Building a new sporting brand through AI

Sydney Sixter's general manager shares the emerging technology fuelled ways the team is building awareness

Australian consumers are known for their love of sport. But for any new team that wants to build an audience, establishing a brand among so much competing noise can be a difficult challenge.

For clubs in short-format cricket competition, the Big Bash League, that challenge is made harder by the relative shortness of the season, which kicks off with the women’s competition starting in mid-October and concludes with the men’s season final in early February.

According to Sydney Sixer general manager, Jodie Hawkins, that doesn’t allow a lot of time to build a loyal following – something the club has been working to rectify using of technology.

So in 2018, Sydney Sixers launched its own chatbot in conjunction with artificial intelligence specialists, Carrington Associates, using the Watson cognitive computing platform for IBM.

“We are in the public view for such a short period of time that we wanted to make sure we had a way to continue to engage and communicate with our fans,” Hawkins says. “That was where our technology strategy started from – how can we be a club that is interactive for 12 months of the year.”

In 2019, that strategy has been extended through connecting the Sydney Sixers chatbot, named after the club mascot, Syd (a walking white and pink numeral six), to the Facebook Messenger platform. Hawkins says the goal is to reach fans through a medium where they are already present, rather than asking them to download a new app.

“For us it is about how we can share information, so people don’t have to go into an app to get that,” Hawkins says. “The Big Bash is all about fan-first, so we are all about creating and using innovation that allows our fans to get closer to the club.”

She says use of the Messenger-based chatbot is also in line with increasing expectations of fans.

“They want to know the news first and they want it conveniently, so we have to be much smarter about the way that we engage,” Hawkins says. “While this is all fun, it is kind of critical, otherwise we are going to lose people. Our core market is mums with kids aged 5 to 15, so technology is where we need to be engaging, but it means we constantly need to stay ahead of the curve as well, which is increasingly difficult.

“That is why we work with companies like Carrington Associates, which can make sure we are staying on trend and ahead of the curve and continue to evolve year on year.”

While the Messenger platform enables Sydney Sixers to push information to fans, it also enables the club to more easily engage in conversations, as the AI platform can provide immediate responses to relatively complex questions. The chatbot will also push announcements relating to players and fixtures, such as contract extensions and injury updates.

Hawkins says she is mindful, however, not to bombard fans with more information than they want.

“We are going to learn a lot over the next couple of years,” she says. “As we start to see how people use it, we are going to see what they like and don’t like and what information they are seeking, and we can build from there.

“The second you abuse that is the second you lose everyone, and you lose the purpose of the technology in the first place.”

Use of the chatbot is the latest in a string of technology-based initiatives from the Sydney Sixers, which has previously developed projects based on augmented and virtual reality.

“We are only eight years old, going into our ninth year, and we are trying to build affinity,” Hawkins says. “We need to do that with as many touchpoints as possible, and technology is one of the key channels with us as we move forward to keep in touch with our fans.”

Read more about how brands are using chatbots:

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