02/03/2024

Luke Caruna (Swoop Luke), Caden McDonald and Terry Dehghani are leading the footy fan revolution in 2022. Image: Design: Will Cuckson

It's the dawn of the new men's footy season, and the fans are itching to get back. Meet the men at the forefront of a fan revolution in Australian rules football.

After two years of being locked at home, footy fans are set to return to the stands with a vengeance in 2022.

The festival that is the opening round will see the ten Victorian sides face off against each other in primetime timeslots across the weekend. Alongside other marquee matchups around the country, it’s a weekend that will see Melbourne and the wider Australia come roaring back to life.

The world has changed since we last gathered en masse at the MCG. The way we live our lives has changed. The way we approach the most minute tasks has changed. The way fans consume their football content and their matchday experience has even changed.

From what used to be the bare minimum of consuming news and content from either the radio or the newspaper has exploded onto hundreds of different mediums as the age of new media grows.

YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, stats apps, or up to the second live radio broadcasts, fans have never been more wired in on game day when they consume the game in front of their eyes.

The tide is shifting. How we consume our football is different today than what it was before.

On game day and during the week leading up to the game, fans are curating and consuming the content they want to hear and watch.

These are the men leading the footy fan revolution.

Caden MacDonald, a Melbourne fan living on the Surf Coast started creating YouTube content back in 2016. Using YouTube to create fun football-related videos, was initially just for himself.

Terry Dehghani was living overseas and wanted to create his own connection to home and his football club. He started on an audio platform in 2018 and has watched a small weekly podcast grow into a YouTube and online juggernaut that is Blue Abroad.

Terry Dehghani. Founder of ‘Blue Abroad’. Image: Supplied

Luke Caruna, a Collingwood fan, similarly, wanted a place where he could talk about Collingwood and only Collingwood.

Anthony Alesiani, A Port Adelaide fan in a two-team town, similarly to both Caruna and Dehghani, wanted to create an outlet to talk about Port Adelaide. He felt that the Power was only getting minimal airtime in Adelaide and the wider AFL media.

Anthony Alesiani. Founder of ‘The Pear’ Youtube channel. Image: Supplied

The four gathered for a discussion about how they came to get on this fan engagement and content creation journey, some of the key issues they encounter, their experiences, and plot the course of where the juggernaut of fan-made media is heading.

Inspiration behind creation

All four could sense from different clubs and streams outside Australia that the sensation and generation of fan content and media were growing, and before we knew it, would be on Australia’s doorstep.

“I was living overseas, watching all of the fan channels in Europe and even in the US, like basketball, sports, and whatnot. And I remember thinking like, I’d love to do something like this, but I just don’t didn’t have the foresight to understand what was happening,” Dehghani said.

“The next layer for me was like you only have the Watch AFL app to consume footy content. Carlton supporters, we’re pretty lucky in the sense that win or lose, we’re probably going to get a good two minutes of conversation on a Monday on 360 for example, and I just felt like there was a gap in what in the conversation.

“There are 18 clubs, you can only talk about each one for so long. And then I think, I personally just wanted to stay connected to Carlton and what was happening.”

Dehghani, an Arsenal fan, drew most of his inspiration from AF TV, the big Arsenal fan channel. It was the light bulb moment that set him on his way.

“Going to an Arsenal game, and doing an interview with Robbie on AF TV, I met him at the game, and saw how easy it was at this point,” he explained.

“I was just doing the audio podcast at the time. And so when I kind of just saw how simple it was, there’s a really small camera, basic tripod, and then … just doing the work and chatting to him about it about his journey, just briefly. I think that was a lightbulb moment for me.”

From there, Blue Abroad was born. An environment created for passionate Carlton people to talk about Blues with other like-minded people.

It was the same inspiration and thought that fuelled both Caruna and Alesiani to start their respective channels for their teams.

“Selfishly, I created it [Swoop Luke] because I just wanted to talk Collingwood and no one around me really had that sort of passion,” Caruna said.

“You talk after a game and be like, again, like, he’s just so I thought, Okay, let me start something where I can just talk about what I want to talk about how the Pies are going.

“If people jump on, sweet … if not, at least I’ve got an outlet. But kind of like Terry, I started watching a lot of Premier League, like a fan channel and stuff. So I kind of based my whole premise on that.”

