As the rights holder of one of Australian sport’s most valuable properties, the Australian Open, Tennis Australia’s business has been on a significant upward growth curve.
Fuelled by the Australian Open, Tennis Australia earned $337 million in revenue the last financial year, with cash reserves now topping $80 million. Earlier this year they secured a six-year, $348.5 million broadcast rights deal with Channel 9 for the first Grand Slam of the year moving away from long-time partner Channel 7.
As well as the Australian Open, Tennis Australia is extending their international business in another way by holding a 20 per cent stake in the Laver Cup. But they are also the governing body for the sport in the country, facilitator and promoter of the game and drive participation for the sport across all states. A lot of stakeholders to serve and a lot of communication functions to deliver effectively.
As the biggest month in Australian tennis is approaching, we spoke to Tennis Australia’s Digital and Publishing Manager Kim Trengove.
In this conversation we talk about how multifaceted digital communications is in an organisation which has duelling local and international focuses.
First off, what is the challenge of developing content all year-round on both Tennis Australia’s and Australian Open’s channels?
Kim Trengove: “It’s around resourcing. We do it because we made a decision over a decade ago to develop our own in-house capabilities. We wanted to own our content and monetise it, so we embarked on this journey and have still continued to progress that strategy. While our resources have slowly developed, we still need to keep building them in order to successfully execute all of the channels that we’re managing.
“Putting it all together we’ve got the Tennis Australia website which is our participation site, Tennismash which is our content site and the Australian Open which is our biggest property. Each property has at least four social media accounts connected with it and that includes video production.
“Then we added in fantasy tennis. A few years ago we felt that we weren’t leveraging the Australian Open audience enough, it all stopped after January. We decided to launch fantasy tennis and Tennismash so that we’d have a forum where we could chat to people year round and to pick up on a younger audience, to develop that audience and try and get a commercial partner on board.”
There’s a lot of moving parts to Tennis Australia, the Australian Open has the international appeal and you have to be mindful of communicating locally too, how do you reconcile it all?
KT: “There’s the participation side and international growth in the form of the Laver Cup which has been a big showcase for Tennis Australia. It’s very challenging, participation is the thing that links everything up, and it’s why we do what we do: we want people to play tennis.
“We’ve just gone through a massive digital and tech review and you’ll see some big changes in the next 12 months.”
The problem that occurs is that at the core you want to encourage participation but since Tennis Australia owns the rights to the Australian Open and wants to develop a digital business it means the focus is on engaging content.
KT: “I’m a huge believer in retention and if you don’t engage that core correctly, you’re losing out on an opportunity because they’re the ones that play and get their kids into the sport. We’ve also got the casual players which is gaining a lot of traction. That’s why there’s been more investment in something like Book a Court where it’s a platform for people to easily play tennis anywhere and you don’t need to be a member of a club which itself has been a longstanding obstacle to participation.
“The digital transformation of the business we’re undertaking is to look at participation aspects and to have things like Book a Court embraced by every club and court in Australia. We have to know where our participants and customers are coming from.”
Has the motivation to increase participation and engagement been one of the reasons for moving into gaming, esports, fantasy sports?
KT: “We launched the Australian Open console game this year and we’re going to be relaunching the second version of that in early 2019 with a much wider distribution deal across Europe.
“You look at someone like Nick Kyrigos – his whole love of basketball came about through watching video games like NBA Live and NBA 2K, that’s how he got into the Boston Celtics. The same thing with FIFA’s series of games. You could form a bond with a team playing a game then carry that on to watching them on television, so it’s very powerful.”
As it’s a younger demographic, esports events have a different feel, excitement factor and of course commercial benefits.
KT: “We’re turning kids onto tennis via digital but we want also want them to get out and play! But you’ve got to have a cross-platform of messaging for the sport.
“It’s a powerful medium to work with and it’s an opportunity. Same thing with fantasy sports, that has formed a plank with a lot of major sporting leagues across the world. Those leagues have huge fan bases for fantasy but our issue is it hasn’t been cracked effectively for tennis. For us, we’ve found it hard as well but in terms of budget and awareness we’ve found with fantasy that we should work with the other slams, and to partner with the ATP and WTA but everyone decided to do their own – the WTA has their own fantasy offering while the ATP haven’t got one. It would be powerful if we all joined together.”
It’s a longer lasting proposition if you can bring together the major tournaments and governing bodies under the one fantasy game.
