Last Friday night (29-7-2016) I was able to take in the National Rugby League’s Canterbury Bulldogs game against St George Illawarra Dragons at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium and was really impressed with some of the things that the team there are doing to enhance the match day fan experience for rugby league fans.
Under the leadership of fan engagement manager Arnaleah Hunt, the Bulldogs fan experience (along with the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos) features some of the best fan engagement activations I have seen over the course of my travels in the past three years working with audioBoom. Since 2014, I’ve visited the majority of NRL, AFL and Australian based Super Rugby club’s home fan experience set up’s and the Bulldogs, Storm, Broncos, GC Suns, GWS Giants and Port Adelaide are among the best in the business.
I met up with Arnaleah at 4pm on a chilly but sunny Sydney afternoon at Gate L where I was then led around ANZ Stadium (which now also features a variety of local craft beer options) to check out the various activations starting with the nice blue carpet that worked as a Bulldogs member’s loyalty entrance.
It was inspiring to hear Arnaleah’s thoughts on fan engagement as we talked about how we both agreed that activations don’t always need to be expensive as so much of creating the fan experience is down to creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box to get fans, especially the young ones excited and coming back game after game.
One idea that the Bulldogs have had in 2016 has been the creation of The Canterbury Breed which has seen the Bulldogs squad transformed into superheroes with trading cards, face masks and posters all given out to members for free on match days.
Walking around the ground before the game to take in all of the fan engagement activities it was clear to see that the Bulldogs have gone above and beyond for fans young and old to create some memorable match day experiences.
The Bulldogs ‘Dog Box’ which sees members get the chance to watch the game from the half way line next to the coaches box in their very own fan cave was a cool idea complete with free programs, drinks and plenty of photo opportunities.
The Dogs also have a Kia sponsored sideline seat set up for selected members to take in the game from a closer vantage point (yes that’s a ridiculous image of me below in my fan engagement element) while the Delivery Hero sponsored buggy allows a fan the chance to take the kicking tee and match ball out at the start of the game.
The Bulldogs DJ takes social media requests from fans for songs on game day while the ‘Player Post’ box is a nice idea with an educational element for young kids who are able to write a letter to their favourite player and post it in the Bulldogs post box.
It was really impressive to also see the free game day guide that fans can pick up which includes an ‘activation map’ listing all of the fan engagement activities as well as the rules of rugby league, a profile on the club and a season draw.
The Dogs really value the importance of listening to their fans and have a suggestion box set up in the main fan zone area where fans can leave their suggestions on how to continue to improve the match day experience. I’ve seen a similar set up at Fulham at Craven Cottage with their post box so this was also impressive to see.
What was also impressive and somewhat hilarious to see was the poor bloke below who was being swamped by excited kids as he handed out free Bulldogs trading cards and then packs of trading cards to fans as they entered through the gates. Fans were also given free lollies on entry and free raffle numbers which were part of a promotion over the course of the night whereby one fan walked away with 5K and 20-30 others grabbed free prizes over the course of the game. It was a good way to promote sponsors, give prizes away to fans and get more people through the gates.
The Bulldogs fan experience is certainly one of the better NRL and Australian team match day’s and Bulldogs fans should be proud of the work that both Arnaleah and the team do for them to provide an exceptional day out at the football.