“There was always this sensation of Adelaide would get the majority of the media time and we’d always be the ones that either given negative media speaking or media would just go out and almost look for something a that’s happening at Port Adelaide that’s bad,” Alesiani said when detailing why he started his Port Adelaide-centric channel, The Pear.

“It was almost wanting to have something where people that were Port fans are able to go and go, they could go to an outlet, hear an opinion that probably they shared or they disagreed with, but they can then start the conversation talking about their team that they love every single week.”

Fans relationship with the media

All four of MacDonald, Dehghani, Caruna, and Alesiani feel that they have a big role to play in the current landscape among the football industry. Particularly when it comes to media and fans.

Sensing there is a greater and growing distrust and disconnect from the mainstream media to the average fan, Dehghani believes that they differ from the mainstream media because they aren’t driven by eyeballs. They aim to curate the content specific to their own clubs and fanbases.

“Obviously, we want to get views, make the channel grow. But we’re not putting headlines to get like a sensationalist vibe,” he said.

“Everyone knows that clickbait is a real big issue. I think, especially, the thirst to be first at the minute as well. You’re getting a tick of approval in the AFL media world. So like, the first tweet, as well, and you haven’t even written the article, you’ve just written the headline.”

MacDonald said it’s an ongoing battle.

On his YouTube videos, does he create a thumbnail that totally gives away exactly what the video is going to be about, or does he leave it open-ended and tell the full story to get the view? He said it was about finding the balance between what is real and what is a lie.

“It’s like it is a balance, but I just feel like the AFL media at the moment probably don’t have the balance quite right,” MacDonald said.

But Alesiani believes the purpose of fan content creators, and the purpose for their channels, in particular, is to take a different angle on the role of the media voice.

“With our channels, we sort of take away the stigma of an expert opinion,” Alesiani said.

“As such, there’s so many different companies or media outlets that want that expert opinion they want. They want the three-time premiership player giving their thoughts on today’s game from back in the 70s, and all of that.

“Whereas with us, it’s almost raw, it’s emotion, it’s something that people connect with a lot more because they’re feeling the same as we are.

“We’re just putting it out there on an outlet and expressing yourself, whereas these guys are just … some of them are expressing their emotions towards the game.

“Some of them are having an opinion on what coaches should do for the next week as such, and we’re doing the same thing, but we’re on the level where it’s, we’re feeling it. We’re going to be there the next week, attending the game, and dressed in our colours.”

The purpose of creating the fan channels and building the community is designed to create a pool of knowledge shared and collated by the supporter base of each club.

No expert opinions are needed. Just strong conversations driven by the same love and passion by supporters of their clubs.

It’s a powerful position, yet one with great responsibility for content creators.

“My style is not to be an expert. That’s the whole point,” Dehghani said.

“I try to end every single video always every video with what do you think? I think that’s how you build a community.

“It’s, I think, where we’re in this realm now, where we’re watching the available footy content, that’s given to us. And it’s like, this is how it is. And this is what Kane Cornes said, and this is what David King said, and this is what so and so said.

“Whereas from our point of view, it’s more like, this is what I think happened … but I don’t really know, I’m not an AFL player, I make that really clear.

“And most of the time, like, we really don’t know what’s going on the inside, we’re just reacting to what’s happening on the screen and press conferences and whatnot.

“I think that’s the difference with what’s going on here where we’re on the ground level and what’s real. Like they’re real people with real emotions and real reactions. And I think that is what’s resonating with the audience at the moment.”

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Fans and relationship with clubs

The relationships between fans and clubs have changed and certainly been tested over the past couple of seasons since COVID hit our lives.

Interaction has been different, at times kept at a distance out of safety and ensuring the competition can be shielded as much as possible.

“I think I think everyone’s optimistic,” MacDonald said.

“I think they’re [the AFL and the clubs] starting to come around to sort of alternate media. And I think that’s just exciting for everyone.”

While clubs are becoming more accessible and open to new forms of media, especially fan-made media, it is felt that there is still a reluctance to bring fans and other media sources in, staying at an arms-length.

This is both when it comes to transparency about players and injuries, and even when it comes to promoting the club itself.

All four men believe that there are strong growth areas for the clubs to utilise through the respective fan channels for the different clubs. Even in some really easy ways which benefit the club more than the respective channels.

“I guess a big thing, I’ll give you an example, was the Collingwood membership box. So a couple of years ago, I did the unboxing and that was really good. A good bit of engagement, stuff like that,” Caruna explained.

