When you are starting a movement, it helps to come up with a catchy slogan. Australian football fans discovered as much this week when their ‘Passion Is Not A Crime’ hashtag started trending on Twitter.
What started as a social media reaction to Channel Nine’s coverage of last week’s Sydney derby soon snowballed into genuine anger at the way football is treated by mainstream news outlets.
Nine’s Facebook page was inundated with hundreds of angry comments from fans exasperated by what they saw as biased coverage of the game.
There is even talk of fan groups uniting to chant “passion is not a crime” in the stands this weekend and displaying banners to that effect.
Nine’s report appeared to have had a totemic effect, galvanising fans to unite in condemnation of a style of reporting which has not changed since the days of the National Soccer League.
And Nine’s response, if you can call it that, suggests there’s a long way to go before these media outlets recognise the growing power of the A-League in this country.
But in acknowledging the outburst, the joke was almost on football fans.
“There have been angry responses to a football story we ran over the weekend. In response, our Facebook page has been flooded with “Passion is not a crime” messages,” read a post on Nine’s Facebook page.
“We take your feedback on board, so take a look at the original story here,” it added – and thus the cycle of angry posts, and more importantly click-throughs, happened all over again.
There seem to be several issues at work here.
Firstly, Channel Nine knows that aiming a ‘soccer violence’ story at its predominantly Baby Boomer demographic is an easy way to ensure ratings.
Don’t forget Nine is in a battle with its commercial rivals to win the six o’clock news timeslot, so mashing together a few titillating shots of chanting fans lobbing flares is generally a quick-fire way of getting easily outraged viewers to tune in.
The casually dismissive attitude to football fans’ anger also suggests Nine isn’t too concerned by the prospect of losing viewers who quite frankly have no reason to tune into the network in the first place.
That’s a risky tactic in an era of falling advertising rates but with Nine throwing all of its resources into retaining cricket and NRL broadcast rights, it’s not a surprising one.
However, the fact so many football fans actually watched the story practically proved Nine’s point for them.
Quite frankly, the network couldn’t care less whether you’re outraged by their reporting or not – so long as you watch it.
Nine’s commercial imperative is to win viewers, not Walkley Awards, and the same fans who saw nothing wrong with Les Murray instructing SBS staff not to criticise the World Cup bid are now screaming with rage at Nine’s right to exercise their own editorial policy.
Only they’re not really screaming at all.
They’re bashing away at keyboards, just like I’m doing now, and in many cases that’s as far as the protest will go.
In fact, if as many of these passionate supporters turned up in home ends at the weekend as were willing to leave comments on a Facebook page, the atmosphere inside the grounds would be second-to-none.
With any luck, the Nine backlash will help convince some of these supporters to step away from their keyboards and into an A-League home end.
Just as the late Johnny Warren’s “I Told You So” encouraged fans to throw their support behind the national team, so too might “Passion Is Not A Crime” become the rallying call to unite A-League fans.
But if football fans really want to make a point, they should turn up at a venue. And they can do one more thing en masse.
Turn off Channel Nine.