How Australia’s CMO sporting chiefs are banding together to drive national physical activity

We chat with Sport Australia plus the marketing leaders of Surfing, Netball and Tennis Australia on how peer collaboration and data sharing are helping their marketing strategies


For years, there’s been an urban myth that Australia’s sporting codes are so competitive, they’d never willingly share marketing and audience insights.

And it’s simply not true, says CMO of Sport Australia, Louise Eyres.

Upon taking the marketing reins of the former Australian Sports Commission 18 months ago, Eyres starting building what’s dubbed the ‘Marketing 12’, a community of marketing leaders representing a diverse range of Australian sporting codes, from tennis and cricket to surfing, AFL and netball.

The ambition of the peer group is to tackle declining engagement with sports and physical activity across the country by exchanging insight and working more collaboratively. Sport Australia is championing this bold mission through its national community creative platform, ‘Move it’, and first campaign, ‘find your 30’, aimed at encouraging the Australian public to get more physically active by finding 30 minutes of exercise whatever way they can.

The broader motivation underpinning this work is making Australia the most active sporting nation in the world by 2030.

“From a Sport Australia perspective, there were various networks for people like CEOs, high performance managers, even participation managers, but there was no vehicle to connect with anyone focused on marketing, customer and data,” Eyres tells CMO.  

“I floated the idea to my CEO to bring the biggest and far-reaching sporting CMOs together. The initial response was no way, I’ll never get them in the same room together, there’s too much feeling of being competitive. But it wasn’t the case.”

As marketers met for the first time, initial efforts centred on understanding common challenges to craft a shared agenda.

“Questions being asked of the CMO by the CEO and board are largely similar across all codes. So rather than go down any area seen as competitive territory, we said let’s instead to put on the table shared questions and challenges and see what we can do to address those,” Eyres explains.  

The group quickly became an opportunity for the 12 to form relationships with each other. Participants consist of marketing leaders from AFL, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, Netball Australia, National Basketball League, Rugby Union, Surfing Australia, Gymnastics Australia, Swimming, Athletics, National Rugby League and Sport Australia.

Top priority was Sport Australia sharing its marketing programs and campaign collateral as early as possible. “If we can share even embryonic ideas, then we can craft, modify and co-create together so what I produce is of value of them and they can better utilise it,” Eyres says.

“We then spend quite of bit of time on digital and data. We’re looking at the digital strategy, the challenges each sport faces, then elements of our work that add value to one or more sports. We share ecosystems then do a deep dive on insights. For example, we go through our latest consumer behaviour or market research and see if what the sports are seeing is similar or different.”

To facilitate this, Sport Australia has opened up the back-end data sets of its AusPlay data, an annual survey across 20,000 Australians, aged 15 years and over, delving into sports participation and behaviour. Issued historically as a biannual piece of research, the marketing 12 can now also get into the raw data sets and utilise as required.  

Eyres says opportunities for sporting codes to share specific data sets are emerging. “The more resourced sports tend to have more research, and are already analysing audience behaviour. They’ve been very open and prepared to share based on consumer insight, taking their own commercial interpretation out of it,” she says.

“There is also recognition that in the consumer life journey, all sports are connected. Swimming and gymnastics may play a role earlier in life, for example, then be a feeder into some other sports represented by our marketing 12. Or it could be gymnastics feeding into diving, then snow sports.

“Tennis is a recreational sport for later in life for so many, and recognises it needs other sports to keep Australians active in their 20s, 30s and 40s so they’re ready to potentially be more involved in tennis in later years.  

“It’s understanding the early feeder, what’s my sport’s role in the life of Australians, how I get ready to receive customers from other sports and pass them on at a different life stages.”  

Eyres hopes to see natural clustering of sports through these lifecycles longer-term. “It’s how you look at the clustering and pairing of sports from the customer’s point of view – when they play and when they’re fans of these different sports across the lifecycle.”

Surfing into shared commercial success

Surfing Australia general manager of partnerships, digital and events, Jake White, applauds Sport Australia for encouraging a more collaborative approach. He’s an advocate of shared data services for sports, particularly on the digital front.

“Data is a way all sports can learn and gain insight to make customer-facing decisions,” he says.  

White has been with Surfing Australian since 2009 and has a broader remit than most of the marketing 12 covering partnerships, events and digital. These partnerships are very digitally driven, he says.

“When I started, we were 70 per cent government funded and our turnover was $1 million. We’ve since flipped that on its head, with 65 per cent of revenue coming from partnerships,” he says. “That’s been instrumental in taking our story to the community as well as backing up our story.”

Along the way, Surfing Australia has grown the data sets it’s tapping, from Roy Morgan through to digital and social insights. Surfing is in fact the fifth biggest sport in the country in social media, with a following that stretches from professional sports participation and Olympic-level recognition, through to recreation and lifestyle, and a participation base that covers different age groups and both men and women.

A big push has been developing owned media assets with an emphasis on digital and social media, White says.

“In 2013, we had 20,000 core surfers to talk to but we wanted to talk to the more aspirational surfing audience – there are 6 million documented in Australia,” he says. “Rather than traditional media, we invested in short-form content, leading to mySurf.tv, our digital platform.

“Our approach is ‘from beach to broadcast’. We have content and AV teams as well as distribution, then we package content into broadcast. This has helped commercialise our sport, built purpose and created the revenue to develop the sport as a whole.”

Meeting regularly with the other sporting codes is allowing White and his professional peers to uncover similar pain points and learnings, and he says all are gaining from different perspectives. “So often I’m siloed in surfing, it’s good to engage with this wider group,” he adds.   

