2016 AFL and NRL Grand Final Fan Engagement Recap

2016 AFL and NRL Grand Final Fan Engagement Recap

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The 2016 AFL and NRL Grand Finals have come and gone with the Western Bulldogs at the MCG and the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ Stadium taking out the titles in each of the codes. While the two matches were quality spectacles in Melbourne and Sydney over the weekend of October 1st and 2nd what was also quality was the level of fan engagement activations seen throughout each stadium and the overall fan experience which was an exceptional sight for the senses. From kicking a ball off a roof into a giant trophy to green screen fun and a virtual kicking activity to endless photo opportunities here’s a brief recap of the fan engagement from Grand Final weekend in Australia. 

I travelled to both the MCG for the AFL Grand Final and ANZ Stadium for the NRL Grand Final to soak up the awesome Aussie Rules and Rugby League fan experience that both codes had on offer for sporting fans. The continuing innovation in game day enhancements and entertainment seen at both stadiums continues to promote the quality in Australian fan engagement best practice and delivers exciting additional benefits and value to these Aussie sporting fans. Putting fans first and creating last memories for fans are certainly high on the agenda of both codes and from the varying array of interactive activities on offer it was clear to see that the AFL, NRL and stadiums are investing in creating a superior game day experience. 

On Saturday 1st October I headed out to the AFL Grand Final at the MCG which was contested between the Western Bulldogs and Sydney Swans. The journey from the city to the stadium was made easy due to free public transport tram stops being extended to the G for the big match. Upon leaving Jolimont station to walk the short distance to the MCG it felt like walking into an NFL stadium as we were handed no less than four free items ranging from footballs to inflatable merch and drinks to chocolates from sponsors Mars, Metro, Lift and NAB.

The free Foxtel Footy Festival that was held at the adjacent Yarra Park and which had been running throughout the week of the Grand Final had scores of sponsor tents running activations and gourmet food and drink stands serving localised and footy themed food creations. The activations around the footy festival included a green screen activation where you were filmed celebrating kicking a goal kick, endless free giveaways from sponsors and a stand where you could film your own press conference. There were roving Instagram photo boards for priceless picture opportunities, a huge kids zone and a stand from NAB where bank customers could pay pass their card for a free football. Along with this there was an art station where kids and parents could decorate a Sherrin football, face painting, autograph stations and the ‘Tower of Torp’ where fans could punt a football off a 30m high platform and try to land it in the massive AFL trophy for a chance to win tickets to the game.

The footy festival in the large green grassy open space of Yarra Park was an amazing endless sports fan expo of selfie competitions, showbags and free drinks and food giveaways that saw kids, families and friends all smiling, kicking footies and racing around this enormous sponsor led activation site from the AFL. With free WiFi hot spots from Telstra, there were countless photo opportunities to upload to social for instance the Coates Hire digger, the Toyota 4WD’s and the AFL trophy cabinet. The Carlton Draft pop up bar and the beer horses were also a welcome watering hole and interesting sight for fans.

The gourmet food options and pop up bars in the Footy Festival were interesting in that they featured creative footy inspired dishes like a ‘Meat Pie Taco’ and ‘Footy Kebab’ while at the same time featuring some of the stars of Melbourne’s culinary scene. 

Inside the ground, the fan engagement was no different. There was the 100K kick for cash, a year of beer giveaway, SnapChat filter’s, the pre-game and half time entertainment action but the best piece of fan engagement had to be when three fans ran around the MCG boundary rope fence in a relay passing a baton to each other against a Carlton Draft horse which was running alongside them on the LED screens. It was quick, it was hilarious, it was creative, it was simple. They beat the horse and won a prize and everyone was laughing as their hearts pumped for these fans to make it round the G before the horse. 

The pictures attached in this AFL recap don’t do the AFL Footy Festival and Grand Final justice as it was an exceptional fan experience and as like always at these big events where it’s fan engagement overload you just don’t seem to have enough time to take it all in as there is so much going on and so much to do. Credit to the MCG, AFL and sponsors for continuing to create these exciting new experiences off the field for fans to enjoy. 


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After a few hours sleep on Saturday night I quickly boarded a plane on Sunday morning up to Sydney to take in the NRL Grand Final on what was a hot day compared to the chill of Melbourne on Saturday. Hitting the ground running to take in the NRL fan engagement on Grand Final day I caught a free train out to ANZ Stadium which was included in the ticket price. Walking through the ANZ Stadium NRL fan zone was another impressive spectacle that featured local gourmet food stands, an array of photo opportunities along with an NRL member’s lounge where fans could get free massages, free ice cream and free newspapers.

The NRL fan day earlier in the week at Sydney’s Darling Harbour featured an exciting mix of fan engagement activities including player signing sessions, mascots, member activations and a host of kids activities while today’s fan zone also featured innovative ideas from The Creative Shop including ‘The Virtual Boot’ where fans could kick a virtual football off a tee and see how many conversions they could score (I scored 1/3 but the 6 year old boy behind me got all 3!), the fitness inspired ‘Race The Stars’ where you can time yourself against the best in the NRL and the ‘Reaction Station’ where fans could test their abilities against NRL players on this electronic board.

There were photo opportunities with a giant NRL trophy and Twitter #NRLGF hashtag, SnapChat filters and a ‘Make Your Play’ area where skills drills were taking place. Along with giveaways galore like free pins and Z-Programs from the RLWC17 Instagram there were also roving instagram cut out’s to capture the special moment of being at the stadium for grand final day. Inside the ground and the fan engagement kept rolling with the decibel reader and ‘KFC Dance Cam’ which encouraged fans to have a dance and feature on the big screens. 

On NRL Grand Final day, the NRL and ANZ Stadium again showcased their passion of putting fans first, continued to improve and reinvent the fan engagement while also creating an innovative fan experience that drives loyalty for rugby league fans. 

This concludes a brief recap of the NRL and AFL Grand Final fan engagement for 2016. If you’re thinking which event was better or who won the Grand Final fan engagement battle the truth is that they’re both winners. Both codes and stadiums through their hard working teams and sponsor support are continuing to update, transform and improve the fan experience in every possible way. While there are plenty of impressive, expensive and elaborate digital and technology driven activations that require a large amount of time to set up and run what is also so important to acknowledge is that so much of this fan engagement can be done on a small budget where creativity is the only key to unlocking this potential. It’s exciting times in this space for all parties but most importantly the sporting fans who are now being given access to a greater innovative and revolutionary fan experience. 

About Blair Hughes

I'm a passionate advocate for fans and an authority in the fan engagement/experience space. I consult for global sporting leagues and teams around analysis, ideation and implementation to help deliver creative and innovative fan engagement solutions that grow fan bases and increase revenue opportunities. I'm an award winning marketer and accomplished writer who brings a diverse and creative approach to my consulting work as a result of a career and valuable life experiences gained from the education, sport, music and digital sectors.

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