The Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament, which has reached half way stage as I write this, has built on the progress of previous years to establish a strong, recognizable and credible online brand. According to Sam Laird, in a recent post on the US website Mashable, the Australian Open ‘may just be the most digitally connected major sporting event of all time’. High praise indeed.
So why is the event in Melbourne attracting such accolades for its digital presence?
In my opinion, what the Australian Open is doing so well is leveraging digital assets to create deep and meaningful engagement with fans, while at the same time integrating its sponsors. Many sporting events, clubs and organizations across the globe strive to simultaneously achieve these two goals and the Grand Slam for Asia/Pacific has, arguably, pulled it off.
Fan Engagement at the Australian Open
In terms of fan engagement, the Aussie Open is actively utilizing its website, social media accounts and mobile applications.
The website is fully integrated with social media – essential for any event – and it keeps the fan abreast of pretty much everything that is going on. There is also Slamtracker, the live scoring application, Australian Open television (AOTV), with free live streaming from 7 courts, and an extensive vault of past great tennis matches. Fans also have the opportunity to opt-in for daily email updates and let’s not forget the Fan Centre.
The Fan Centre encourages fan participation and involvement in a number of innovative ways. The most notable is the Social Leaderboard where the social media activity of fans directly increases the points given to 40 popular players chosen by the Australian Open. If a fan tweets about one of these players using a hashtag that relates to the player’s name or likes content on the official Facebook page, that player receives points. As I write this, Rafael Nadal (#rafa) is ranked number 1, with a total of over 16,000 points. Overall, the number of tweets to the official hashtag (#ausopen) has reached over 110,000.
Additionally, there is Pick Em. This competition encourages participation for daily prizes. There are also polls and trivia competitions to capture fan engagement. Another initiative creating fan involvement and fan voting is Fan of the Day, which enables Kia, the major sponsor, to take and upload photos of fans. Another practice is Caption It, which uses fan generated content to build buzz for the tournament. If that isn’t enough, fans can become ‘Fanbassadors’ and be included in the ‘On The Outer’ honor roll if they tweet a link to their blog or tag the Australian Open in one of their tweets. Popcorn Tennis (@popcorntennis) also provides fans with ‘bite-size pieces of on and off-court action’.
In social media, the official Facebook page has over 500,000 likes and a 54,000 ‘talking about this’ number, providing a 10% engagement ratio for the page. The Twitter feed (@AustralianOpen) is being covered 24 hours a day, for fans wherever they may be, and the account presently has over 67,000 followers.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Australian Open website exceeded 10 million unique visitors in 2011 and this number is likely to be surpassed in 2012.
For mobile applications, the Australian Open has free apps for the iPhone, iPad and this year, for the first time, the Android. The apps feature scores, schedules, players, an event guide, draws, news and a GPS feature to locate key points around the grounds and much more. The apps were developed by IBM. The presence of the IBM logo within the apps shows an example of sponsorship integration for an Official Partner – more of that below. In 2011, more than 700,000 fans updated or downloaded the official iPhone app.
Sponsors of the Australian Open are integrated both online (and in some cases offline) and, in my opinion, in a fairly unobtrusive way, which is really the key. As with any event, sponsor obligations have to be met – but not to such an extent that the fan becomes disengaged, which would ultimately damage both the event and sponsor brands. On the website, scores are presented by IBM (technology partner), Video and Radio are presented by Rolex (watches – associate sponsor) and Tickets presented by Virgin Australia (airlines – official sponsor). All sponsors and partners also have permanent website presence at the foot of the homepage, as well as in a dedicated sponsors family section.
The ‘Open Drive’ feature, run on You Tube and from the major sponsor, Kia (motor vehicles), has returned again this year. The Open Drive is an entertaining way for fans to get to know players better through a series of questions asked while the player is driven around Melbourne in the back of a Kia vehicle. This year’s video with Nadal has already attracted over 38,000 views. And, here’s another one with Novak Djokovic after his semi-final win vs Andy Murray.
Finally, a competition being run via Facebook, and sponsored by Jacob’s Creek, will enable a lucky fan to win a dinner with Andre Agassi. Agassi, a former Wimbledon winner, is also an ambassador for Jacob’s Creek (wine-associate sponsor), which is trying to reinforce its connections with the sport of tennis.
One thing that would probably do even more to deepen fan engagement while at the same time being highly attractive to sponsors? An Australian winner, of course. But some things just can’t be controlled through innovative digital marketing!
Have you noticed anything else that the Australian Open has done to engage their audience? Could they be doing anything better? Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet us your thoughts!