The rise of social media can be accused of doing many things.
In the sporting world, it has given faceless trolls the opportunity to attack athletes and sporting administrators about their performance and it has resulted in athletes being under the microscope 24 hours a day, with the opportunity for their every move to be scrutinised.
This has led to players being caught on camera in compromising positions and resulted in questions about player privacy.
Despite these challenges, social media has also led to some positives. It has given athletes a much bigger platform to connect with fans.
It’s a platform that in most cases the athlete has direct control over and it means that athletes are able to speak with their supporters much more easily and fans are able to speak back.
While social media has also given rise to negative stories being given more airtime and the impact of those stories to be longer lasting, it has also led to the opposite, with everyday fans being able to share stories about the kindness that athletes have shown them or the positive experiences they have had with a player away from the field.
The rise of social media has also led to fan power, where fans are able to directly communicate with the clubs they support and make their opinions known about club decision making.
We saw this play out in rugby league earlier this year when there were suggestions that the St George Illawarra Dragons had conversations with Israel Folau about joining the club.
Folau’s history is well known, as are the reasons why some fans may not want him at their club, but once it became public that the Dragons were interested in signing Folau, rugby league fans began to make their opinions known on social media.
I was one of those fans expressing my hope that no rugby league team would make the decision to sign Folau.
It’s unclear whether the interest the Dragons had in Folau was leaked to the public to get a view on it or to test it in the market. If that was the goal, then the Dragons certainly got that view.
Soon after the news that the Dragons had conversations with Folau, it was announced that the Dragons had made a decision to have no further conversations with him.
To what extent did the commentary on social media have an impact on this? To what extent should the commentary on social media have an impact?
We are seeing a similar situation play out at the Newcastle Knights at the moment.
The rugby league media has suggested that the Knights are very interested in signing Matt Lodge. So interested are the Knights that Lodge may sign with the club with enough time to make his debut against the Parramatta Eels on Sunday week.
But a group of extremely passionate Knights fans have taken to social media to let the club know exactly how they are feeling about this news.
Some are so disappointed in Lodge’s potential signing that they have threatened to hand back their memberships if the club signs him. Others have threatened to stop spending money with the Knights if Lodge signs and others have said they will boycott games.
I love that fans now have a place where they can share their thoughts directly with the club. I also love that clubs are now being held to account by the fans on issues that matter to the fan-base.
While fans may not contribute as much financially as sponsors, without fans a club has no heartbeat. The fans are the ones that are supposed to be there through thick and thin and to the extent possible, they should be able to share their views on the decisions made by their clubs.
The Lodge signing is a tricky one.
He’s certainly not a player that I would want at my club.
But one of the biggest challenges I have found with supporting a team is understanding that I support that club and its jersey, rather than the individual players who wear that jersey.
Players may come and go, but the club is what remains constant and consistent.
Over the years, the Parramatta Eels have certainly made signing decisions that have surprised me, baffled me and at times, disappointed me. Bryce Cartwright was one of those signings earlier this year.
But throughout that time my support for the club has persisted.
To the Knights fans that are considering handing in their memberships if Lodge signs, I applaud your courage, your commitment and your integrity.
I also applaud your candour and how vocal you have been in sharing how you feel with your club.
While you may make a visible choice to lessen the financial support you give your club, I know that the support you have for that club will persist.
And when Lodge’s career eventually comes to an end (whether that be at the Knights or another club), I hope you manage to find your way back.