Tennis Australia: Addressing the bigger problems

As Tennis Australia head of marketing, Jo Juler, puts it, the ‘Find your 30’ campaign is about is addressing a national problem with kids and families doing less exercise and physical activity. And all sporting codes now recognise if Australians are not even doing their 30 minutes of exercise, they’re unlikely to play sport.

“There’s a whole flow-on effect. You can’t just sit there as a sport and wait for people to address this and come and play,” she says. “Through the marketing 12, we can work together with Sport Australia to address the bigger problem. Yes, we compete in the sense that we all want kids to play our sports, but we coexist nicely. We know Australian kids are trying a smorgasbord of sports, and that’s good for them.

“The thing about being in the room together is everyone has different views and perspectives on this and it’s great to hear. We talk about programs, what works and doesn’t work.”

Tennis arguably boasts the broadest appeal in the 12, with equal boys and girls participating from youth through to 80 or even older. Yet Juler agrees the research each code has individually collected adds invaluable insight.

“When we apply that lens of tackling the same problem of getting people to be more active more of the time, there’s no reason not to be sharing data,” she says.

There’s also been plenty of ‘I wouldn’t have thought that, it’s a good point, that’s interesting’ moments. “I’ve really enjoyed listening to what’s happening with surfing, as it’s not organised like us as a sport; it’s a very different culture, and so passionate,” Juler comments.  

“The way Netball Australia is doing ‘come and try days’ is a great approach, too. One thing we find in sport is that as you get older, not knowing how to play a sport becomes a barrier. Netball is overcoming that by finding these safe places to play and making it so accessible – I like the way the team there took an insight and ran with it.”

Juler is keen to see the marketing 12 presenting case studies on what worked and didn’t work, as well as how each gets people coming to events to participate.

“It’s a burning issue for the likes of tennis, AFL and cricket. Outside of that, we’ll ring or email a question of each other, so there’s a real community,” she says.   

Netball: Shooting for the same outcome

Netball Australia general manager of sport marketing and partnerships, Victoria Edmondson, is another marketer happy to see codes working together to get more kids physically active.

“You’d be naïve to think a child will choose a sport and just play that all their life,” she says. “Every sport in Australia is facing the same problems – changing population, people reducing activity levels and generally being busier. Either seeing participation decline or stagnate. What Sport Australia is trying to do is help us collectively tackle that problem to encourage more Australians to be more active.

“Most sports also have people stopping playing at different life stages. For us it’s when they’re 17 or 25 years old, then we see people coming back on our radar when they have children. You want them to continue to be connected to you as they then influence and encourage others to participate in the sport.”  

With a broadcast partnership with Channel 9 for its Suncorp Super Netball series and Diamonds team, Netball Australia has a strong media offering to encourage viewing and participation. Edmondson’s current ambition is to better work with member organisations at a grassroots level. Over the past six months, Netball Australia has been developing a national participation journey framework for the sport to do just that.

“This all allows us a good mix of mass media approaches then grassroots, localised content based on what they need, versus making assumptions on what they need,” Edmondson says.  

However, Edmondson says netball is less mature in the audience insights space than many sporting codes, lacking psychographic data around behaviours and motivations. Open the data sharing discussions across the group is a big plus.

“It’s hard to understand who, what, why and where and how are those people are making decisions,” she says. “We have access to the AusPlay data set, but in terms of more traditional audience approach, it’s something we are looking at getting more insight.”

With arguably the least experience across the marketing 12 table - Edmondson relocated to Australia three years ago – the group also gives her exposure to people with up to 25 years’ experience while bringing in voices from different ends of the sporting spectrum.

“We share best practice, what we are struggling with or struggled with but overcame, and it’s giving us that opportunity to soundboard ideas and concepts,” she says. “It’s quite grounding to know no one has it 100 per cent right and that’s OK.”

Another plus has been having one-to-one conversations, such as with Surfing Australia on working with commercial partners on digital content.

“Surfing Australia is best practice in this game in my mind. It was great to get access to that and understand the journey in the last five years getting to that point,” Edmondson says.

Finding the 30

In addition, growing collaboration with Sport Australia has ensured each sport has relevant creative and collateral from the ‘find your 30’ campaign to use in respective marketing strategies.

Surfing Australia, for example, has used surfing-oriented creative in social channels and advertising as part of the upcoming surfing awards. At Netball Australia, Edmondson is working on taking the Sport Australia collateral into the Suncorp Netball season, which kicks off shortly, as well as test series with the Australian Diamonds team.

“We’re looking at opportunities for Sport Australia to have an activation presence at our events to access our fan market. Some play the game, others just watch the game so there’s a real opportunity to encourage movement there,” she says. 

Juler says broader market research behind ‘find your 30’ and why it’s palatable has been useful for Tennis Australia.

“You can do lots of different things in 30 minutes with all of our sports,” she says. “We’re working through how we support it at a national level, working through campaign at the moment. It’s a long-term campaign, which is also great to see.

“We’ll be doing more this year with girls and social play, which ‘find your 30’ will tap nicely into.”

Next steps

Top of the agenda for the next bimonthly marketing 12 meeting meanwhile, is delving deeper into data sharing and insights. To do this, Eyres is sharing Sport Australia’s new data pack from a short, medium and long-term perspective. Short-term measures include campaign tracking via Google Analytics and Data Studio, while medium-term is based on Kantar brand awareness and consideration tracking data. Long-term is where AusPlay data kicks in.

In time, even without Sports Australia in the picture, Eyres hopes sporting codes will eventually be collaborating on 12 months calendars of activity.

“If both codes are going for the same consumer, at the same time in the same geographic, what would it look like to work together? Another evolution is to look at timing and sequencing of activities and how to maximise that to grow the pie rather than compete individually,” she adds. 

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu 

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