Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On USA Sevens Rugby & "Marketing" Women's Rugby

It has been quite some time since I've had the chance to sit and write. In running Stars Rugby 7s with 10 tours in 2016, in adding fifteens tours to our schedule, in upping our recruiting, in growing our network, in getting into rugby commentary, in traveling with other teams to experience their operations, in negotiating new sponsorship details, and in the never-ending role as rugby accountant there simply hasn't been time to write the kind of composed pieces I prefer. In 2016 I had the fortune to travel to 8 different countries and within the USA and Canada I've ventured to many states/provinces -- just last weekend I was on a 10 state recruiting/kit distributing/networking rugby road trip over 3 days. All this coupled with being a single mom, with gym time and additional rehab from a calf strain in Spain that became a tear at Cape Fear, and with my other business ventures.... time has become the mortal enemy of meaningful blog content.

At some point soon I'll write recaps of our Lindenwood  Women's 15s match, our spectacular 2 week tour in Australia, our Life Men's & Women's 15s matches, of the successes of our players in year 2 from the Olympics, Rugby 15s, PRO Rugby, Collegiate National Championships, All American camps/honors and more. But for today my focus is on the recent USA Sevens marketing of one of our #starsfamily of players in Georgia Page, on Her Rugby Counts and their vital ongoing conversation surrounding their reaction and positive steps forward.

I am still pressed for time - yes you can "do it all" but it takes efficiency and brevity - so this will largely be a stream of consciousness post relying on my facebook comments to the matter. I first saw the post by another #starsfamily player - Josie Ziluca - and at first thought, "Meh, I don't have the time for this, Georgia posted that photo on her own social media, I liked her photos from her downtime as well as her rugby accomplishments and I have to get my son from school to religion class to therapy and it's below zero, why do I live in the Midwest, I want to  be back in Australia."

And then I sat on it all day, I thought about my stance, thought about the voice I do have. And I recalled my outrage at the treatment of women's players by the CRC and my outrage at other times I've taken a stand for players rights and the formulas of rugby marketing and growth. I thought about the times I have been marginalized as a player and a coach from being told "You're too pretty to play rugby" while in Scotland and when I had high school boys players I was coaching against tell me to "Shut your mouth you fat dyke". And then the amount of times I've been the head coach of men's teams and been dismissed by those assuming I was the trainer/wife/girlfriend. I also thought of the pride I felt in coaching collegiate men to a national ranking and in the playoffs while 8 months pregnant, and of how one of my son's first babysitters is one of our Team USA Rugby Olympians (I paid her extra to help support her rugby endeavors) and how much she rocks.

I had a few conversations about this with Coach Rebecca Carlson who runs Her Rugby Counts - an engaging and through provoking page/movement that acknowledges the other side of any dialog and invites conversations on the growth & promotion of women's rugby for youth/college/senior players/fans/coaches/parents alike. I thought about my past phone calls with representatives from USA Sevens, United World Sports, and Penn Mutual. I thought about the epic phone calls and online conversations and tweets by women's rugby advocates like Julie McCoy, Lisa Rosen, Wendy Young (Your Scrumhalf Connection), Jackie Finlan (The Rugby Breakdown) and Ali Donnelly (Scrum Queens) and on the work a lot of Rugby Canada Women -- Jen Kish, Maria Samson, Brittany Waters, and Barbara Mevin come to mind -- have done to have a voice and in working with ChampionHer. I thought about our USA Women's Soccer team and their fight for merit-based pay, for better playing fields, for being more than Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt to celebrate the 1999 World Cup. I thought of the WNBA players that have taken political stances, I thought of Elena Della Donne leaving UCONN for Delaware to be closer to her disabled sister. There's more to every story.

So here are my reactions with a few minor grammatical edits,  to the recent USA Sevens post in which they lifted an image of Georgia Page from her personal social media account, changed the caption, and allowed a storm of typical internet commentariat to run rampant without moderation or guidance. This is in a comment thread on Her Rugby Counts where in addition to points/counterpoints about the image and the perceived/assigned sexuality, there was a bit of confusion between USA Sevens who runs the Las Vegas tournament and USA Rugby the National Governing Body:

Please note there is a HUGE difference between USA Sevens/United World Sport and USA Rugby. They are NOT one in the same.

Other issues here - USA Sevens has benefited greatly from the marketing of Georgia, but what consent did they ask before sharing her photos and images? What compensation have they given her to be their clickbait over the past year and a half? Why are they the only ones marketing in this way - Wellington 7s, Sydney 7s, Canada 7s, Hong Kong 7s, Dubai 7s, Singapore 7s, Langford 7s etc do not operate this way with their media and marketing. This is not consistent with how World Rugby presents itself and USA Sevens is a World Rugby Sevens Series stop (it's also inconsistent with how the NCAA, WNBA, USATF, and other women's sports organizations/teams/entities market).

