Month: August 2017

Sport Techie Articles #3: Esports Continues Rise In Australia As A-League Team Signs Gamer

The growing tide of Australian sporting clubs leaping into esports shows no signs of slowing down with Hyundai A-League team Melbourne City FC becoming the first major football club in Australia to sign an official FIFA esports player.

Melbourne City’s acquisition of Victorian-based Marcus Gomes, a 20-year-old FIFA fanatic, local football player and esports competitor becomes just the third FIFA player to sign with the City Football Group owned team, alongside New York City FC’s Christopher Holly and Manchester City’s Kieran Brown.

“I started playing FIFA 2006 when I was nine, and I never could have imagined that the game would be where it is today, or that I would be signing a professional eSports contract with a club like Melbourne City,” Gomes said in a statement.”

“I have followed City for the last few years and I am really looking forward to wearing the City blue shirt at this year’s tournaments.”

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It will be intriguing to see what fan engagement gaming type events Melbourne City also have in mind for the new signing with gaming competitions and experiences with club members a possible idea down the track.

On this, the CEO of Melbourne City Scott Munn also added in a statement: “We know that many of our younger fans are playing eSports regularly, and interest in the industry is growing in Australia and globally. With 16 million people playing FIFA worldwide, and the competitive FIFA scene taking shape, it is the right time for Melbourne City to move in to eSports.

“We see a huge amount of potential and ambition in Marcus. He is a huge football fan, has proven success as a player, and is passionate about representing Melbourne City and engaging with our fans.”

The rise of esports continues to build within the Australian sports business with Melbourne City becoming just the third team to sign an esports player or team after the AFL’s Adelaide Crows bought out the Legacy esports team and South Melbourne FC signed player Peter Saisanas. Furthermore with both esports team and player salaries rising sharply, the proliferation of gaming tournaments and the arrival of city-based leagues and new esports gaming bars across the country, the esports industry in Australia continues to go from strength to strength.

Sport Techie Articles #2: Australian Basketball Team Perth Wildcats Launch Wilbot Chatbot

Artificial intelligence chatbots are one area where technology continues to evolve rapidly within the sports business. Entering this space is the Perth Wildcats basketball club — the first National Basketball League team in Australia to launch a chatbot with the addition of its newest recruit, Wilbot, which is aiming to engage and build stronger relationships with the clubs fans through Facebook Messenger.

The current NBL champions are encouraging fans to engage with Wilbot and ask him questions in Facebook Messenger as well as to sign up for occasional updates so that he can keep fans in the loop on important Wildcats and NBL news.

Fans are able to access Wilbot by clicking on the message tab in the Wildcats Facebook page and then either selecting an option such as merchandise, news and memberships or simply asking a question of their own. For example, asking Wilbot how many NBL championships the Wildcats had won generates an instant reply.

Once launched, the Wildcats digital team wanted to be able to get users to opt-in to receive messages from Wilbot without initiating the conversation so they announced that their next new player signing would be announced via Wilbot to those who had opted-in for updates. The team created a tutorial video before making the announcement, which led to a big spike in conversations and reachable users while also being a really cool and personal way to communicate with fans.

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The club intends to find further incentives to get people to talk to Wilbot and opt in for updates soon with the goal being to add more users to the database and make it even more useful to our fans.

“I noticed big, global brands had started to utilise Messenger bots and my original plan was to set one up with the simple objective to redirect fans to the relevant page on our club’s website, to help assist them,” Wildcats media manager Wade Dobson said. “Once I discovered how easy it was to do that, I realised the potential to develop a fun, efficient customer service tool that could engage with fans in the confident and cheeky Perth Wildcats voice.

“Wilbot is a big Perth Wildcats fan, and he’ll do whatever he can to help out fellow members of the Red Army! He’s fun, doesn’t mind a joke, and every now and then receives some exclusive news to share with other Messenger users.

“We’re proud to say Wilbot is among the first chatbot’s to be developed by a sporting club in Australia. We believe the potential engagement is limitless — we’ve really only scraped the surface with what he can be used to achieve. We hope our fans enjoy interacting with him and we look forward to seeing his intelligence increase with the number of conversations he’s having!’

With messaging platforms having recently overtaken social media networks in monthly active users, there is a huge opportunity now for sporting organizations to be creative with their fan engagement and interact smarter with their fans through the use of these personalized AI chatbots.

With the introduction of Wilbot, the Wildcats have now become just the second professional sporting team in Australia to launch a chatbot after the Melbourne Renegades BBL team successfully launched its fan bot RUBi in 2016.

Global sporting teams such as RCB Challengers (BoldBot) and major events like Wimbledon (Fred) are jumping in to better connect with their fans 24/7.

