How a chatbot is helping the AFL win more fans

New Messenger-based chatbot not only helps answer customer queries, it's bolstering fan engagement


In an era where making things easy for the customer has become paramount, it is not surprising to see many brands turning to chatbots to resolve customer queries quickly.

For the Australian Football League, its experiment in creating a Messenger-based chatbot has proven capable of not just of answering common questions, but also improving overall fan engagement.

According to AFL fan engagement editor, Matt Price, the AFL bot for Messenger was conceived during a 2017 hackathon at the AFL and launched ahead of the finals series in September that year.

“It began as an experiment to see whether we could build a finals assistant for Messenger, which would answer fans' questions about matches and events,” Price tells CMO. “We knew a large percentage of our fans were already active on Messenger, so it was a natural fit for what we wanted to trial with the bot.”

Today, the AFL has a network of over 50,000 fans who have interacted with the chatbot, but Price says he is more interested in looking at who's actively engaging on a daily or weekly basis.

“We have over 15,000 active users per week, and during the season we're adding around 800 active users weekly,” Price says.

It has also provided a way for the AFL to engage more personally with footy fans, especially in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups.

“We also know footy fans are busy and we know different things matter to different fans,” Price says. “The bot has been a great way to make it more convenient for time-poor fans to keep up to speed with the footy news that matters to them.

In addition, the AFL has encouraged fans to provide feedback regarding what they'd like to see as part of the experience.

“Fans told us they wanted to know when teams made late selection changes, so we introduced that service midway through this year,” Price says. “Now you can get an alert when a player is withdrawn from a team on matchday, in time to make those vital changes to your AFL Fantasy team.”

Alongside news alerts, the bot's most popular in-season feature is the Friday Footy Quiz, which is taken on average by 6000 people every week.

The challenge now is to continue to maintain engagement between seasons. Price says during October, the AFL trialled nightly wraps of player trading news, along with a weekend digest that uses a storytelling format allowing fans to choose how deep they wanted to go with a particular story.

“We were encouraged by the engagement rates and feedback, so that format might be something we develop further across the off-season and into next year,” Price says.

The AFL is also continuing to explore new ways to tell stories on Messenger and connect with footy fans.

“Only a fraction of footy fans have discovered the AFL bot to date,” Price says. “However, we know that a large number of AFL fans use Messenger, so we think there's plenty of opportunity for further growth.”

Read more about how other brands are using chatbots:

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