Further, while I know and love Georgia, why isn't USA Sevens marketing a USA player? Two sides could apply to those like Shaina Turley who is a military helicopter pilot or Carmen Farmer as a lawyer or Nicole Heavirland in her uniform from West Point or Jillion Potter survivor cancer or Joanne Fa'avesi dressed up for church or honoring her Tongan roots or Kelly Griffin as as a mom. Where is the two sides of the Davenport women's player also dressed up receiving her rings? Why not post Georgia with her lab coat on in her osteopath program? And as stated before, where is the two sides of the men?

Contrast all of this to England Rugby's Wear The Rose campaign or how Australia is treating their Golden Girls, and you can see what a strong marketing campaign not based on lifting others' social media posts looks like. USA Sevens has long been tacky with what they share and they don't produce/provide their own professional content.

Continued when I couldn't edit and add to the post:
When a paid, professional soccer player like Mia Hamm is in a Head & Shoulders commercial showing her working hard & sweating on field and then with her "cleaned up" outfit and luxurious locks, she is choosing how her image is used, is consenting to the endorsement, and is being paid for her time and appeal. When Mia Hamm is in a Gatorade commercial to "Be Like Mike" she is controlling her own narrative.

USA Sevens has repeatedly taken advantage of Georgia (and many other athletes) in an unprofessional way that is inconsistent with sport. And then that brings us to the fact that the last time Georgia played at USA 7s she was relegated to a side field with no streaming, no grass, no lines. Our Women's Elite teams were on fields without assistant referees, sometimes without game balls, and old, faded lines. The Old Boys divisions, College, Grad Schools and Men's Elite all got to play on real grass fields with lines, where there were more food tents, support tents, water, and the games were streamed.

Further, when you look at the current marketing for USA 7s and their website, cover photos and the like, the women's game isn't present -- there is one image of women's rugby compared to 3 of men in the lead photos. There are recaps of Dubai 7s & Cape Town 7s with only the men featured despite Dubai being a Women's Sevens World Series stop. It's Carlin Isles used to sell tickets despite the fact that USA Sevens is justifying raising ticket prices this year because the women will be playing in the stadium too (per a phone call I had with the LVI directors). There is an article on Fiji winning gold but not the same for Australia women. There are writeups of the USA men's Olympic performances and a guide to pool play, but not the women (and THIS despite our USA women finishing higher than the men as they also have in every Rugby World Cup 7s or 15s). The Dubai 7s recap has details of each USA men's match and a photo to match and not one mention of the USA women. All the "Latest News" is about men's rugby.

This despite the fact that USA 7s is a Women's Sevens World Series stop yet again -- it sends the message that all USA Sevens cares about when it comes to the women is using them to raise their follows/likes/shares when a convenient enough photo/video comes along that the can lift, re-caption, and re-purpose for their own benefit. They do little to nothing to promote/grow/fund the women's game -- they take and take and take from the female athletes to grow their social media presence and ticket sales without offering anything in return. In the past the women's games haven't streamed, these games haven't had the jumbotron on during their matches, and with the CRC it's even worse, but that is a whole other post. I'd write in/have calls again with United World Sports, with Rhino, with Penn Mutual but everyone I know that was working on their women's rugby initiatives have left the companies or have been fired. 

Someone else commented about Sonny Bill Williams being objectified having his shirt off... the difference here (and in most cases of sports marketing) is the All Blacks, NZ 7s, Wellington 7s, and World Rugby are not the ones pimping out said image. Those organizations are not actively encouraging internet trolls to make mysoginist, vulgar, objectifying remarks. This is a matter of taste, and it is extremely poor.

In response to Georgia's rights being "signed away" to United World Sports based on a potential media waiver at the CRC and USA Sevens not "being able" to promote one of the other athletes I referenced above as they haven't played in a UWS property:

Shaina did play for USA 7s and 15s both so could easily be promoted by USA Sevens ... just like USA Sevens promoted that recent video clip of Japanese players and their unique training methods or the clip of the DU prop or of that 9 year old kid "beasting" everyone. I am fairly certain sure none of them have played in a UWS property!

I also don't think that Georgia signed away all her images from all her personal social media accounts in all perpetuity to UWS and she certainly hasn't given them the license to change captions or change the narrative. I reckon they only hold the "rights" to those in her in LU/Rhino uniform at 2015 CRC (remember that one that UWS/USA Sevens didn't see fit to televise and women's matches, didn't stream, didn't tweet women's results, didn't post the women's results or game times on facebook, didn't list results/show women/didn't profile the women's teams? The same CRC that was the entire impetus for #HerRugbyCounts?).

