A Platform That Gives All Athletes A Voice
AthletesVoice (formally known as PlayersVoice) is an online publishing platform that features articles, videos and podcasts from a range of different high-profile Australian sporting athletes. The platform allows athletes to directly connect with fans and has the ability to transform Australia’s sports media landscape. Athletes are able to discuss firsthand their reasons for retirement, changing clubs, milestone moments and other achievements, as well as physical and mental issues that they have faced in their careers.
AthletesVoice was launched in September in 2017 by CEO of Sports3.0 Pty Ltd, Kerry McCabe with stories from founding contributors, tennis star Nick Kyrgios, Melbourne Storm captain, Cameron Smith and first-class surfer, Sally Fitzgibbons. They are followed by 8 other Australian athletes from a range of sports, including Hawthorn’s all-time great, Luke Hodge, who had already prepared numerous first-person articles and podcasts for the launch, all of whom will heavily promote their content across all of their social medial accounts. The 11 athletes have at least 6 million followers combined on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. With the emergence of the internet and social networking, news is able to be recirculated quicker and worldwide (Dwyer and Martin 2017, p1082), opening an avenue for athletes to directly communicate to fans in an era of click bait and fake news. AthletesVoice, has therefore given sport stars a platform to create very real, inclusive and original content through first-person stories in both written and video format. With athletes distrust towards many media outlets, they often turned to their social media accounts to give their side of a story, however, it’s limited with word count and often only being seen in real time. Thus, this social networking site, allows athletes to go “beyond the traditional customer-vendor relationship to co-create with it’s customers” (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010, p29) by finding the right mix between channels to satisfy how customers are reached, in this case through the use of social news sharing (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010, p27).
Development Of The Site
The AthletesVoice website has grown and evolved drastically since being first launched two years ago with it already gaining over 20,000 followers on Instagram alone. With a whopping 500 high-profile men and women athletes, all of which have their own following on social media accounts, including Pat Cummins (see Figure 1.2) who has almost 250k followers on Instagram share their stories from AthletesVoice, this is also done by friends, family, teammates and teams. His titled ‘A window into our world’ does exactly what it says and what McCabe’s goal was when launching the site, he talks about the pressure in Australian Cricket at the time (following the sand-paper scandal) and his struggle getting caught up in the media surrounding it. This is also seen in AFL clubs, which have also used these sites to both build digital audiences that they can sell to sponsors and give the clubs and athletes a way to exploit control their brand.
“The global trend is to seize control of the news because news has economic value. By eliminating the middleman, the megaphone that is the press, we are able to tell the story in the way that we want without any filter or interpretation.” – AFL staff member
The format of AthletesVoice follows that of the American version, the Players’ Tribune, which has now spread to Europe and other parts of the world since it launched in 2014. It features high-profile news stories such as basketballer, Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors, which was extremely polarised my American media outlets at the time, he was able to tell his side of the story straight to the fans. By having this voice, Durant is able to challenge social media trolls, as well as journalist’s trying to sell the illusion of their story as to why he may have left for their own economical gain (Osterwalder and Pigneur 2010, p25). Sue Bird also had her say on the social networking site also, hers titled ‘So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend’ in response to Trump insulting the USWNT during the World Cup, whom her girlfriend, Megan Ripone was the captain and golden ball winner, and also disagreed with his political decisions such as equal pay. Both, the Players’ Tribune and AthletesVoice give women an equal voice to their male counterparts, where in the past female athletes and women’s competitions came second (Fink 2013, p331). This ‘No-filter’ attitude surrounding these sensitive political, economical, social and cultural topics, allows for these discussions to be had, helping fans realise that these sports stars are humans too. These digital networks have thus changed how people can come together through the burden of popular mainstream narratives (Couldry 2014, p617). However, these stories are still regulated by journalists who work for these sites and who help athletes write their stories, but what can and cannot be posted by athletes is yet to be determined.
