An Australasian Perspective: Fan Engagement Down Under 2014 Review
Fan engagement activations from sporting clubs and stadiums are taking the US and UK by storm but are also becoming ever more creative and exciting down in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia and New Zealand. Fans young and old are enjoying the experience of being able to watch the game on the field but also engage with the same game on their second screen and in turn fan loyalty is being rewarded with extra incentives like seat upgrades, prizes and digital media activations coming to fans from every angle. Subsequently there are impressive fan engagement lessons to be learnt from Aussie Rules to rugby league and netball to football from what is taking place in the world of fan engagement down under.
It’s clear from my experience travelling the length and breadth of the country in 2014 that every sporting team and stadium in Australia and New Zealand are doing very impressive fan engagement initiatives for their supporters and have the interests of these fans right at heart as they know that this will lead to creating the ultimate spectator experience as well as get more people through the turnstiles. From the gluten free food stand at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and Melbourne and the MCG’s immense selection of food outlets and use of iBeacon technology to Sydney’s connected free WI-FI at ANZ Stadium and Adelaide Oval’s state of the art audio and visual experience it is clear that our stadiums down here are working hard to give fans more bang for their buck and more valuable lasting memories.
Within my role with audioBoom I’ve been lucky enough to travel frequently around Australia and New Zealand in 2014 talking to sporting teams and stadiums about how they can use our audio platform for their fan engagement strategies. As I’m passionate about being a sports fan but also in learning what these teams and stadiums are doing with fan engagement for their supporters, I’m also very enthusiastic in promoting and showcasing the exciting things that the talented digital, marketing and fan engagement reps are doing down under for their club or stadiums fans.
2014 has been a huge year for fan engagement activations around Australia and I’ve been lucky enough to take in around 80 events here across football, AFL, rugby league, cricket, rugby, netball, hockey, motor racing as well as major events like the fan engagement overload that was both the MLB Opening Series in Sydney and the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
As a way of shining a light on how well I think Australia and NZ are doing in the fan engagement ranks I have listed a selection of some of the best fan engagement activations that I was able to witness in 2014. There are probably a thousand other ideas from clubs and stadiums far and wide however that are equally as good, however these are just some of the best ones from examples that I was able to witness on my travels.
In March I attended both the Australian Grand Prix Formula One in Melbourne and the Opening Game of the MLB series in Sydney at the SCG. The AUS GP is a fan engagement mecca with a multitude of activations on offer for fans from the #AUSGP twitter hashtag stand for fan photos, classic car roadshow, free Daniel Riccardio face masks, live music on festival type stages, fan zone bars with public access, free kids face painting and action zones featuring race car simulators. At the Major League Baseball opening game at Sydney’s Cricket Ground the sheer scale of what the event organisers Moore Sports pulled off with this event from securing the correct dirt for the pitching mound to make the stadium look like an American baseball ground was incredible to witness. However it was also all of the fun fan engagement on offer for baseball fans that really was impressive and definitely enhanced the day out at the ground. Outside the ground there were photo opportunities with the MLB trophy, batting cages and pitching zones to merch tents with free giveaways. Once inside the ground there were special zones set up including the ESPN Fan Deck, which featured free merch for fans like inflatable ESPN foam hands and customized beer holder cups. The event also provided a smorgasbord of American food varieties including giant 60cm hot dogs, bacon on a stick and ice cream in baseball helmets, which definitely had fans excited.
The National Rugby League (NRL) had an impressive year with fan engagement activations from the Brisbane Broncos and Manly Sea Eagles giving away free flags to fans at games, to Allianz Stadium and the Kangaroos test match rewarding fans with a ‘Seat and Eat’ offer where fans could eat as much as they could during the game. The Newcastle Knights teamed up with SportsBet to feature fans twitter names on the back of their jerseys while the NSW State of Origin rugby league team changed the sponsor words of beer Victoria Bitter on the front of their jerseys to feature fans names. The North Queensland Cowboys gave out free cut out headgear masks of star player Johnathon Thurston to fans while the Broncos also developed an away day cinema room for fans at their club house and gave out a prize to all members at their final home game through a lucky dip bin. The Penrith Panthers had a novel idea by letting fans buy cheaper jerseys if they traded in their old ones which then went to a worthy charity and the Melbourne Storm held a 31 day Instagram challenge which encouraged fans to tag a photo and follow a new theme like try celebration or tickets for example. Five NRL teams also engaged fans by donning special super hero jerseys featuring Wolverine, Captain America and more that were sold to fans and worn during games.
