How to survive the 2020 AFL Trade Period

A couple of years ago I wrote about how Trade Period works from an information point of view, what to look out for, and how to emerge from it without a feeling of utter exhaustion at all the information flying left, right and centre. The landscape has continued along its current path with a handful of important changes, so consider this an updated version of what’s needed.

An important note: This is a name-free zone. It’s not about pushing people down or pulling others up, it’s about giving you the tools to understand how the next couple of weeks will work.

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1a) Pick the individual sources of information you’ll trust

This all comes down to trial and error, and it will differ for fans of each club.

Until there is designated beat reporting (hello to anyone from The Athletic if you’re reading, would love an AFL arm), people will have better information on some clubs than others – it’s an unavoidable part of the job. Can’t expect everyone to be flawless on all 18 clubs.

My recommendation for how to go about it is to think back over the last year or two and remember key stories about your team. Who got it right and who didn’t? There’s your starting point.

1b) Pick the mastheads you’ll trust

This is just as important as selecting your individuals.

Some places clearly have a licence to push out as much content as possible, while others are comfortable not over-extending.

A quirk of the AFL media landscape is how the same people can work across multiple places where standards are worlds apart.

To put it all in context: hypothetically you’ve decided you’ll trust me and also Masthead A. The issue is I work at Masthead A but also contribute to Masthead B, where it’s all about clicks and outrage.

It means when I’m at B, I’m pushed to disclose information I’m not overly confident in and wouldn’t make public at A. I don’t want to put the boss offside after all, jobs are like hen’s teeth in this landscape.

Therefore my information at B is up for debate much more often than what I do at A. Confusing isn’t it? It’s why the masthead is just as important as the individual.

1c) Completely ignore everything else

Now you have your individuals, and you have your masthead(s).

Everything else is completely irrelevant. I cannot stress this enough, it just does not matter in the slightest.

AFL Trade Info ITK on Facebook who claims a blockbuster trade is happening soon now only exists for you to chuckle at and ignore. People who set up anonymous accounts on Twitter, deliberately trying to start rumours which get fans flustered. Useless.

You have your trusted sources and that’s all that matters. For everything else:

2) You know your team better than most – you know what’s realistic for your team

Sure, it’d be great to get Dustin Martin and Josh Kelly in the one off-season – *cries in North Melbourne* – but more realistically, you’ve watched your team every week and know where they have to improve.

When all the think pieces come out about your club needing this and that, important cogs mystifyingly rated as C-grade, the whole thing needing to be razed to the ground and five years of hard labour as penance, it’s all just part of the show for this time of year.

You know what your team needs, and only let those trusted sources talk to you about alternate strategies. Remember, everything else is irrelevant.

Simple idea in theory, a little tricker to execute without practice. Especially after the year we’ve just had.

3) Consider where the information is coming from, be wary of the games each side plays

There’ll be people who either have – or are given – intimate access to one side of the story. They also won’t necessarily have connections on the other, simply by virtue of not being across all 18 teams at all times as already noted.

People in influential positions want to use the media to present the best possible version of their story. Agents have their journalists they’ll feed information to, journalists have their own leanings and relationships to maintain, clubs will give the side of the story which paints them in the best possible light.

Some people will look after the bigger clubs because that’s how they want to make their name, others will look after the smaller teams, and a third group will treat everyone fairly. For better or worse, it’s just life and how it works during trade period – and all year round. But it does influence how stories are framed.

There’ll be those who will be relentlessly positive about teams, in contrast to people who would still take a negative slant even if a club handed them winning Powerball numbers.

Again, fall back on your own knowledge and those sources you trust. It’s the best way to cut through the bluster.

4a) Differentiate between reporting and speculation

This may be the trickiest step of the lot. Reporting on teams’ plans is obviously quite useful and offers a window into future plans.

It’s also an extremely thin line between that and stories like:

‘This is what Team X could do if they pull off this trade and then potentially package it to get another pick before using all their draft capital to look at big players who may or may not be available if an offer comes.’

Those are just fever dreams dressed up for clicks, but the language is similar to pieces which are actually useful.

Once again it comes back to who and where you trust. If it’s someone you trust, there’ll be a clear sign that it’s a speculative piece and something to daydream about. Which leads into…

4b) Hypothetical trades are exactly that

Fake trades are fun!

By this stage in the process you ideally know that when you see one of these, it’s for you to chat about rather than take seriously.

There’s no point getting worked up about five-team trades which involve 12 players – and also home ground advantage for some reason – because they’re designed as light fare. And from the social media side the easiest engagement you’ll ever get, but we’ll save those tricks for another time.

Who doesn’t want to fantasise about the scenes if your team got involved in something wild? Just don’t work yourself into a shoot, brother.

5) Have fun with it all

Trade and free agency period blows all other AFL coverage out of the water when it comes to clicks and views.

Rightly or wrongly, those clicks and views are the name of the game above nearly all else, which means organisations would be shooting themselves in the foot not to capitalise on it.

But hopefully by this stage you know all the tricks and understand the relevant information to keep across all you want.

It means all that’s left with the rest is to have some fun. Keep a scorecard of who gets things right and wrong, use HPN Footy’s trade calculator to dream, and needle your mates with how the 37th fake trade you’ve seen for the day is definitely happening and will be terrible for their team.

And may your team win trade period in your eyes.

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