NRL to focus on effectiveness post COVID-19
NRL to focus on effectiveness post COVID-19
Looking to the future following the COVID-19 lockdown and suspension of sport, the NRL’s head of marketing and brand, Peter Jarmain, says the league will need to do more with less and focus increasingly on stronger data and research to ensure its marketing is hitting the right note.
Speaking on RESET Now, an initiative between the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Nine and Mi3 for marketers to share their experience and evolving strategies as they manage the COVID-19 crisis, plan for the recovery, and see how deep consumer mindsets and behaviour might shift, Jarmain says behavioural changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic must make the NRL’s marketing team more efficient as it focuses on selling tickets and building the rugby league brand.
“We’re expecting crowds back in August, or significant numbers, so that’s really encouraging,” Jarmain says.
“However, we’re getting intel from our research partners about how the landscape has changed since before the pandemic. A recent global study said 55 per cent of people would be reluctant to attend a mass-entertainment sporting event, even if they’re allowed to.
“There’s going to be an impact on people’s disposable income too, and as an entertainment product that potentially could have an impact on us. But we’ll certainly get back to the fundamentals of building the brand in the short term, selling tickets to finals, the Grand Final and State of Origin.”
In making their marketing more efficient, Jarmain says the NRL will have to do more with less.
“We need a razor-sharp focus on those things that really drive the net contributions, be it the brand or the commercial outcome. In the past we’ve done a few things without having a clear sense of their impact, so we need to get stronger data and research to track what actually moves the dial and be clear around those areas of focus.”
As crowds begin to return to the stadiums, Jarmain says the NRL’s marketing team are focused on improving efficiency in driving ticket sales for major events and continuing to invest in the experience and brand of those events.
“Effective storytelling is a powerful vehicle to build engagement with fans so we’ll continue to find those stories and tell them,” he says.
The NRL was shut down indefinitely at the end of March after two rounds and play resumed in empty grounds at the end of May. This presented a new challenge for the league: to ensure it delivered the same entertainment experience despite fans not being allowed to attend games.
“When the competition resumed we had record TV ratings, but having no fans in the stands was a big challenge for us. We had to do a lot of work on improving the atmosphere, particularly for the viewer at home, while also creating a way for fans to engage with players in the stadium,” Jarmain says.
“We also had to think of the players because playing in an empty stadium is not quite as motivating. So how could we get the fans’ voices heard or send their messages into the live venue? We did a couple of things which were very successful. Working with our broadcast partners, we introduced crowd noise, and whilst it’s not authentic, you quickly forgot about that and it allows you to get immersed in the game.”
The NRL also encouraged fans to share messages via social media which were splashed on the big screen at the ground.
“Players could see what fans were saying at home, and we continued to use game-day presentation elements like flames erupting,” Jarmain explained. “We also had player-specific soundtracks to punctuate key moments throughout play.
“And we unashamedly pinched an idea from the Bundesliga in Germany which allowed fans to create a cardboard cutout of themselves to be placed on seats in in the stand.”
While the competition was suspended, Jarmain says it remained critically important to keep working on the NRL brand to sell tickets in the future.
“We’re always cognisant of building the brand and the sport, but sport is somewhat unique and brand building can take a number of different forms for us,” he says.
“It’s actually about thinking how we can build brand through some of those other things we do. For example, improving the game itself, ensuring it’s free-flowing and exciting, creating opportunities like the Magic Round, as well as news products – they can help you define and build a brand and expose it to a new audience.”
Jarmain says the media have “an insatiable appetite” for rugby league, demonstrated through the constant stories about the NRL even when no boots where on the grass.
“Effective storytelling is a very powerful vehicle for us in brand building and we do that through our broadcast partners and our own digital network,” he says.
“There are also a lot of things we can connect with in terms of the history and heritage of the game, our community programs, stories about players, that really help to shape the brand.
“The other aspect to this is having a very clear narrative for the game, and we’ve done a lot of work there over the last couple of years in terms of identifying what we stand for and making sure we can articulate that across all the different touchpoints. It provides something that comes through outside of our traditional advertising.”