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Opinion

The NRL needs to sort out its M&Ms instead of worrying about getting Fuller

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Editor
22nd February, 2021
105
1485 Reads

The Roar’s co-founder and former publisher, Zolton Zavos, liked to tell us subs the story of how Van Halen would request a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed be in their dressing room before a gig.

Mistaken for being an example of rockstar excess, the candy-clause in the rider was actually a red flag – if there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, it meant other parts of their complicated and potentially dangerous stage show had surely not been set up correctly.

Zolt had his brown M&Ms with our daily site edits – small things that, if not correct, meant there were almost certainly bigger problems to be found.

I’ve carried the analogy with me, so when I find webpages littered with typos, grammatical errors and other basic mistakes, my estimation of that business drops.

These days, a company website is the first port of call for customers, employees and other stakeholders. If someone wants to know the ins and outs of what your business is, or does, or stands for, they’re going to dig through your online presence.

I obviously put it all into context and am willing to forgive a plumber for writing ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’ if they do a good, honest job at clearing the pipes.

But when a company’s core business is selling entertainment to the masses, with an annual turnover in the hundreds of millions, they really should be nailing words on a webpage – especially if they’re spending $120 million on their digital presence.

And if the business has one major problem that keeps popping up year after year, the way it’s addressed online needs to be clear, concise and accurate.

One such issue the NRL faces, according to Peter V’landys, is player behaviour.

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“Like it or not there’s a perception in the marketplace that rugby players are bad,” the ARLC chairman was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

“We’re trying to address it because the marketplace is telling us if we don’t it’s going to have an affect on us – and I’m serious about addressing it.”

Todd Greenberg and Peter V’landys speak to the media.

Pre-departure Todd Greenberg and Peter V’landys (Matt King/Getty Images)

The NRL had a miss on this front last weekend, with Mick Fuller – NSW’s top cop, who had been heralded as a silver bullet to all off-field incidents – being ruled ineligible to join the ARL Commission.

So, for now, the game needs to fall back on its existing systems to ensure players are aware of their responsibilities as public figures, which makes the NRL’s Wellbeing and Education subsite paramount.

It houses the pages that explain to players how they should behave and, being public-facing, communicates to fans and sponsors – both current and potential – that player behaviour is central to the NRL’s business.

If Joe Frost Industries was ever going to fork out to be a sponsor of an NRL club, these pages would be my first port of call. I’d want to know how the game was going to ensure my brand was not sullied by ill-informed players being dickheads.

Most importantly, I’d want to know that the game treated these issues with the gravity they deserve.

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But at the moment, after a peruse of these pages, I’d put my chequebook away.

Because while the NRL may talk the talk on player behaviour, after they’ve finished prattling on, they can’t even be arsed to re-read their own words.

Here’s an excerpt from the NRL’s Characterwise page, which has the noble goal of having players “be people of character”:

We want all our players, whatever their age or stage of playing career, to be great ambassadors for their Club and for their sport.

We want the public and fans to know that they can rely on the players they admire to live up to high standards of behaviour, maturity and integrity

Our CHARACTERWISE programs are developed in partnership with expert advisory groups and are co-delivered by current and former players who have been trained as NRL Education Ambassadors and volunteer their time to this important work.

We want all our players, whatever their age or stage of playing career, to be great ambassadors for their Club and for their sport.

We want the public and fans to know that they can rely on the players they admire to live up to high standards of behaviour, maturity and integrity.

Each year the NRL/RLPA Welfare & Education Committee decides on the mandatory social responsibility and personal development workshops that should be delivered to all players and staff involved with elite teams from the U16s to the NRL…

We want the public and fans to know that they can rely on the players they admire to live up to high standards of behaviour, maturity and integrity.
(Ed. Ellipses and bold type added for clarity.)

They’ve repeated the first paragraph once, and the second paragraph twice. That means of nine paragraphs (two have been removed above for brevity) about how much store they place in character, three are word-for-word repetition – that’s one-third of your copy!

On the issue of personal brand, Raiders legend Alan Tongue offers up a few tips, including this nugget of wisdom: “Make the most of your Player sponsor nights, don’t sit in the back corner and keep to yourself go out and introduce yourself, talk about how their business is going, why the love there Rugby League etc..”

Now, I’m not having a go at an ex-footy player for writing “why the love there Rugby League”. But surely Tongue meant “why they love their rugby league” – or something else that actually makes sense – and someone could have clarified it before they uploaded the text? (I’m not going to pull apart the use of two consecutive full stops.)

Then we’ve got the social media and reputation page, which offers “Top 10 tips for protecting your reputation online”, then proceeds to list 12 dot points.

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On the matter of education, it’s trumpeted that every club delivers the CareerWise program “to VB NSW Cup players, under-20s and NRL players”. That’s great, except the NSW Cup hasn’t been sponsored by VB since the end of the 2015 season, which presumably means this page hasn’t been updated in going on six years.

The camps page makes mention of the rookie camp being “compulsory for every player in the National Youth Competition”, a tournament that was wound up at the end of 2017, and then features photos and a write-up of a camp held in 2018.

And if you want to find out how well you know all these issues, you’re invited to “Take the Wellbeing and Education quiz for 2019”.

Look, I get that COVID meant certain aspects of the game were put on the back-burner last season, but these pages were created long before the NRL put a broom through its operations budget.

Clearly they were published this way – littered with embarrassing levels of repetition, typos, inconsistent punctuation, shifting tenses, and countless other issues – which suggests these pages are an afterthought, not worthy of someone giving them a thorough (or even cursory) copy edit to ensure the absolute clangers are fixed.

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And they have sat this way, completely untouched, for years – years that have seen huge changes in the way the game claims to police and punish those who stuff up.

I understand that mistakes happen – just writing this piece is putting a massive target on my back for someone to point out errors I’ve doubtlessly made.

But my columns are the digital equivalent of tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping. Compare that to the public face the NRL puts on its efforts to combat player misbehaviour.

There should be absolutely no room for error when pontificating to your players, customers and stakeholders about the importance you place on wellbeing and education.

This is how you talk about the issue that has cost you millions of dollars in lost sponsorship – multiple people should have read and re-read it to ensure it is perfect.

Instead, for the NRL’s sponsors and fans, these pages are a bowl full of brown M&Ms. Because if you don’t care enough to get the little things right, why would anyone believe you can handle the bigger issues?