The Australian Football League (AFL) also rolled out the fan engagement royalty for fans with the Hawthorn Hawks having a fan guard of honour and Port Adelaide Power continuing to build on their theme song by getting fans to sing the INXS classic ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ in unison at home games. The Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns also had two of the best fan zones I witnessed on my travels in 2014 with Brisbane’s ‘Lions Park’ having skills and drills activities and photo stands whereas the Suns featured a live music area called the Fifth Quarter and loads of fan incentives like seat upgrades and food offers as well as allowing members to present players with their jerseys at the fan day. The Sydney Swans offered fans a 2 for 1 ‘Bring a Buddy’ deal to home games as a smart marketing tie in with their star player Buddy Franklin. Many teams emblazoned their jerseys with their members names while the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne Demons featured a women’s exhibition game before a main game and the Richmond Tigers used a photo-tagging platform to enable fans to tag their location at the match. Carlton Blues also used audioBoom to record player biographies, which were then linked to QR codes that were placed around their headquarters so that fans could tour the ground and learn and engage with the history of the club. The home of AFL, the Melbourne Cricket Ground also featured new iBeacon technology which saw roving meat pie sellers fitted with “iBeacons’’ that send messages via Bluetooth technology to supporter’s smart phones as they move around the stadium. Fans who have downloaded the MCG app have a message telling them a pie boy is nearby and are then handed a free Four’N Twenty meat pie when they show their mobile notification message. The MCG also encourages fans to ‘tweet the crowd’ whereby the fan that is closest to the correct crowd figure wins a special rewards. As can be seen from these examples in fan engagement, the AFL and its teams are enhancing the spectator experience of fans.
Australia’s domestic football competition, the A-League also featured many diverse fan engagement activations which included giveaways like free shoelaces for fans, digital activations like trivia at the A-League All Stars game and double header matches featuring the women’s teams playing before the men’s at plenty of stadiums around the country which was a good way to build support and engagement with the women’s game in Australia.
The Football United tour of New Zealand featuring West Ham and Newcastle United at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium showcased a tantalizing range of food and beverages at their newly opened fans public bar that would rival some of the member’s bars at stadiums around the world. The Football United App and use of TagBoard at the ground were also good digital activations in Wellington that got fans engaging on their second screens at the double-header match.
Perth Glory utilized QR codes to have fans vote for their man of the match while the Western Sydney Wanderers encouraged fans to share the footage they record at games to the teams Instagram and Twitter accounts as a way of bringing fans closer to the club. Brisbane Roar held a group fitness day for fans and the Central Coast Mariners constructed a beach bar at one end of their ground where fans could swim behind the goals and take in quality food and drinks all while the main game was taking place. The Mariners also held a Superhero Saturday, which encouraged fans to dress up as their favourite superhero on game day. The Australian national team, The Socceroo’s teamed up with Twitter to show their appreciation to fans with a personalized and signed team photo in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The Socceroo’s also published a ‘leave pass’ for fans to give to their bosses in the hope of getting off work early to see the team play some of their games in 2014.
But it’s not just the AFL and NRL leading the way with the Australian Rugby Union using the innovative experience of the SlideLiner at both ANZ Stadium and Suncorp Stadium. The SlideLiner was a four-person fan bench structure that sat on an 80-metre track near the pitch and moved along the field, following the game as it happened. The SlideLiner was equipped with Samsung technology so fans can share images through social media. The Queensland Reds Super Rugby team also featured personalied player mascots and enrolled the services of a cute red heeler puppy which were both a big hit with fans young and old. The National Rugby Championship (NRC) competition also featured match day programs,which could be downloaded via QR code direct to fans phones or tablets.
The Australian Baseball League (ABL) also offered fans some very appealing activities with the Brisbane Bandits and Melbourne Aces leading the way. The Aces have set up a dedicated fan zone at their stadium while the Bandits have incorporated food trucks on game nights as well as all you can eat incentives for fans. Another interesting activation by the Bandits was their speed dating ‘singles’ night which could possibly now give Tinder a run for its money for single sports fans to meet that special someone over an authentic ballpark hot dog!
The ANZ Netball Championship also saw plenty of exciting fan engagement with free giveaways at games but one of the more impressive things I noticed was the free healthy and nutritious raw food recipes being published by the Queensland Firebirds team which was certainly a refreshing thing to see in terms of healthy living education. Hockey Australia also engaged fans with their #12daysofhockey campaign which was run across the Hockey Australia, Hockeyroos and Kookaburras social media channels, website and digital platforms and saw fans engage with the national teams via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and audioBoom in order to win prizes.
Fan engagement is on the rise in Australia and New Zealand with teams and stadiums constantly looking to improve the match day experience for fans. This review has only touched the surface of all the impressive activations that are taking place down here however there are many valuable and creative fan engagement ideas which can be learned from what the hard working club and stadium sports business marketing and digital media reps are doing to get fans back into the stadium and create these lifelong memories for sporting fans.