Building a data-driven engagement strategy at New Zealand Rugby League

GM marketing shares how she utilised data and insight to improve its marketing strategy

Sophie Wills knew her organisation faced a problem even before the Covid pandemic hit.

As general manager of communications and marketing at the not-for-profit New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), Wills had already noted a decline in fan loyalty as far back as 2019. For her, this problem was compounded by the difficulty she had in answering why, or in proposing ways to turn things around.

The solution, however, was plain to see, and lay in the organisation's data capabilities.

"We came to the conclusion our entire data ecosystem for NZRL was not ideal," Wills says. "We didn’t have the data to give my team confidence about our marketing strategy. We were blindly trying to target as many people as we could, and I knew we needed more data to work with than we currently had.”

It was clear a new data strategy would be essential driving future fan engagement, so NZRL signed up to use the data platform Domo, and with assistance from her digital strategy agency LayerCake, Wills and her team set creating one.  

That strategy was soon put to the test in 2022 when it was announced that the only international fixture likely to take place that year would be a double-header between New Zealand and Tonga at Auckland’s Mt Smart stadium. 

"There was a lot of pressure on marketing to ensure we were reaching the right people and enough people and selling this test match," Wills says. "And there was really no way for me to measure the impact of what we were doing unless I had the data."

Building a data-driven engagement strategy

Keen to sell out the match, Wills needed a more targeted strategy to drive fan engagement. The NZRL had already signed on to use data platform, Domo. Together with her digital strategy agency, LayerCake, Wills set about creating a data-driven engagement strategy.

One important decision was to engage NZRL's ticketing provider, Ticketmaster, which provided a feed of ticket sales data which Wills could match up against marketing activity in Domo. Not only did this provide valuable insights into which marketing activations had been most effective in driving sales with specific audiences, it also meant NZRL could pull back on its social spending when it was clear the 2020 test was going to sell out.

"We were able to redeploy some of the resource, so it turned out really well for us," Wills says.

Since then, NZRL's marketing data strategy has delivered strong results, including lifting website traffic from 50,000 visits to 300,000 in 2022.

"We've gained nearly 50,000 social media followers in the one year - those kinds of numbers we have never seen before – and so we were able to say that data driven insights really work for us," Wills says. "We have a lot more control and a lot more confidence."

Success with fan engagement has now led NZRL to deploy Domo within the league's broader development program, to assist with the creation of strategies to encourage and retain young players.

"That thinking at a grassroots level hasn't been there, because we haven't been able to analyse the data at that level," Wills says. "We'll be able to do more targeting marketing and communications to certain groups we think have the potential to come on and play rugby league or renew.

"What we wanted was one golden record of our data as an organisation, in one place, because everyone was using it in different ways. Now – to have one single source of truth in real time - it will be felt right across the organisation."






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