Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/ Getty Images.

You have successfully auditioned with an early career posting feelpinions that got a lot of retweets. Perhaps you gained some experience as a political staffer doing Parliament House circus correspondence, and staffed a booth or two in some local council elections. Maybe you put in a few late nights blogging on your lobbying firm’s rarely-visited website, created a juvenile click-bait campaign for GetUp, or even posted a “who cares” piece on The Guardian’s “Comment is Free”.

Regardless, now you are ready to commentate on a TV political panel. The big leagues!

But with so many journalists, former and serving MP’s, ex-staffers, think-tankers, lobbyists, body language experts, pollsters, economists, social scientists, futurists, “disrupters” and even the odd actual insider, you have to distinguish yourself. So instead of quoting lines from the American President, The West Wing or House Of Cards, like many from the inner city, perhaps you can try get all “Western Sydney” and learn yourself what you believe to be “voter language”, so you can “whistle” them.

As HG Nelson once observed: “There is an art to commentating.

“And if you just use the same phrases over and over again, you’re ignoring what is happening before you”.

So, mate, you need to talk footy.

Footy-politics. Hell yeah!

It couldn’t be any worse than most commentary. Let’s sketch out a game plan.

First, blow off your Colebatch Esthertile and Burlinda Piggotswort Guardian parody names. You need a footy name. The NRL gave us “Back Door” (Benny Ellias) and Blocker (Roach) but you could try “One Liner” or “Speaking Notes”.

Second, you need get on top of the commentary from the first play. Dominate.

If you are a Labor aligned mouthpiece you could say of the election so far: “Look, we always knew Malcolm’d come out hard with his Economy game”. And add: “We know it getting a bit ugly with the costings but we have to take chances playing on their half”. You could even concede: “He [Malcolm] put us off our game plan early”, or, “This economy is home ground for their boys – it’s always a tough ask.”

Third: you need to avoid picking winners too early in your commentary, even if things are going well. So you are asked by fellow panellists: “You’d be pretty happy with the polls hey? 4 points up?”

You could reply, “Yeah, nah, dunno about that but the boys are play’n well out there in the marginals for sure”. If the mob you are spruiking for are in the lead, best not let anyone believe you are complacent: “The boys are going to leave all we’ve got out there on the electoral paddock. Fight all the way to the final whistle 6pm on Saturday”.

Throw in a cautionary: “All credit to the way the boys are play’n, but at the end of the day the party with the most seats wins”.


Footy talk is useful when faced with an embarrassing leak, like: “Any comment, Wayne, about those leaks on dissent in the CHQ dressing room on the boats position mate?” One could reply: “You’ll have to ask the boys about that. What happens in CHQ stays in CHQ.”

If involved in a stuff up? A scandal? Then some footy talk favourites are your friend: “Look, he’s as embarrassed as anyone. Burkey has had a good look at himself. He didn’t have his head in the campaign. He knows he’s let the boys down. Sure he got some grief, but he’ll have to suck it up and move on.”

In a boring match (defined by journalists as the absence of “falcons”, broken bones, biff or vomit) you’d observe: “These boys are locked in a defensive battle. It’s ugly play. A game of mere centimeters”.

In this scenario, your role will be to create moments of drama. One way to do this is to attach significance to the insignificant. “The leader just changed the complexion of the game with his Superannuation announcement”. You even get so desperate as to scream that a random police drug raid, or a rogue result from “Top Aussie Polls” is a “game changer”.

Failing that, you could even comment on the coach’s changing tie colour: “The sudden adoption of NSW Blue is a bold signal he’s ready to step up to Origin coaching position. Wazza better watch his back. Game ON boys!”

And let’s go to Sportsbet for a quick look at the odds.

“Both parties have to come here to play. After eight weeks, in the end it will be a game of two halves of four weeks each, and both teams need to play for the full 80,000 minutes. All the candidates and leaders will be out on their feet by the end of this monster game and we have to give it to all the boys on both sides for still giving 110% effort. But at the end of the day the punters are asking too many questions of the Opposition for The Zinger to really get the market’s backing.”

But don’t get ahead of yourself and make yourself the story like Sam Newman. And don’t be one of those commentators who think they are crossing from the Superbowl in Dallas, when in reality you are speaking from a shed at the park footy at Minto.

Mark Textor is co-founder of campaign strategy firm Crosby|Textor, which advises the Turnbull government. He also chairs the Amy Gillett foundation. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from Mark Textor:

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.