(note -- upon hyperlinking sites for this post I visited the CRC website. It persists with extremely poor content in regards to women's rugby. It skews heavily towards the men -- to wit there is an article on Kevon Williams of New Mexico Highlands on USA 7s and it contains a list of CRC players that are playing for USA 7s. The article doesn't mention Life U Women's Champion Nicole Strasko debuting for USA Women's 7s in Dubai, or the whole host Penn State women like Hope Rogers, Meya Bitzer, and Tess Feury playing for USA Women's 7s and 15s, or Richelle Stephens of Lindenwood playing in the Olympics. There are no women included in their list. "Forgetting" the women's players, not including them more prominently in features, in articles, as teams entered in the tournament is a glaring and willful oversight -- this aside is not about equal coverage, it is about ANY coverage. Women's Rugby is an afterthought in their article on 2017 teams and all the game results/pool standings shown on the landing page are from the men's competition, the photo used for the Olympics tv schedule piece is an outdated USA 7s photo that doesn't have the actual women's Olympic team pictured....yet the CRC still relegates the women to side fields and maintains their ticket sales quotas to be the same as men..... I could go on but dissecting the continual failure of the CRC in regards to the women's game - despite lengthy phone calls with ideas/improvements/contributions I have had with their staff to try and offer solutions - but I won't.)

I see this a bit like the lawsuit filed by NCAA athletes as to the rights of their own images and likenesses.... the NCAA was profiting from them being in video games while the athletes received nothing in compensation. Those athletes would have faced sanctions had they sold their images on their own - that would fall under the clauses of improper benefits. Georgia hasn't had any significant contributions to her rugby career or to her bank account from USA Sevens - I say this with a dose of healthy speculation as she is paying for her Stars Rugby 7s tours on her own dime and is managing her time/money as a student and rugby player. She has declined trips due to costs in the past and I have engineered a way for her to play in Vegas and Vancouver this year.

I have engaged in fundraising to help her (and all our players) make it on tours. With her permission and approvals we made tshirts with her famous broken nose image and #bloodygoodrugby as the statement. Half of the proceeds from those shirts went to her specific tour fees, and the other half to help our entire women's team for Australia 2015 tour. I have been helping her raise funds/create ideas for the 2017 USA Sevens... because while she's being exploited by USA Sevens to promote their platforms, they have yet to fund her travels to be at said event and be an actual spokesperson.

The way I see it there is one side to USA Sevens story -- in using women's rugby as a media spectacle when it is convenient for their purposes.

And in further conversations with Rebecca Carlson/Her Rugby Counts we came up with a solution, a way to spin this into a positive, inclusive campaign. 

With Stars Rugby 7s we have athletes of all genders, races, sizes, shapes, religions and socioeconomic statuses each with unique and multifaceted stories to tell. We have had athletes represent their nations on the world stage from the USA, Canada, Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji ,Denmark, Brazil, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, England and more and we appreciate what each of them brings to the team. The diversity in cultures, in playing styles, and in beliefs makes Stars Rugby 7s a more brilliant and vibrant community with talents on and off the rugby field. We have students, coaches, physicists, lawyers, Olympians, PROs, mothers, fathers, military service members, geologists, nurses and more in our midst.... we have many stories with many chapters.

We support Her Rugby Counts in a new campaign to show #TheWholePicture:

Hello HERRUGBYCOUNTS supporters and fans! 

We wanted to reach out to you and thank you for supporting our page but also to ask for your assistance. As we believe we have opened up dialogue to encourage entities like USA Sevens to represent and market the women's game to its fullest potential, the notion of two sides of the story is more for us about #thewholepicture. 

We want to start an online ask of the athletes in our HERRUGBYCOUNTS community demonstrating "the whole picture" of both them on the pitch but also in their everyday lives of being successful and contributors to the workforce, at their institutions of learning or in society. 

We already know YOU are our key advocates in the community for the women's game that are connected to countless successful and accomplished rugby athletes who may be interested in supporting this campaign. 

WHAT WE NEED: We are asking for brief captions and side by side photos showing our players on the pitch and off demonstrating their value and contribution as athletes, professionals in the workforce etc. We want you to accompany these photos with #THEWHOLEPICTURE. 

We want this campaign to be successful in bringing awareness but we need to gather some initial interest from our rugby community and players willing to post their pictures of "the whole picture". We want to show the marketers of our games that there IS a way to positively create awareness, respect and interest in our sport outside of traditional click bait tactics driven by physical appearance. 

Please send this to any of your contacts who are interested in elevating the awareness

- Our very best, 


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