected from us.
This is a lesson the NRL and the media might well heed. The game itself doesn’t need to engage the fans – it already has. The NRL needs to engage the fans and restore an element of trust in its stewardship of the game. At the same time, the media need to provide more valuable input to go with what is currently just criticism From the grasses knoll.
Lastly, if you got this far, you need to closely examine yourself!