Victorian grassroots AFL clubs still struggling on the socials

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AFL clubs in Victoria are still struggling to get back to 2019 social media activity levels following two-years of Covid disruptions.

TL;DR Report Summary

  • From 2019 to ’20 post publishing for Victorian AFL clubs dropped by -49%.
  • For audience engagement the result was even more alarming at -58%.
  • A similar analysis of WA AFL clubs revealed a fall of -14% in posts and -22% for engagement highlighting the difference in the impact of Covid restrictions between states.
  • From January to the end of July 2022, publishing amongst Victorian AFL clubs is still down -7% compared to the same period for ‘19.
  • Audience engagement is also down -13% in 2022 compared to ‘19.  
  • Social media has assumed “communications utility” status within clubland as an essential tool for the delivery of sport.
  • One important lesson learned from Covid is that in the absence of events, clubs have nothing to talk about on social media and audiences have nothing to engage with.
  • The big question is whether this audience ‘drift’ will eventually translate into a fall in participation levels with social media a useful proxy measure of a sports health.

Victorian AFL club social media activity collapsed in 2020

 Analysing the monthly post-publishing outputs of Victorian AFL clubs is telling.

The last “normal” AFL season in Victoria was back in 2019. Here we can see a steady climb in outputs to May and a peak in August as the race for the finals draws to a close. Then there’s a dip in September as the number of active clubs thin-out in the run-up to each leagues Grand Final before a substantial drop in October at season close.

In 2020, we can clearly see the impact of the first national lockdowns through March to May before activity collapsed as rolling lockdowns knocked the stuffing out of Victoria with winter team sports hit the worst.

Last year looked a lot better initially with a trajectory similar to 2019 before a series of lockdowns in late May then July plus a several month phase from August to October once again led to a collapse in AFL club social media activity as the season sputtered to a close.

With the worst of Covid now behind us (?) Victorian AFL clubs have had a near normal first half of the year with post-publishing upto July down -7% on the equivalent 2019 period. Time will tell if the year finishes on a high and the sport is able to start the process of repairing damage down by Covid in earnest.

Audience engagement takes an even bigger hit

While publishing outputs by Victorian AFL clubs took a hit due to Covid, the impact on audience engagement has been worse.

Here we can see for the period from January to July audience engagement (Facebook reactions, comments and shares) was down -51% from 2019 levels in ‘20, -19% in ’21 and a stubborn -13% in ’22.

Plenty of repair work required

The extend of the hit on Victorian AFL club social media outputs is even clearer when looking at post publishing on an annual basis. Here we can see a 2020 result lower than what was achieved way back in ‘15. Even a strong recovery last year was only enough to get the sport back to a little above ‘17 levels.

Audiences still disengaged

If the results for the AFL clubs in Victoria were bad on the publishing side of the equation the impact of Covid on audience engagement were worse in 2020 thanks to a -58% fall (compared to a -49% result for posts).

Losing four years of impressive social media growth in just one-year is a tough pill to swallow for any sport with the current trajectory suggesting another couple of years of hard slog just to get back to pre-Covid levels.

The big questions here is where have all the audiences gone, is it permanent and is this audience drift likely to have a knock-on effect on participation?  

Takeaways

1) Social Media has become a communications Utility

What’s becoming increasingly clear from Shunt’s research is that social media (Facebook in particular) has now achieved utility type status as an essential communications tool for the delivery of sport.

2) Audience Drift

  1. Having a season partially or even worse completely cancelled leaves little for clubs to talk about on social media (see Utility above).
  2. If clubs have little to talk about then audiences have little reason to engage.
  3. If audiences have little to engage with, they begin to socially ‘drift’ away from their club.

Report Notes;

  • Victorian AFL club report sample size of 300 from a total dataset of 900
  • Clubs selected were the largest in the state by (Facebook) audience size
  • Club Facebook data only

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