Auckland Rugby League (ARL) is breathing new life into the game with a fresh marketing approach led by newly appointed Chief Marketing Officer, Dave Hayward. With his expert team, they’re on a mission to cater to the demands of die-hard league enthusiasts who were previously left wanting more. We sat down with Dave to uncover the secret to taking this beloved sport to new heights while ensuring that league followers get the most out of the game.
With a significant sports background, Dave previously worked on large-scale brand activations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 and FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015, launching the partnership between the AIG and the All Blacks, and worked on sponsorship activations for sporting brands and sponsors including ANZ, Nike, Vodafone, Hyundai, McLaren and the British and Irish Lions.
Recognising Auckland Rugby League already had an extremely engaged audience Dave and the team, are on a mission to refine the marketing strategy to ensure those interested and involved in the sport can get the most out of it.
The first step to moving ARL forward was identifying four pillars of importance to the sport: players, thriving clubs, leading facilities, and commercial and brand.
Just like in sports, a successful rebrand requires a well-thought-out plan. In line with this, ARL has developed a ‘Game Plan to 2030’, which sets out to increase the sport’s player base to 20,000 within the next seven years.
To achieve this ambitious goal, the marketing team is actively seeking commercial partners that align with the organisation’s values. By doing so, they hope to create authentic connections with brands that share the same passion for community-driven sports and the positive impact it has on the lives of players, coaches, and fans alike.
“This isn’t about creating something that’s not there, it’s about accentuating the great stuff that is there,” says Dave.
Through commercial and brand work, the marketing team have their eyes peeled for partners to align with because “the brands that you partner with say a lot about your organisation”, he adds.
“What we can do with our partners is create authentic connections with people that share the same values. One of the things that’s so great about League is that, it’s without question the most community-driven sport that we have, especially in Auckland.”
And this is where the brand platform ‘Your Greatness Grows Here’ was born.
“What we do know is that people that come into the clubs and really devote themselves to it, they come out better people,” Dave says. “They might not turn out to be an NRL player, but they’ll turn out to have a thriving career, they’ll become fantastic coaches. And there’s so many people giving so much time to these clubs.”
During the user testing and customer experience testing process, led by ARL’s GM experience Kelly McKensie, four personas were identified represented some key identifiers of the rugby league community.
Through this work they found that one of the major factors holding people back from fully participating in the sport was having ID for the registration process.
This work also led ARL to create a website called playleague.co.nz that takes users away from the noise on the main website and helps people find the perfect club for them. This is accompanied by a digital registration campaign that generated so many leads in the first five days that they had to switch it off temporarily to catch up.
ARL has also recently established a partnership with Sky which sees games broadcast on two of Sky’s digital channels on Wednesday’s during the season. As Wednesday night is the biggest viewing nights of the week with National Rugby League on at 8pm, it was a match made in heaven, ensuring the games get national TV reach, supported by ARL’s YouTube channel.
In terms of the look of the brand, Dave says the visuals were due for a revamp.
“You do eat with your eyes, that brand is not all about how you look, but it is a big part of it. We took the existing brand, quite a traditional brand, and started looking at things like colourways. The new brand is really contemporary, it’s built to be helpful for things like TikTok, and it’s very flexible and practical.
“All of the colours were based from the original brand. The original logo had a yellow in it, but it was tiny, so we expanded all that palette out.”
Another change was building the brand’s social media presence, and he says it wasn’t long before ARL had a “phenomenal” online following.
“We had a reach in the hundreds of thousands during the finals. And we had one TikTok video that got 240,000 views.”
This combination of creating a brand that worked in digital and building up the digital channels has been a success, Dave says, because “these days, hearts and minds are one out there on social media”.
Having been a league fan for most of his life, and having spent a large chunk of his career working in the sports world as well as the corporate realm, Dave is excited to combine his skillsets.
“One of the beautiful differences between sport [and other marketing] is that you see this transformation in people, and not just what happens on the field, but what happens out of it. There’s this real purpose to it.
“When you’re working in corporates, people used to always talk about authentic content and stuff like that. Well, what we do is totally authentic, it’s real. And we have a connection to people that is quite profound.”
Interested in reading more about sports marketing? Check out the March/April 2023 edition of NZ Marketing magazine by subscribing here.