‘Hayne Plane’ lands on Monday Night Football and Australia tunes in

SYDNEY – Tuesday proved to be quite a day for news in Australia.

In the sport of politics, Australians woke to the news they had a new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. And in the sport of American football, an Aussie named Jarryd Hayne was dominating front pages of newspapers country wide, with fans wondering if the “Hayne Plane,” a running back, would be touching down in the San Francisco 49ers’ first game of the season (presented in the states on ESPN’s Monday Night Football).

With exclusive Australian rights to the MNF game (Tuesday afternoon at 12:15 in Australia), ESPN Australia had to up the ante of the already massive interest in Hayne. He’s an Australian rugby league star making a very rare transition to the NFL. But attention was bound to be divided as outgoing Prime Minister Tony Abbott was to speak to the media at 12:30.

Who were Australians going to watch?

“Throughout the lead up to this historical day, ESPN Australia was the level-headed, reliable voice for expert analysis of the NFL,” said ESPN ANZ general manager Haydn Arndt. “We maintained a special focus on the Hayne story, raised awareness of our exclusive MNF coverage but concentrated on what we do best, delivering fans authentic, timely, accurate coverage. We leveraged the hype around Hayne without sensationalizing it. We focused on the exclusivity of Monday Night Football, ran Australian specific promos featuring Hayne, all helping to establish that ESPN is the home of the NFL in Australia.”

The strategy – which also included commentary and unique insight from ESPN’s NFL Nation 49ers beat reporter Paul Gutierrez sharing his unique insights with a number of Australian media (see sidebar below) – worked well.

ESPN Australia broke all records, becoming the highest-rated and most viewed broadcast in ESPN Australia’s history (a 4.20 HH rating). @ESPNAusNZ trended throughout the entire game and it delivered an audience of 116,000 viewers per minute to rank as the No. 1 broadcast on the ESPN networks in Australia. The previous record was Super Bowl XLVIII which had 107,100 viewers per minute.

Q&A with ESPN NFL Nation 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez

What are your impressions of Jarryd Hayne having interviewed him?
Very composed. Yeah, he’s done this before. But I get the sense that when he is doing solely Australian media scrums, he seems bored. And when it’s a mixed setting, he seems to be more open or energized to share Australian phrases, like saying this is “a different kettle of fish” or calling teammates “blokes.”

When a prominent Japanese baseball player joins an MLB team, there is often an influx of media who start to cover the team day to day. Are you seeing a similar effect with Hayne and Australian media?
Having covered baseball, [I think] the Japanese media crush is much larger than the handful of Aussies who have come to Santa Clara. After games, when the general media is in the auditorium awaiting coach Jim Tomsula, the Australian contingent is making a beeline for Hayne’s locker to get him first. We, the Niners beat writers, recently had a quick dinner with five Australian media members to check the pulse and they could not emphasize enough how big Hayne is Down Under. To show the differences in games, they showed us highlights of Australian Rugby League games as well as Aussie Rules football.

You have done some interviews with Australia media outlets about Hayne. What kinds of questions are you most commonly asked about him and the 49ers?
Basically, they understand the game and rules of American football. What they needed clarification on were roster rules and active players and such. They also wanted to know just how unique it would be for Hayne to make the leap in one offseason, which is a universal question. And yes, [it’s] very unique, which speaks to his being a world-class athlete.

Anything else worth noting about Hayne?
While the 49ers beat out the Detroit Lions for Hayne, this would not have happened in Santa Clara [the California city where the 49ers are headquartered] last year. That roster, at least last offseason, was too stacked to take on a project. This offseason, though, with the Niners in full rebuild mode, Santa Clara was a great landing spot, and not only from a talent standpoint. The Niners are still one of the glamour franchises in the league, despite the spate of arrests and brutal offseason, so being on the West Coast and playing in a jewel of a stadium can only keep him visible.

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