In the strangest year of sport to date, there’s an undercurrent of diverse voices ready to enter footy commentary boxes and begin Making The Call.
In a strange year (to say the least), wider attention was given to the conversation around footy commentary and the standard we’ve come to expect. With men’s footy played in a hub, and Victorians restricted to a second lockdown during the bulk of a condensed season, plenty of people were forced to watch games on television or listen on radio that they otherwise would have attended in person and, in turn, they listened—ever so closely—to the commentary.
While the situation did present some positives—fast tracking Daisy Pearce from the boundary line to an expert comments role at Channel 7—it became more obvious that not only is there a real lack of diversity in commentary boxes, but the standard has notably fallen away. In 2020, this is a real problem and one that needed serious attention.
Enter Making The Call, a women in Aussie rules broadcasting program from Lucy and Emma Race, two parts of The Outer Sanctum team, offered in partnership with the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation.
We previously highlighted the announcement of Making The Call in October, a program focused on creating pathways for women determined to pursue a career in Aussie rules footy broadcasting. It was designed to fill the gap, guiding participants toward the best resources, upskilling and mentorship they needed based specifically on the kind of role they desire in the field. From TV to radio, special comments to analysis to play-by-play, the program was not prescriptive to tell women where they needed to fit in, but to help them work towards and identify what they wanted.
Initially intended to accept 15 applicants, the pilot program in fact took on 21 determined women. These women came to the program all with different career aspirations but were wholly focused on changing the norm of footy broadcasting, while looking for the support and advice they needed to not only put their hand up, but to ensure those in power saw them raise it. The cohort included four AFLW players, two current or past AFL club employees, an AFL men’s goal umpire, a pioneer of the women’s National Championships (pre-AFLW), and a number of enthusiastic fresh faces who have been working away as volunteers and freelancers to break into the highly competitive space of sports broadcasting for a number of years.
I was lucky enough to be one of those 21 women.
Everyone was fitting the program in amongst their busy lives. One would be ducking in and out while working as a marriage celebrant. AFLW players would be checking in to the program sessions from locker rooms or cars on the way home from training. One even tuned in from a recovery session in the pool. Whatever it was, everyone made it work in order to soak up every piece of information afforded to the group from such a unique and specifically tailored program to help us, to help more women, enter and thrive in sports broadcasting. Part of that was the understanding and flexibility offered by Emma and Lucy that for many women looking to break into media, we’re coming from places of being committed to multiple jobs, family, sport and feeling that these keep us out. These barriers were broken down for us during this program.
Conducted totally via video chat—cheers COVID—entering the first meeting was admittedly a little nerve wracking. Video chats are awkward at the best of times, let alone when you’re about to meet an impressive group of women. Oh, and the prospect of listening to the one and only Mel Jones speak straight off the bat probably didn’t help the nerves either (but also, what a privilege).
Across three sessions, the group was taught/inspired/motivated not just by Jones, but from the likes of Daisy Pearce, Kelli Underwood, Peter Holden, Tess Armstrong, David Barham and Andy Maher on the various requirements of both television and radio broadcasts. Not obvious things either, but the things you learn on the job. The things you’re meant to know but no one tells you. The things that heighten your anxiety when trying to prepare for a new role, especially one that is so public facing and exposing.
What do I need to bring to a call? Who should I know and speak to? What should I avoid wearing? What extra preparation should I be doing?
All of these answers—while seemingly simple—provide a layer of confidence that empowers new broadcasters. For women, this is especially true when we’re societally conditioned to be quiet and think about the right thing to say and when to say it, to not interrupt or challenge anything. To not ask questions that might further highlight our outsider status. These lessons, this advice from those who are doing the work, who have learned the hard way without programs offered to them such as Making the Call, are invaluable.
While the program itself lasted only three tightly-packed sessions, Lucy and Emma Race—the masterminds behind it all—have effectively earned themselves 21 new dedicated mentees who are raring to go. Their enthusiasm and efforts to guide each of us on our own career pathway should be recognised and celebrated. There are not many people who will walk the walk when it comes to fighting for genuine and lasting change, especially when it’s such a battle just to navigate the sports broadcasting landscape yourself let alone help others. Yet these two phenomenal women are more focused on helping others achieve their ultimate dream, than propelling their own careers in broadcasting. Careers that would be deeply deserved, warranted and wanted. Lucy and Emma are the best kind of women who constantly support and champion other women.
The pair conducted exit interviews with each participant, creating a plan of action to help each of us continue our journey beyond the program, and every single plan was highly specialised and tailored to our goals in sports broadcasting, how we want to pursue different roles and carve out our own special niche.
I’m a numbers and analysis nerd—I’ve come to own that tag in recent weeks. From this program, I was excitedly put in touch with a number of people with whom I can indulge in my favourite kind of stats-driven conversations, but also learn a great deal from. People who, once I had the opportunity to meet and speak to, could understand just how passionate I am about this very specific aspect of the game and understand what I can bring to the table. Perhaps something I only really myself understood upon completion of this program and embracing the value I have. It’s a hard thing to do, allow yourself to realise your own worth and wisdom, it’s not a natural thing to sit with. But it should be.
In what I’ve told close friends was, ‘the best week of my life’, I’ve had countless conversations which have set me up beautifully to attack the 2021 AFLW season and share my expertise as widely as possible in a way that I can further embrace my confidence in my knowledge and apply what I’ve learned. Above all, the program provided validation in my own ability to stand my ground—something we at Siren know all too well is a problem when it comes to women covering sport, both men’s and women’s, the self-doubt and imposter syndrome. But we deserve to be here and we deserve the space to do what we do and keep learning and developing.
What is most exciting beyond the expertise and advice given throughout this wonderful week and the connection we’ve now all made, is that different offshoot ideas have also formed from the group. A number of exciting concepts are in the works for the coming year to keep the momentum moving and bring more women in, so expect footy to be covered quite differently from hereon in—and maybe from a new heroine.