Sport Techie Articles #1: AFL’s Adelaide Crows Use Team App To Livestream 360-Degree Video

The Australian Football League’s Adelaide Crows have announced another innovative technology advancement that is set to increase fan engagement.

Fresh from announcing their purchase of an esports team in May, the Crows have now set their sights on venturing deeper into virtual reality by becoming the first AFL club to live stream video of the team to fans in 360 degrees.

The Crows worked with both Telstra and Adelaide-based virtual reality studio Jumpgate VR to expand on the previous virtual reality experiences which the club produced earlier in the season. The new partnership brings live streaming from the Adelaide Oval to the club’s app.

Adelaide fans then had the ability Friday night to transport themselves into the inner sanctum of the Crows sheds as the players prepared for one of the biggest battles of the season.

“We will continue to be a leader in this country with the integration and trialing of new technologies that provide our 600,000 plus supporters with unique engagement opportunities that enhance their experience, whether they are at the game or not,” Crows CEO Andrew Fagan said in a statement.

“We are fortunate to have some of the most passionate and loyal Members and fans in professional sport and we want them to have the chance to be a part of the inner sanctum of the Club and interact with the us like never before.”

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The finals-bound club first partnered with Jumpgate VR in August 2014 to bring one of the first VR applications to world professional sport with the “Banner Run Experience” where fans were able to run out onto the field through the banner for club legend Ben Rutten’s final game of AFL football.

The club then reenlisted Jumpgate VR to become the first in the AFL to integrate VR into its official app during the home and away season. In a series of VR videos, fans could be welcomed into Adelaide’s cheer squad and see the change rooms and tunnels beneath the grandstands.

Now the Crows are working again with Jumpgate VR, Telstra and app provider Yinzcam to bring this live 360-degree video stream to the club’s app and thus becoming the first sporting organization in Australia to do so.

A significant outcome as a result of the live VR work the Crows produced on Friday night has been the rise in both iOS and Android downloads with these increasing by 67 percent and 45 percent respectively compared to the previous week.


New Zealand All Blacks Fan Experience, Westpac Stadium, New Zealand, 2016

The All Blacks experience at Westpac Stadium is something to behold. 

The hot dogs are equally impressive too.

The secret fan | Orix Buffaloes, Pacific League baseball, Osaka, Japan

The secret fan | Orix Buffaloes, Pacific League baseball, Osaka, Japan

  • Exceptional fan engagement with a female focus 
  • Wide diversity of quality food and drinks 
  • Confusing public transportation system and connectivity issues 

Outside of the US, it seems that no other country and its fans are quite as passionate about baseball as the Japanese.

From the uriko beer girls to the coordinated chanting, a baseball game in Japan is a bucket-list experience for any sports fan.

I joined 37,000 fans at Kyocera Dome in Osaka on a steamy summer’s night to watch an Orix Buffaloes Pacific League game and to review the fan experience.


At 5pm on a sticky night in Osaka, hardcore Orix Buffaloes baseball fans, salarymen and families all made their way to the impressive Kyocera Dome in the city centre for the night’s match against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Transport to the dome in the heart of Osaka city was quick and efficient, but with three separately owned train lines linking to the stadium, navigation was a bit confusing for a non-local to understand.

While there are no ride-sharing services in Japan the taxis are incredibly clean, cheap and readily available with a fare from the city to the stadium only costing 1000¥ (€7.70/$9.00).

Leaving the match proved hassle free – the Osaka metro system providing easy access to get fans away quickly.

Fan Engagement

Upon entering the venue I was gifted a matchday programme that featured a giant player poster, a game day stats and player profile sheet, as well as a sponsored fan hand waver.

The latter proved to be a clever promotional item in the extreme heat and I saw people waving theirs on the subway on the journey home and therefore promoting the sponsor further afield.

The opening pitches for baseball games in Osaka start at 6pm. These family friendly times are perfect for young families and there was an abundance of unbranded fan activities for young fans to participate in.

While there is no gambling, and alcoholic sponsorship is minimal, it was intriguing to see cigarette machines scattered around the venue.

On the branded front, sponsor Orix, a Japanese financial services company, had an elaborate make-up stand inside the stadium concourse featuring video tutorials in which the team’s female mascot gave instructions on how to apply make up to replicate her look.

The booth provided fans with free cosmetics such as lipsticks and eyeliners as well as mirrors to help them get ready for the game.

There might be no outrageous Dance Cam-type screen fun here but the Orix do have the ‘clap cam’ which encourages fans to clap along to a fast paced J-pop-type team song while the camera roams around the stadium capturing their smiles.

Organised chanting is also the norm here as both home and away fans respectfully take turns in singing songs, banging drums and whistling throughout the whole match.

