When I was Executive Producer at News Interactive (now News Digital Media) way back in 1997 I worked with the Australian Football League launching and maintaining their very first web site, as part of a joint venture between News Limited and Network Seven.
On launching AFL.com.au back last century it soon became the most popular sporting web site in Australia.
Some fifteen years later it still remains the number one sporting web site and I find myself back working alongside the AFL on their digital strategy this time with Telstra Media. How lucky am I!
This year was an unprecedented season using digital channels to engage with fans. To celebrate we have gathered with our 2012 advertisers at the Studio, Etihad Stadium to launch the 2013 Digital Media AFL advertising sales and sponsorship packages.
Checked in at Etihad Stadium for the 2013 Telstra and AFL Digital Media Melbourne Launch
In 2012 the AFL have broken new ground for sports broadcasting in Australia as for the first time, the sport was watched by fans across four different platforms, from terrestrial to subscription television, from IPTV to coverage streamed live via mobile handsets and tablets.
The AFL broadcast rights agreement for 2012-17 was a landmark agreement, valued at $1.25bn, a record rights deal for Australian sport. It has seen Channel Seven, the free-to-air broadcaster, televise three live games per week – one on Friday night, one Saturday night, one Sunday twilight – as well as a Saturday afternoon game more often than not on delay. FOXTEL has re-establish the beloved Fox Footy channel, and telecast five live games exclusively each weekend, as well as simulcast every other match with Channel Seven.
What’s more, the new rights agreement has allowed the AFL to establish AFL Media to drive editorial content for AFL.com.au and associated products with a view towards independent and newsworthy coverage, with exclusive access and the ability to break stories. Highly-valued journalists such as newsbreaker Damien Barrett joined the team, while former News managing editor Matt Pinkney headed up the editorial team.
As the digital rights holder, Telstra steeped up in 2012 to maintain the delivery of AFL.com.au via relationships and deals with outside agencies that in turn provided everything from raw in-game statistical numbers to tailored data to facilitate fantasy sports and other related products to continue to provide an interactive experience for fans wishing to interact with the game be it via a game experience or via tipping, as well as hosting and maintaining AFL.com.au for the period of the new rights deal.
Telstra is the exclusive mobile broadcaster, allowing the fans to take the football with them wherever they were, meaning that follower’s of ‘Australia’s Game’ would never miss a minute of the action in the 2012 Toyota AFL Premiership season, as they were able to watch every match on their mobile handset or tablet device.
This in turn lead to the development of the AFL Live Official App, launched for iPhone, iPad and Android platforms ahead of the regular season beginning in late March, 2012. The AFL Live Official App incorporates content from AFL.com.au as well as the live streaming capabilities delivered by Telstra to effectively become a one-stop shop for fans of the game.
This was created by Telstra Media utilising a range of different outside vendors who provide app building services, as well as Telstra internal agencies that are able engineer the delivery of the live streaming platforms within the app experience.
Once fans have downloaded the AFL Live Official App, they are able to consume a variety of free content, from news and latest ladder positions, to in-depth coverage as part of the match centre, covering all live games and incorporating live stats delivered by an external vendor to Telstra and the AFL who produced the official AFL stats via an xml feed fed into the system via Telstra’s engineering team.
Another free component of the AFL Live Official App has been the availability of full radio coverage from each broadcaster being available to all users, regardless of whether or not they were Telstra customers. The greatest advantage held by Telstra customers in this regard is that the AFL Live Official App is unmetered for Telstra customers, meaning that their use of data is not charged against their plan.
From within the match centre itself, fans are able to select to watch a live match, and elect to subscribe free for the first month, before deciding whether to pay on a match-by-match basis, buy a monthly pass, or purchase a season pass. The subscription service has been made available exclusively to Telstra customers in 2012, and was also unmetered for subscribers.
Telstra has worked collaboratively with the AFL to deliver a host of products with integrated sponsorship between editorial content provided by AFL Media and advertising agencies, an innovative team structure that has allowed product managers and sponsorship managers on both sides of the divide to come together to deliver the best outcome for both fans and advertisers.
The success of the AFL Live Official App on both the iOS and Android platforms has been nothing short of extraordinary from both a commercial and engagement perspective. To the end of August, 2012, some fine months after launch, the AFL Live Official App had been downloaded just shy of 900,000 times across both platforms, with fan engagement attracting over 17 million page impressions, 500,000 unique visitors, and nearly 2.5 million visits each week.
The subscription service has also been a success, generating revenue for Telstra as part of the rights agreement. The streaming of live games regularly attracts over 25,000 viewers who watch around one million minutes of live football each round via their mobile handset or tablet.
So while this year has been big, expect 2013 to be even bigger.