With the fifth “NO POOLSHIT”, some of our readers may start noticing a pattern. We enjoy a major water polo tournament, great performances from athletes and coaches and then I take a big fat dump on the responsible organizations and authorities.
If any of you think I’m bashing aquatic organisations because of personal business interests, please know that every member of the Total Waterpolo team possesses a skill set that would lead to a considerably wealthier and less stressful life working for a random tech company. Skillsets that many of the people I keep writing about, sadly, do not possess. Additionally, keeping my mouth shut would make it much easier for Total Waterpolo to set up business relationships with the organizations in question. But then surely nothing would ever change.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, sit back and enjoy the (Pool)shit show.
With the excitement of the water polo tournaments in Tokyo slowly fizzling out, it’s time to look at how our sport and the responsible authorities made use of this opportunity for water polo promotion on a global scale.
With our sport’s current state of promotion and development, the Olympic Games are the sole opportunity every four years (in this instance, five) to introduce the game to a non-water polo audience and draw children to swimming pools all over the world.
Water polo Broadcasting Promotion
If a viewership analysis of the water polo tournament is ever made public, what would it reveal? Not only in TV broadcasts, which will inevitably decline due to the change in viewers’ habits, but I’m curious if this has been countered by live stream viewership. Let me comment briefly on TV broadcasts, as I watched every game of both tournaments from start to finish. The London 2012 Games still remain the best in terms of production and quality. The transmission quality in Tokyo was right on the edge of where all water polo competitions should currently be. Still, I expected more from the Olympics.
There is no change in terms of graphics. Without any data visualization, let alone some animations or more intriguing representations. The tables displaying substitutions during a game are useless since certain teams’ caps make it difficult to read numbers (in a few situations, even the referees couldn’t read the numbers well). Plus they block a third of the screen.
The broadcast directors were better compared to those in Gwangju and there were only 1-2 situations where a goal was not seen live, but at least it was followed up with slow-motion footage. In many transition situations and counter-attacks, the goalkeeper is still shown holding the ball and looking for open players, even though this is the least interesting thing that could possibly be shown at that exact moment – except maybe full-screen portrait shots of excluded players sitting on the bench with three personal fouls…
It is hard to change old habits
Even experienced viewers like ourselves still struggle to understand what the referees are whistling at certain moments and why suddenly someone is swimming into the exclusion box. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for people who follow water polo occasionally or for the first time and are not familiar with the rules. I believe that the VAR helped referees solve many unclear situations, but it hasn’t helped in terms of promoting water polo to the average sports fan. Viewers must see the slow-motion replay of the contentious situation while the referee is checking it – instead we often only got to watch the referees gazing into a screen, just to come up with a decision we can never know was right or wrong. And not only VAR, but a lot more efforts are also needed to make the rules clearer (commentators educations, coaches and players educations…)
A particularly sad moment for our sport was a situation in which the referees are checking the VAR screen just to find out some person in the stands is in front of the camera completely obscuring the field, making it impossible to see the controversial action. We’ll never know if there have been more situations like this, as they stopped using the camera angle that showed the VAR screen for the rest of the tournament.
— Marko Štefanek (@stefanekmarko) August 13, 2021
We follow the profile of the World Water Polo Referee’s Association in the hope that they will explain some controversial situations after the matches. We even sent inquiries on several occasions to which they never answered. They obviously missed the point of social media networks: Blurry selfies and Teixidó’s head… not as professional as the name “World Water Polo Referee’s Association” would make you believe.
How did LEN use the Olympic Games to promote water polo on digital media?
In April 2018, the FINA Water Polo Conference was held in Budapest with the aim of making it a turning point in the way we promote our sport.
Many prominent representatives from the field of sports promotion from NBC, Olympic Channel, Burson & Marsteller gave lectures to the gathered FINA representatives, sharing beneficial experiences and case studies they worked on with other sports and disciplines.
LEN technical director Mr. Marco Birri, owner of a biologist degree and supposedly a branding specialist in his spare time, found his place among these renowned lecturers.
As he himself pointed out in his presentation, the aim of his lecture is to share his “experience and good practices” that they use at LEN to promote water polo. In his lecture, Birri prophetically emphasized the importance of using social networks for the purpose of branding sports and how it is necessary to work 24/7 to promote teams and players.
However, 39 monthly paychecks later, LEN decided to turn all that knowledge and experience into one post during the most important competition for the promotion of water polo. One single post. From 24 July to 8 August, only one post referred exclusively to water polo. And that was the last one after the men’s final.
Given LEN’s recent stance on women’s water polo, it’s not surprising that their continental representatives’ medals received no more than one sentence in the announcement on artistic swimming. The girls didn’t even deserve a picture in the post…
The same was uploaded on LEN’s official Instagram account, but publishing on Twitter was evidently too much of a task, because there isn’t a single post regarding the Tokyo water polo games there.
Unfortunately, we cannot analyze the web content of len.eu due to the fear of computer viruses, epileptic seizures and Nigerian princes offering us $ 100M if we only wire some cash for the transaction fee…
How did FINA use the Olympic Games to promote water polo on digital media?
FINA obviously did something at the Olympics. How much did they do to promote water polo? Well, more than LEN, but still almost nothing.
Although they had a handful of great photos, the social media team was left without real support from the media team, which focused on announcing the winners & results. Which is really a bare minimum.
