Taking place every January for two weeks in Melbourne, Australia, the Australian Open tennis tournament is a world class innovative fan experience that showcases the largest fan site in the world for a major Grand Slam tennis tournament at 250,000 square metres. From best practice digital fan engagement to gourmet food and endless fan activations, this is Australia’s premier sporting event for fan engagement for fans of all ages.
The Australian Open prides itself on providing an exceptional fan experience and for this years event they included a new Australian Open Festival site that was completely free for the public and only around 500m from the main tennis arena. The new AO festival space in Birrarung Marr near Flinders Street station was designed to host a free tennis-inspired festival for all ages and offered tennis games, a giant TV screen to watch matches on plus gourmet food and drinks and other fan activations like photo opportunities with giant tennis balls. Designed as the new ‘front door’ of the Aus Open, the new festival area was certainly a winner for fans who were already going to the tournament as well as for those who just wanted to experience the free site.
The tournament offers free trams to and from the event from the main CBD station (Flinders Street) with these free trams being well staffed with Metro staff on hand to help fans get to and from the tournament with ease. The journey time is only a short 10-15 minute ride to and from the door of the venue from the centre of Melbourne so it’s a worthwhile option for fans especially due to the drop off and pick up location at the venue and because it’s free for ticket holders. Without a ticket to the event you would need to use a MYKI card meaning you will have to buy one of these in advance from a 7/11 for $6 and then touch on the tram/train for $3.79 each way. Parking is also affordable and can be made on site for only $15.
The food and drink on offer at the Aus Open is more than just pies, hot dogs, softdrinks and beers and is more about showcasing the local delights from Australia’s best restaurants and producers such as the Gelato Messina tennis creations as well as a big focus on gourmet, healthy and fresh Greek, Italian and traditional Australian cuisine. There is literally something here for even the fussiest of diners or for those with dietary requirements such is the abundance of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options which is great to see as it means the organisers are truly catering for all fans.
In terms of going the extra mile for fans there are some amazing fan experiences on offer at the Aus Open. From behind the scenes tours, meet and greets with past and present players, to their relaxing day spa and butler service that sees food and drink delivered to your seat, fans can even rent a personal tennis commentator or be picked up from their house or hotel in an official KIA Aus Open car and be driven to the tournament like a professional player!
The digital fan engagement from the Aus Open is superb and always touches on the new and exciting things happening in the the digital world to engage with fans from all over the world. From their snapchat account featuring interesting and exclusive behind the scenes moments, emoji messaging keyboard and use of audioBoom to capture insightful audio stories from fans to their use of Periscope to get live raw video action and interviews for fans, asking fans where they were for seat upgrades using #AOSOCIALSUITE to their creative Twitter emoji’s featuring a Koala in a cork hat and Leyton Hewitt, the tournament continued to out do itself online in 2016. It didn’t stop there though as there were also Twitter takeovers with tennis legend Rod Laver, the #EmiratesCheckIn which enabled fans to win prizes and the Guvera playlist which collated players favourite tunes and asked fans to make their own playlist.
The physical presence of the AO Social Shack also delighted fans with virtual reality and social media activations like the Aus Open 360 World ‘lab’ which let fans experience a sensory explosion from all angles of the on court action, trophy photo opportunities and the insta-mosaic where fans could tag themselves and #AOSelfie on Instagram to in return receive a free polaroid print out and be featured in a giant mosaic of 4000+ fan photos. The AOSocialShack also included Twitter chats with players that expanded to live streaming ‘people pressers’ using Periscope at the Social Shack. The ‘Social Suite’ in Hisense Arena provided a VIP social experience for fans that engaged with the Australian Open on social media. Through Facebook, fans have also been able to custom brand their profile picture with an AO frame detailing who they support such as ‘I’m Team Tomic’.
In terms of freebies, various crews of sponsor volunteers are seen wandering the venue handing out free merch to fans like a Canadian Club USB fan for your phone, plastic racket fans from Guvera to Blackmore’s health products which all had fans lining up to grab a free giveaway.
The massive Novak’s World enables fans to immerse themselves in Novak Djokovic world and experience the power of virtual reality by using Oculus Rift goggles to feel like you are apart of Novak’s world as he prepare to play while the ANZ Tennis Hotshots area is a dedicated kids fan zone with loads of tennis activities for kids of all ages.
There are countless opportunities for autographs at the Open with both Autograph Island and the Yonnex Autograph site seeing players visit over the course of the tournament to sign fans merch. Fans were also able to get their face on the cover of Australian Tennis magazine, enjoy priority access by showing their bank card, receive free neck and shoulder massages, seat cushions and upgrades over at the Medibank Private members refresh lounge and even be transported to the tournament in free predi-cab rides.
Photo opportunities for fans are endless here and include giant tennis balls that are featured across the site to TAC’s ‘LookOut’ campaign which was designed to glamorise the ‘no phone’ strut to educate distracted pedestrians. The Twitter #AUSOPEN hashtag sees people standing all over the big hashtag cut out and the trophy photo sessions allow fans to hold the trophies for a picture all illustrate how fans can walk away with a swag of timeless photographic memories.
The Nikoleodeon Inflatable World was a playground featuring kids TV characters while the Kia Creative suite enabled fans to step into the shoes of a tennis champion and lift the AUS Open trophy while also showing off their drawing skills to enter a drawing competition for their chance to win prize packs. Music fans were also not left out as the The Open sessions saw performances by Australia’s top music artists throughout the course of the tournament with all these gigs being included in the price of admission.
There was a bigger emphasis on fitness fan engagement as over at the Wilson’s World Wide demo, fans were testing their skills against competitors around the world by participating in virtual reality fitness challenges whereas in the Fitbit Cardio Tennis site fans of all ages were able to get fit and have fun with a group workout on the court while the Medibank Private Fan Zone saw had fans moving to virtual reality skills tests. There was also a ‘Brazilian Booty Workout’ and ‘Partner Push Up’s’ as well as part of other fitness inspired activations for fans.
Along with free water fountains and cool fresh air and water blowing stations the whole site has heaps of phone recharge stations as well meaning your phone will never need to die here.
The 2016 Australian Open once again solidifies it’s presence as the premier fan experience in Australia. While there are so many exciting and creative things happening in the world of fan engagement, the Australian Open not only shines a light on the big movements in technology such as virtual reality but also on the little things that put big smiles on fans faces and make them much more engaged while watching the tennis both in the stadium and at home, wherever that may be in the world. But don’t take my word for it, just make sure it’s on your sports bucket list and I’m sure you’ll agree it’s one of the world’s exceptional fan experiences.