“I wanted to do an unboxing, especially before Christmas, I didn’t get my box on till February, which was when pretty much every single member had it as well.

“Sometimes I think, you [the clubs] have got to throw us, maybe just throw us a little bit of a bone?

“Even if it’s just a prototype of a box, say, guys, this is hot and if, and if you’re not a member, do this, what you can get, you can get this scarf made out of real sheep, or whatever it may be like, just to get that, just throw us a bone. We’re not in it for anything. We’re here to help.”

It was a feeling of frustration shared by both Dehghani and MacDonald especially.

“This has been the hardest part of this whole experience for me when it comes to relationship with club and industry,” Dehghani said.

“I’m not one to kick up and scream and sook it up and whatnot. I am definitely one either to earn your way, earn your trust, and your respect and all that but, three, nearly four years in it now, there’s still this arm up.

“It’s like we get told, you’re not media. Now you’re just a fan page and I sense it, I feel it just gonna be honest. There’s a wall that’s up.

“And I don’t know if it’s part of like this conservative culture, we have in Australia where new ideas are seen as like, disruptive or trying to compete with our media team or anything like that.

“I think that’s where one of the next few steps [being open and more accepting of it comes in]. I don’t want to bash the club. I’m not doing this to bash the club, I’m doing this for the club.”

Fans want to stay connected to their clubs in whatever way possible. They want to consume as much content about their clubs as possible.

They want to know what is going on. They want to be as close to inside the four walls as possible. Fans want to see their clubs shown in a good light in the mainstream media too.

Alesiani highlighted a time when he was invited into a press conference with Connor Rozee this pre-season. He recounted that the grab from that press conference only ran for a 30-second bulletin in Adelaide that night, and probably wouldn’t have featured outside the state.

While fans can access the full raw audio and visuals of the press conference through the club’s site and channel, Alesiani believes that the experience to be there and hear from Connor personally makes a difference.

He can tell the Port Adelaide fans what he gleaned from listening to him as a fan, rather than a full-time journalist, and can interpret it in a way that the everyday Port Adelaide fan would want it interpreted.

“That press conference had a lot of stuff in it, and no one would notice, because, not that anyone that didn’t have access to seeing it,” he said.

“Every time there is a press conference, a lot of that content gets lost [on a regular bulletin or a regular article].

“So if people have access to seeing a spun or not spun, but like, put out in … such a way where people can see it and be like … that’s Connor’s opinion and I actually got to see the full clip, whereas they’ll cut him off halfway through on a news bulletin or something like that.

“So I think it’s very important to have that kind of content because then people are getting the full gist of what [they’re] kind of saying but also getting a bit of airtime about it as well.”

Some great opportunities

All four of MacDonald, Dehghani, Caruna, and Alesiani have made waves and are recognisable faces in the AFL fan community. They’ve become recognisable for all the work that they have done in the fan and social media space and recognisable through some of the opportunities and content that has been made.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do a handful of things.” MacDonald said.

“It’s funny, the amount of things that I’ve done doesn’t even compare to the number of ideas I’ve thrown out.”

In 2018, he and friend ‘Cooko’ were the subjects of a video for the AFL YouTube channel to see how many games they could attend in how many days, traveling across states and the country.

“A month earlier (from the five games in five days), I was watching Friday night football. And I just flicked the text to the bloke at the AFL for COPA 90. And I said I’d love to see every game I could get to in a week,” MacDonald said, detailing how it all came about.

“Me and Cooko used to go to the MCG. He was 15 or 16. And I was 17 … so we could still get the cheap tickets. Then we finished like, say the one game was finishing at the G and then the 4:40 was starting at Marvel.

“So I pitch that to the AFL, and yeah, they got behind it. We went up and had meetings at the AFL and they’re like, ‘oh, we got flights’, and they sent us over to Adelaide. Even bumped into The Pear.

“So that was something I was really, really proud of. And then in 2019, we had a TV show, like a kids TV show. That was a really good experience as well.”

Most recently, MacDonald collaborated with Tom Mitchell and his brand Ball Magnets to do a goal recreation challenge. He said Mitchell spoke glowingly of and loved the time spent on the collaboration.