KT: “Just looking at our own fantasy Australian Open results, with very little promotion and marketing the engagement with the platform is extraordinary.
“It’s still skewed towards male but it’s a new way for us to market the sport as well.”
Let’s talk about another type of engaging content, what has the reception been like from fans regarding content from GiG (Game Insight Group)?
KT: “It’s been really good, and last year we went further with it on social media. The data and insights can be quite nerdy and complex, so the challenge we have is making it accessible and tell good stories for social media consumption.
“It’s a continual program but we’re reviewing what we’re doing graphically and getting some specialists in who can make it comprehensible, exciting and interesting to tell that story in one snapshot. The content does really well and I think there is a hunger for people to have this stuff.
“We’re working on a player’s DNA for the Australian Open and looking at what makes up the different characteristics of a player based on physical, mental, tactical and technical components. We’ll break down each component, use graphs and have longer stories for the website for those who are geek-oriented or want to know more. We’ll have information packs in the media workroom to provide that information to journalists and we’ll produce longer articles on the Australian Open website with graphics and explainer videos.”
Wozniacki's first serve was less stable in this final compared to the rest of the tournament, but she did not give in with her second serve, even increasing her speed in the last couple games! Congratulations, @CaroWozniacki pic.twitter.com/M2Vd4Sgp49
— Game Insight Group (@TennisAusGIG) January 27, 2018
Other sports do it really well, basketball and football are two. There’s always potential to get that balance between smart content and making it accessible.
KT: “Importantly it’s getting the media partners on board and getting them to understand what it is, commercialising it and using it as fodder for their commentary teams. If we can’t get Todd Woodbridge to talk about it or understand it then we need to work on how we’re communicating it.
“We’ve also got a new innovation partner, InfoSys, who have joined as our Digital Innovation Partner. One piece of work they’re developing for the Australian Open is the Manhattan. This will show fans deeper insights about points and rallies in a really visual context.
“They’re developing a few pieces with us and I think down the track you’ll see that working closely with InfoSys will help visualise some of GiG’s work while forming a more powerful partnership there.”
As we know the Australian Open is marketed as a regional Grand Slam, is there a specific strategy of tailoring content for fans in Asia-Pacific?
KT: “That’s an ongoing piece and we’ve had a presence in Asia for about five years. We built the social media team by employing marketing students from China to help develop Chinese language content. We’ve now got offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong doing business development and marketing which has led to signing a huge new partnership with a Chinese distillery company (Luzhou Laojiao). There will be a Chinese language Australian Open website, Chinese language social media and we’re already on WeChat and Weibo. We have ongoing resources that out of all the Grand Slams we’re very consistent, we just don’t stop once the Australian Open is finished.
“Right now, the content is very tennis focused but we’re working with some of the PR agencies over there to emphasise the lifestyle and travel verticals as well. We’re working on experiential stuff to encourage visitors to Melbourne Park.
“We also launched the Australian Open in India and we’re developing our commercial partnerships there. In Japan, we struck Yonex and Dunlop deals and we’re working closely with players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori and matching that up from my end with our digital rights.”
And finally, December and obviously January is just huge for tennis in Australia. When do you start planning and deciding how you will plan and execute the content over such a tightly packed calendar of tennis?
KT: “You have to think about the long-tail coming out of it, we’re doing a deeper dive into the planning of it now.
“Domestically the key drivers is around four key pillars – tennis, music and entertainment, family and food. It’s about leveraging those, develop story ideas and then thinking how we can convey that on all of our digital platforms. We won’t go as hard on match reports, we’ll be creating better quality content experiences as opposed to producing a high quantity of content.
“As for Channel 9 we’ll consider what kind of activation partnership we’ll have with them and that means understanding our own digital rights and developing a strategy around how we’ll use our allowed match highlights. Again, working with InfoSys who will provide us with automated highlights and how we can use them region by region.
“We’re also planning to do a new podcast. We’ve already got a podcast during the Australian Open which comes out on Australian Open Radio but we really want to get into that space year round. We’re working with some podcast specialists on what that is because there is a lot of tennis podcasting out there, a lot of it came be samey and we don’t want to repeat what people are already doing.
“Then we consider the ticketing, what’s selling and not selling and its messaging, what the marketing and PR will be. What are the issues we need to be aware of and creating a communications plan around players and match content.”
Image Credit: Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia