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‘An opportunity to own the free-to-air space’: Media buyers weigh in on the AO fanfare

Each year brands line up to get their piece of the Australian Open pie, but what makes it so appealing? Media buyers share their take.

The Australian Open (AO) is back and with it a cohort of brands looking to bask in the glow of the nation’s premier tennis event.

It’s a welcome phenomena for Nine – now six years into its broadcast deal with Tennis Australia – a privilege for which it pays $60 million annually (and soon to become $85 million).

But what is it about the summer tennis tournament that continues to woo advertisers year after year?

According to media buyers, there’s a few key drawcards, the first being consistency – the AO’s audience shows no signs of going away.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Havas Media Network’s national head of partnerships and adtech, Kevin Fernandes, is expecting the tournament to “kickstart the year on a strong note” for Nine, as the network gears up for its Olympics and Paralympics broadcasts in six months time.

“The Australian Open brings people and players together with record-breaking viewership and this itself is a reason a lot of brands jump onboard to be a part of its coverage,” says Fernandes. “Packed crowds at Rod Laver, John Cain and every court would only mean an upward push towards viewing numbers for those tuning in from their homes.”

Kevin Fernandes, national head of partnerships and adtech, Havas Media Network

Half Dome’s business director, Ellen Chote, told Mumbrella that “the increasing fragmentation of viewing” meant the AO is a “pivotal event to capture viewers’ attention”.

“Despite the decrease in free-to-air viewership, we know that key cultural, sporting and social moments bring viewers, and the Australian Open is undoubtedly one of the biggest of these occasions. Spanning across a few weeks, the momentum and conversation built around the event creates a raft of activity for brands and advertisers to leverage.”

She continues: “The Australian Open is the first of the key tentpole programs in the calendar for networks, and with families spending more time in the household and making the most of daylight savings, there’s an opportunity to own the free-to-air space.”

But the endurance of the AO’s audience comes down to more than timing.

For iProspect’s national head of investment, Ken Lam, the tournament’s ongoing cut-through can be attributed to its social relevance.

Ellen Chote, business director, Half Dome

Lam says that tennis’ gender balanced audience differentiates it from most other codes, making it the ideal “tentpole property to launch the survey year”.

“Content and consumption is so fragmented now with all of these streaming options, but these cultural and sporting events are still going to drive into all the biggest audiences,” he explains. “Nine is going to have a really strong year this year, not just because of the tennis, but with the Olympics as well, and that’s guaranteed share and that’s guaranteed revenue for them.”

The Media Store trading manager Mollie Cross adds that the success of sports programming amidst broader “viewership declines and segmentation” makes Nine’s decision to extend its AO broadcast rights to 2029 “an easy call”.

“The ‘in the moment’ nature of sport, coupled with its mass appeal, protects it from audience declines that we’re seeing against other verticals,” says Cross,

“As an event taking place year-in, year-out, [the AO is] a quick win that otherwise covers a quieter period in a network’s content calendar, and something very hard to compete with or replicate in the entertainment sphere.”

She adds that the competition’s inherent “Aussie” aura makes it “able to reach [the] hearts and minds of a nation en masse in ways few other competitions can”.

Mollie Cross, trading manager, The Media Store

But ultimately, the performance of this year’s AO, from an audience perspective, will inevitably come down to circumstances outside of Nine’s control.

With Ash Barty’s galvanising AO campaign two years in the review mirror, Lam says Nine will be hoping Australian favourite Alex De Minaur can progress far enough to “sustain that audience” right through the coverage.

Ken Lam, national head of investment, iProspect

Audience aside, another key attribute drawing brands into Nine’s AO ecosystem is its diverse range of accessible opportunities in broadcast and beyond.

“In the past, you’ve been limited to whether it’s sponsorship package or a TV spot package, which have quite a high cost of entry,” says Lam.

He explains that broadcast video on demand (BVOD) viewership is just one of many new avenues where brands to have been able to connect with audiences engaging in Australian Open content.

“[Nine has] been pushing their content across the whole ecosystem,” says Lam. “It just really shows that they’re understanding how consumers are changing in terms of how they consume content, and are engaging with key events like the Australian Open.”

But with fragmentation ever-evolving, the challenge for Nine will be to continue evolving and adapting to where and how people are consuming content, beyond their native platforms.

Perhaps in the future, Lam poses that extending their rights into the social realm, in partnership with likes of Meta or YouTube, might be the way to go.

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