“When you work with like an AFL player who’s not just the face of it, but it’s the brains of this app and this idea, and he’s passionate. And he’s trying to learn YouTube and learn it all. That’s when it’s super fun. So I’d say that yeah, even those four days old or whatever.” MacDonald said of the experience with Mitchell.

“That’s one of the better opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have.”

Dehghani, through the way he has built Blue Abroad, has been able to sponsor players across the men’s and women’s teams, and recently featured the new president of the Carlton Football Club, Luke Sayers on his channel for a chat to speak with fans.

Caruna, almost famously, found himself in the middle of Collingwood’s presidency battle and squabble unwillingly as the mediator of candidates.

It was the start of a big year for him, featuring Taylor Adams, vice president of Collingwood Paul Licuria, and several of the candidates vying for the Collingwood presidency on his channel.

“I was just watching the telly and I got a message on Instagram. And it was from Paul Licuria and it was like, ‘Are we able to have a chat?'” Caruna explained.

“I was like, this is bulls***, like why am I saying that? Why would he want to talk? Anyway, I gave him my number. He called me and he was like, ‘I like what you’re doing, do you think we can tee something up and we’ll do a bit of lunch and stuff’.

“So I think it was just like, trying to get that sort of fan engagement, maybe to see where everyone was. And then, you know, obviously, have Paul Licuria on for a Q&A, I thought that was really cool.

“But if nothing really came out of it besides a Q&A, and that was awesome. Because when is the time, when will Joe from down the street get to ask the vice president who he thinks is the next upcoming player? Or what he thinks is going to happen? I think that was great.”

He managed to organise Taylor Adams via a single direct message on Twitter.

“That was just because it was … it was our second lockdown, it was just snap. And I’m like, I just tweeted him like, do you want to do want to come on to just have a chat with fans? He’s like, ‘yeah sweet’.

“That was like it was the easiest thing that ever happened so that was mostly pretty good. Credit to him.”

The year ahead

All four were unanimous in agreeing that 2022 is the year of fan content in the AFL.

After two years stuck at home, fans from all walks and corners of the AFL world have had their chance to dip their toes in the water and begin creating the content that they want.

The online presence of the football fan has never been more visual. As Dehghani put it, “you have never been more wired into your football club”.

“I think the experience of footy … it’s no longer just … linear,” he said

“It’s not just you and the game. Once you’re at the game, it’s your third screen or if you’re not at the game, it’s you’re at your TV and the watch along with and your multi your, your fantasy team or whatever.

“So many different elements now that have been experienced, you’ve got like three things that you have your attention on.

“We add another layer of connectedness to the fan channels and therefore the club. And then I think, I don’t know if there’s going to be a tipping point between fan media and mainstream media. But I think what will happen with our channels, is that there will be just a greater level of trust.”

Alesiani believes that this year is the one where the fan-made media and content will take the next step.

“I think the evolution, I think this is the year if I’m absolutely honest. I think this is the year that we just take the next step, whether it’s all of us together, coming out with some sort of structure or program or something that allows us to bridge that gap or almost take over,” he said

“Because I think now, The last five or six years has been a building block. And we’ve seen the evolution of YouTube channels come out, and younger kids are making it and it’s great to say that there are layers within the community.

“I think now more than ever, well, you said it perfectly. Like we’ll know what we’re capable of. And whether or not we’re willing to invest and put more in to learn more, create more and different things.

“Fans aren’t just nuffies. Fans are the most important thing of this, of this game, and this genre, because, without the fans, it’s nothing. It’s like, we’ve seen games with no fans.”

Caruna can’t wait to get back to the MCG and interact with people in person. He is hopeful that come the end of the year, the fan channel community has grown to include one from every club.

“Now that we can finally go back to games after like two years, it’s going to be huge. Could you imagine how much a matchday vlog is going to be, or how much they’re going, you know, what we do after the game talking to people?” he said

“Do something like Arsenal TV would do just by setting up a tripod at the MCG for the first game would be just, it is I think it’s prime now. After two years of just doing it in your bedroom, it is absolutely primed.

“And you’re right, we probably will take over, we probably will take that next step and they start seeing us.

“Maybe by the end of the year, there’s one channel like us for every team.”

Click here to connect with Caden McDonald. @cados38

Click here to connect with ‘Blue Abroad‘. @blueabroadmedia

Click here to connect with ‘Swoop Luke’. @SwoopLuke

Click here to connect with ‘The Pear’. @anthonyalesiani

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