Love FIFA, Love Auckland: A Tale of Two Train-wrecks

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The mildly worded neon orange signs hovering ominously over the motorway were enough to strike terror into the heart of any Aucklander:

‘MAJOR EVENT IN ALBANY TOMORROW NIGHT. EXPECT DELAYS’

The sign might as well have read ‘ISIS beheading at Westfield Albany tomorrow night, follow detours’.

Whatever could a ‘Major Event’ mean? Would the public transport still be working? Could we expect mass-panic as on the first day of the Rugby World Cup when desperate punters – so shocked by the twin horrors of people using public transport and the slow crawl of an Auckland train – pressed the emergency stop buttons and decided it’d be safer just walking along the train tracks.

They needn’t have scared us. The crowds at most of the FIFA U–20 games proved to be similar to what you might have expected if you’d put signs over the motorway advertising a night with Len Brown at North Harbour Stadium. Apart from assorted – but not insignificant – ethnic communities of Colombians, Brazilians, Portuguese, Spanish, Germans – as well as the people the Qataris had paid to be there – the most notable attendees were the scores of empty red and yellow seats.

Not that we didn’t really try. No official endorsement and/or recommendation was spared, the Christchurch ticketing site even had encouraging quotes from Sep Blatter (in retrospect this may not have been the drawcard they imagined) on it. Each official repeated the same line that all of this was likely to be the ‘best football we will ever see in this country’. There were a few people who agreed, but only for the first and last matches as well as, of course, most of the All-White games.

For my money they probably should have inserted a few mentions of the ‘global stage’, and being ‘world-class’ into their marketing materials, this stuff really gets Aucklanders going.

That’s probably what ATEED thought anyway, when they launched their ‘#loveAKL’ hashtag attempting to imitate a successful grassroots movement in Hamilton that tweets under the hashtag ‘#lovethetron’. Their press release on the hashtag is almost a master-course on business marketing cliche and drops half a dozen references to ‘global’, ‘conversation’, ‘identity’, and even – bizarrely – ‘multi-national companies’ (because MNCs really inspire people).

The end result of the hashtag was almost doubly insulting to FIFA organisers. While it might have been evident to them pretty early on that Aucklanders were not attending their tournament because they had better things to do, the hashtag made it clear that those better things involved trolling Auckland Council about local transport issues and posting really really boring photos of sunsets (more of the former than the latter to be fair).

Paul Henry tweeted that ‘Corporate planned [hashtags] often backfire’, but the grassroots didn’t do much better. Snapchat put together an Auckland video based on grassroots user submissions and ended up portraying Auckland as a ghost-town of empty rollercoasters and boring streets. Some ‘social media agency’ then decided to rectify this by putting together an alternative video that made it clear that Auckland not only had empty rollercoasters but empty people too.

What was really missing across all of this was heart and personality. The Cricket World Cup, by all accounts, should have been a fizzer. Likewise for #lovethetron (positive tweets about HAMILTON, are you crazy?!). But the personalities and drama of – and on – both really made it something. Even the cringeworthy opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup was, in retrospect, quite fun, with missed high-fives and atrociously scripted backyard cricket games. In any case, it was more enjoyable than watching a generic German teenager who went to a posh school/elite German football academy face-off against a generic Portuguese teenager who went to a posh school/elite Portuguese football academy.

The troll tweets on #loveakl have proven a lot more popular than the carbon-copy pictures of sunsets and alleyways, or indeed the entire FIFA U–20 World Cup. I suspect that’s because the trolls on #loveakl have been willing to show a lot more personality than the organisers of either.

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