Fans mocked media’s obsession with Jarryd Hayne, but they couldn’t get enough

Aussie sports sites have been pilloried by fans for giving too much coverage to Jarryd Hayne's abortive NFL career, but the stats prove the fans couldn't get enough of him, argues The Roar's Patrick Effeney.

patrick effeneyWhen Jarryd Hayne announced he was abandoning a lucrative contract and superstardom in a small pond at home to play in the vast ocean of the NFL, no one knew he was turning himself into unstoppable viral gold in the process.

A simple job shift for most of us means a new office, new co-workers and a different figure at the end of the month.

For Jarryd Hayne it meant endorsements, documentary opportunities and unprecedented interest from journalists and readers alike about every little thing he was doing, from fumbling footballs right down to how his Tinder match-ups were going.

For publishers it meant a weekly opportunity.

There was a question that divorced many a reader from their favourite publication – why was there so much Jarryd Hayne, and when did Jarryd Hayne become so impossibly popular?

Satirical site the Betoota Advocate mocked the Fox Sports coverage of Hayne

Satirical site the Betoota Advocate mocked the Fox Sports coverage of Hayne

NFL diehards despised it. Fox Sports copped the worst of it from fans, but The Roar certainly wasn’t spared. True NFL fans were queuing up to complain about our lack of coverage of all the other games as we focussed on claiming our little slice of Hayne’s dream.

Speaking from a publication who dined out on Hayne-mania every week during the NFL season, I would firmly submit that the scale of Jarryd’s popularity was something we didn’t expect, and was certainly something we’ve never seen before.

Predicting what will go viral is the tricky burden placed on every publication with a Facebook page, but when it came to Jarryd Hayne it became clear early that this was an exception. Sports publications had manna from heaven dished out to them each and every week in the form of an Aussie bloke wearing a helmet and pads, and it really didn’t matter whether it was ugly or beautiful.

If Hayne did anything, anything at all, you get it up as soon as you possibly can and watch the visitors roll in from Facebook.

As an example, the below post had about 58 times the amount of reach of a ‘normal’ Facebook post for us, while the engagement was the same. There was nothing to it, really.

jarryd hayne touchdown

And this was just the tip of the iceberg – Hayne Mania became a Monday tradition. We live-blogged his games, created pages dedicated to when and where he was playing, and how you could watch him, produced videos of the action, whatever action it was. We found that it didn’t matter what it was.

When it got to the big dance, Hayne was reaching about 150 times what a normal Facebook post would. Watch him, put it live, watch people trip over each other and wonder where all of these Jarryd Hayne fans came from.

jarryd hayne big block

Clickbait titles were rendered powerless. Hayne transcended clickbait. At one point we put a post live and all it said was: “Jarryd Hayne made a tackle today. That is all.”

jarryd hayne the roar tackle

Hayne lovers and haters still flocked to it, watching, it, consuming it, commenting on it, hating us for it but watching it anyway. We got complaints (“sensationalism”) for the most boring title in the history of reportage.

Even videos and articles about his non-Aussie replacements struggling went completely nuts over Facebook, and pushed plenty of people to the site via search.

It was a social revolution powered by one individual playing an unfamiliar sport. It was bringing new fans to a previously niche sport, and we faced daily complaints about covering Jarryd Hayne too much from the die hards. But the data kept telling us, emphatically, that was what the people wanted. Other NFL live blogs and articles fell flat while the Hayne Plane soared. The numbers were simply irrefutable.

At the peak of Hayne’s reign, 25% of our not insubstantial total of video views for that month could be attributed to Jarryd.

You can’t blame Fox Sports for its coverage of the phenomenon that was Jarryd Hayne. The demand was embarrassingly high – even for us and our Monday team of Hayne-followers.

It was real. It was viral – predictably viral; week-in, week-out, giving 110% and giving full credit to the boys.

Sure, following Jarryd Hayne was a media circus, but lost in all the data and reach and SEO is the fact that this was one of the most remarkable sporting stories of our generation.

Boy from the NRL makes a successful transition to arguably the most competitive sports league in the world – that’s what people, the silent majority, were really watching. That’s what they were coming for. The story was simply irresistible, and trying to pass it off as media companies making a buck out of someone’s success does a disservice to what Hayne achieved in next to no time.

And now it’s happening all over again, as Hayne continues to break servers as he follows his Olympic dream.

My guess is it’ll be viral gold all over again.

Patrick Effeney is editor of The Roar

Athletes, marketers, broadcasters and codes will all be talking about the biggest issues in sport at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit on July 28.  Click the banner below for more info and tickets.


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