This is evident with former Collingwood and Carlton AFL footballer, Alex Fasolo who experienced depression during his time playing, “I have some really dark times where you think about death a lot. This is a hard thing to talk about. It’s hard to explain. I get it. It’s an escape fantasy when things get really bad and dark thoughts do really travel in your mind.” He took time off football and his playing output was down since he was traded to Carlton, where he too was polarised in comments online and in football’s media. AthletesVoice allowed him to have his say and tell people what he was going through, where fans were able to understand his struggles. Similarly, former number one draft pick, Tom Boyd retired from AFL at 23 years of age after winning a premiership and arguably being best on ground in the grand final, he openly talked about his struggles with mental health (see Figure 1.3 below). As soon as this came out and he retired, everyone automatically jumped to the conclusion that it was because of these issues even though only a sentenced mention mental health in the whole paragraph announcing why on his Instagram. However, a video was released an interview by the football club and (not the AthletesVoice) highlighting exactly why he choose to retire, again reinforcing why the development of sites like these are necessary in the world of sports media.
But How Does This Business Make Money?
AthletesVoice is owned by Sports3.0 Pty Ltd means that it has a single provider that sole controls its technology but has multiple firms collaborate in developing the platform’s technology (Eisenmann 2007, p1). This is what AthletesVoice has done by not cluttering the pages with lots of sponsors, instead opting for a small amount of high-profile companies that will have access to sponsorship of particular content, sports codes and athletes, so that they have the ability to have their sports related branded content also placed on the platform. Hoping again to follow in the Players’ Tribune footsteps after it recently raised US$40 million, with a monthly page views of 100 million, and its readers staying on those pages for an average of five minutes. Brands and companies such as HeadSpace (which collaborated with the video above), Canon and UNIQLO all sponsor stories and invest in the social networking site to help advertise their products which coincide with sport in some aspect. News distribution from athletes with social news sharing allows for more positive connotations of creative engagement, political participation and cross-promotion (Dwyer and Martin 2017, p1080) of these brands’ products.
Another way the business makes money is by sharing its data with sponsors, McCabe stated, “we will help our brand partners … equipping them with consumer data and insights to better optimise their marketing activities outside of our environment.” By clearing stating in their privacy, and terms and conditions sections that they collect data and sell it to other sponsors means that they are able to do so as they aim to gain greater investment and capital. Wilken (2015, p53) argues that companies data sharing arrangements and cross-platform deals, such as the one stated above, prove the importance of political economic analyses in examinations of new media. This also allows brands to pick and choose where on the website they wish to put their advertisements, where they will gain views worldwide by a specific sporting audience. The emerging social news ecology also accounts for the commodity of ‘likes’ when these articles and videos are shared on social media. It enables these companies to quantify audience interests, and to expand their own online footprint, increasing referred traffic and simple engagement by using this reach of social media (Dwyer and Martin 2017, pp1085-1086).
Although it’s not a totally new business model, being based off the Players’ Tribune, it is still has a transformative impact both socially and politically. When we map the news-sharing ecology (see figure 1.4 infographic), we can see the “interlinked business models, ownership patterns and industrial power of social news intermediates” (Dwyer and Martin 2017, p1080). The site is quite restrictive as the content is only produced by athletes, but their voice deals with must larger issues in society, as seen above with Alex Fasolo and Tom Boyd and their battles with mental health and dealing the pressures of being an AFL player. When you finish reading one article you are offered others at the end, usually containing the same sport or issues discussed. This is because as, Abbate (2017, p10) argues, by framing a social space this way it usually highlights the active role of users in social groups and individual expression, which they can do on social media by being a part of this community. As well as amplifying time spent on the pages by using these algorithms (Gillespie 2016, p61).
There are other social networking services including sports clubs themselves and the Players’ Tribune, and there is another Australian site, Exclsuive Insight, which also focuses on athletes off the field, it majorly focuses on videos and those in the AFL and not exclusively to athletes with entertainers included too. It has less on a following as well as being limited to the website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and not having the relationship between sponsors like AthletesVoice, which includes LinkedIn, Youtube, RSS and Newsletters. By athletes getting involved with these new models of cultural production it allows for new forms of corporation and sharing. It gives these athletes “an opportunity to change the way we create and exchange information, knowledge and culture” (Couldry 2014, p10) in social, political and economical terms by giving people access directly to role models. Instead of feeding click-bait, fake news and stereotypical sporting media, AthletesVoice gives you an insight into humans who also happen to play sport, but are often heavily scrutinised by mainstream media.
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