Water polo received 21 single posts on each of these channels (about 10%). Naturally, posts about swimming dominated, diving also garnered more posts than water polo (27). Artistic swimming (15) and marathon swimming (10) remained “behind” us. The marathon competition lasted several hours, had a men’s and women’s race, and deservedly received those ten “awards”. But why did a 16-day water polo competition receive only 21? This distribution, I believe, accurately depicts the position of water polo within FINA.
As I said, the work on social media was done without any strategy to take advantage of this once-in-a-four-year opportunity to increase the popularity of water sports, particularly water polo, from its current level.
And now I return to the media team, which has clearly failed. Looking a bit closer, this hardly comes as a surprise.
FINA has its own Media Committee, whose members are in charge of the following tasks:
And the members of the media committee most responsible for water polo are these two gentlemen.
I can’t say much about Mr. McKinnon since, despite his Powers and Duties (2nd paragraph), he never got in touch with Total Waterpolo, the world’s leading digital water polo platform. But I’m delighted that, despite the game’s hectic schedule, he also had time to take a blurry boomer selfie with nearly every water polo official in Tokyo.
On the other hand, Mr. Csurka, otherwise an excellent author of water polo related articles, yet equally bad LEN Media manager, is well known to us from Budapest 2019, when he revoked our accreditations in the middle of the European Championship due to my criticism of LEN’s work and transparency. I don’t want to speculate on Mr. Csurka’s motivations for leaving comments like this under our posts, but I’m happy he was delighted by our mistakes.
The fact that the FINA website has been reporting that top scorer Ivovic scored 24 goals, rather than the (correct) 23, is proof to me that our content is more interesting to him than the one for which he is paid.
Apart from my personal intolerance for these people in our sport, they are surely not the only ones in the chain to blame for this failure, but they agreed to be in positions where they have “survived” for years without showing any results, and they should be criticized for it.
If we want to popularize something, it means we need to create content with the ability to reach non-water polo audiences. Announcing games and results in the way that FINA did, is informative content that is exclusively aimed at the already existing water polo audience. Where are the interesting stories about water polo players, where is the video content (it is 2021 !!!), where are the interesting statistics? How do you plan to reach this non-water polo audience if you don’t do PR? No relevant global digital media outlet published anything about water polo as a sport, unless they were reporting on the final result. Probably the biggest (questionable) PR value was obtained from this show in which rapper Snoop Dogg talks about water polo for 15 seconds and teases Bijac’s last name. Of course, that was not really planned PR either.
I’m quite disappointed that such an opportunity has been wasted. They had five years to prepare. Or at least three from that historic conference that was meant to kick things off. It makes me cry when I see what conditions they had: direct access to all the players and coaches, access to video content, manpower and budget. But without knowledge, creativity and commitment, it was all wasted once again. At least in terms of promotion via digital platforms, which are today’s most essential communication channels.
I will gladly accept a volunteer role on the Media Committee if the FINA Communications Department wants any advice or guidance. Our achievements and know-how are self-evident.
What did we do?
At the risk of coming across a bit self-absorbed, I will use this opportunity to show you how proud I am of everything we have been able to achieve given the tools we posses – and of course plug our Total Waterpolo Team Gear, to keep the lights on.
We use WhatsApp to communicate with players and coaches because we don’t have the financial means to travel to Tokyo and pay nice hotel rooms and catering costs. Even when we manage to attend competitions in person, we get accreditations revoked for speaking the truth. We do not have access to any video content. We were a four-person team with a budget less than Csurka’s plane ticket to Japan. The four of us, with a strong will and some knowledge, did this for water polo:
In 3 weeks, our content reached 2.5 million people on Facebook.
During the same time period, we had 2.4 million Instagram impressions and 141K unique profiles saw our post.
We were able to watch all of the games in real-time and provide more thorough (but also more precise) statistics than the official ones through our game reporting system TW Arena. We showed you who assisted, who blocked, the position of the shooter, and where they placed the ball in the goal, in addition to all the regular data. A total of 161K people visited our Olympics landing page.
All of these results are organic. We haven’t spent any money on advertising.
Even though we didn’t ask for it, the players posted our photos on Instagram following their games.
Although numbers of followers on our SM channels are far behind those of LEN and FINA, and it is much more difficult for us (due to social network algorithms) to organically achieve such numbers, we still managed to reach some children and parents who were unaware of or uninterested in water polo previously.
I regret that we did not have the resources to work more on public relations, because there was potential to bring some stories to the traditional news media and we will certainly pay more attention to this segment in the future.
In any case, I am extremely proud of the Total Waterpolo team and the passion and commitment they have for our sport. And I am grateful to all of you who follow us and give us support and to all of you who are purchasing our equipment (which I guarantee is the best water polo equipment in the world) which allow us to continue to do this job the best we can.
In order to save and move water polo forward, both FINA and LEN need to immediately start with this activities:
- define PR budget and strategy to target parents with young children
- assemble a digital team of skilled people who are passionate about water polo
- hire experts for internal communication so federations, officials, clubs, coach and players can receive all the needed information
- define rules and referring criterium and let the internal comm. expert do the rest
No need to organize any conferences, summits or working groups. Save yourselves by saving our sport, stay grateful to the community, put the athletes and clubs first and always remind yourself – what would you be doing if there was no water polo?