How the crisis is reshaping the AFL's digital engagement with fans

AFL reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and how it's triggering a rethink of digital services for the long term

The COVID-19 crisis had a devastating impact on numerous sporting codes in 2020, forcing cancellations and scheduling changes around the world. But even as most sport have made their return, the crisis’ impact will continue to be felt for some years to come. And while change is inevitable, not all change is necessarily bad.

One of the legacies for the Australian Football League will be a greater focus on use of digital media to connect directly with fans – before, during and after the games.

For digital marketing lead, Trishan Naidoo, and his team, with the 2020 Grand Final marking the end of the official season, the task now is to ready the AFL for the new fan behaviours he expects to witness in 2021 and beyond. And that means greater investment in digital services.

“We expect consumer to have less discretionary spending, and certainly we expect to see an increase in TV and streaming consumption,” Naidoo tells CMO. “Our new strategic objective is really about how do we focus on our fans and the audience, and where technology fits in, by consolidating and harnessing the broad range of data that we have.

“What we want to do is help fans enjoy the game of Aussie Rules football beyond that traditional game day.”

One of the ways Naidoo plans to do that is by better harnessing the diverse range of data sources the AFL has access to, which includes information from just under one million members and 1.7 million in community football participants, as well as data from social media profiles and the hundreds of thousands of users per day on AFL.com.au.

“All of these data sources are quite fragmented,” Naidoo says. “So what we are trying to do is consolidate all of these and put them into the one spot, then connect the information we know about our fans across these different sources so that we get a single view of that fan. Once we do that, that will really allow is to leverage that data to connect with fans in a better way.”

Numerous decisions are still to be made when it comes to what the eventual tech stack will look like, but one early decision has been to beef up the AFL’s email communication through use of Movable Ink. Naidoo says this will offer more options to personalise content based on what is known about the recipient.

But he was most attracted to this platform by its ability to update content in email messages in real time based on when they are opened. Naidoo says this critically important in the fast-moving world of AFL.

“You might open up an email on a Saturday, and if there are live matches going on you are getting live scores within the email at the time you open it,” he says. “We can tap into a lot of different feeds and we can feed that in in real time to email, which gives us quite a good opportunity to create a good experience for fans which we couldn’t have done before.

“So really Movable is about creating that experience when they open up that email everything is really relevant and tailored to them specifically. And that will create a really great experience, and we will see more people opening emails. So we can build stronger relationships.”

This ultimately ties into the AFL’s longer-term digital strategy to build stronger ongoing engagement with fans by providing a one-stop-shop for the needs.

“It is all about creating a great experience, because if consumers are having a great experience it is less likely they will seek their news or videos from another source,” Naidoo says. “There is recognition across the business that this is required, and this is why we are investing quite a significant amount in a pretty sophisticated data and analytics setup so we can position ourselves well for what we think AFL post-COVID is going to look like.”

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