A fun moment also took place at the bottom of the seventh inning as both sets of fans took turns in their respective sections to let go of thousands of inflated baseball bat-shaped balloons which then floated around the stadium before being rapidly picked up by stadium staff out on the field.

Further innovative features include the ability for fans to check in at the stadium via facial recognition technology stands that scan their membership cards and faces to earn loyalty points and special gameday rewards through the official fan club.

Finally, the Kyocera Dome has an underground mall that features a club shop stocking interesting items like chocolate replicas of the stadium, ‘gacha gacha’ kids toy boxes as well as gear from every team in the league.

This mall also includes a kids’ zone with batting cages and a fan hall of fame which honours the most ardent Orix supporters.


Security is fairly relaxed in Japanese stadiums. There was a bag search and ticket check but no wand scans, pat downs or X-ray machines in evidence.

It was quite a surreal experience to be able to legally walk around the stadium pre-game drinking a can of beer and then to also be able to pour another pre-bought convenience store beer into a team-branded cup and take it into the stadium for free.

Police and security guards patrol the stadium concourses and were on hand to assist fans. However, even though the Japanese like to get a bit rowdy and enjoy their alcohol there was absolutely no anti-social behaviour or violence at the game, which is an interesting observation on the differences in fan behaviour across cultures.

With regards to ticketing, one clever innovation allows fans to buy baseball tickets directly from a printer in any 7/11 convenience store for around 1300¥.

Wi-Fi Connectivity

While the Kyocera Dome provides free high-speed Wi-Fi for fans, it is only available for customers connected to the SoftBank mobile network.

The process to register for paid Wi-Fi was also difficult, requiring fans to access a four-digit code that then needed to be typed into the device’s Wi-Fi access page.

This was a pretty time-consuming hurdle for fans to jump through just to be able to post picture and video updates from the stadium.


Restrooms were abundant and clean throughout the fully air- conditioned stadium and featured both traditional and bidet toilets with minimal wait times observed over the course of the match.

The restrooms and concourses also feature bins exclusively for the disposal of liquids. That said they were difficult to comprehend for a visitor as they are labelled as either ‘burnable’ or ‘unburnable’.


Searching for a bite to eat from the concession stands proved to be easy due to the wide variety of affordable food and drink options available in the concourse such as giant Japanese-style sausage hotdogs, local craft beer, sake, player-branded bento boxes, or edamame and sausages wrapped in curly fries.

Established food outlets like McDonald’s, Mos Burger and KFC were also present, the latter two of which also sold beer, which was convenient and saved having to line up twice.

There seemed to be no liquor licensing restrictions either as fans were allowed to drink as much as they wanted and the bars didn’t close until well after the game was finished.

Moreover, while fans were able to bring their own food and drinks, beer girls dressed in colourful baseball jerseys roamed the stadium selling popcorn, dumplings, fairy floss and sushi.

The Dome also has a variety of premium Japanese restaurants that overlook the field, making for a unique dining experience.

EXTRA: Overview 

The Orix Buffaloes match at Kyocera Dome was organised as part of the regular season of the Nippon Professional Baseball league and took place in Osaka, Japan.

Ease: 8/10
Seamless security checks, smart ticketing solutions and a well-run venue easily make up for a slightly confusing public transport system and poor stadium Wi-Fi experience.

Value: 9/10
Having the ability to bring your own beers is sure to excite many fans while the exceptional customer service and diversity of food is another highlight of Kyocera Dome.

Recommendation: 9/10
Unmissable. The atmosphere was thrillingly friendly and fan-focused.

Transport: The closest public transportation stations to the stadium are Dome-Mae on the Hanshin line or Dome-mae Chiyozaki on the Osaka subway line. Car parking is available on site starting at 1000¥ for one hour. No ride sharing services are available in Japan.

TV: The match was broadcast on Fuji Television in Japan.

Tickets: Tickets are available at the gate, from any 7/11 store, or online. Tickets purchased online can be easily sent to your hotel if coming from overseas. Ticket prices start from 1300¥ for the cheapest outfield seats and rise to 100,000¥ for corporate seating.

For more information, visit

Price of a 750ml cup of beer: 750¥
Price of a coffee: 250¥
Price of a burger/sandwich: 400¥

Time taken to be served: Immediately both during pre-game and during the match. Customer service was impeccable.

Queues for toilets: No lines seen over the course of the event. Restrooms were clean and well resourced.

Blair Hughes is a passionate advocate for fans and consults with global leagues and teams to help them better engage their supporters. With a background in venue management, marketing, PR and digital media through his roles at the Gabba Cricket Ground, Queens Park Rangers, The Hammersmith Apollo and audioBoom. Follow Blair on Twitter at @MrBlairHughes.

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