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NRL marketing boss admits it has ‘a lot to do with our brand’ as code aims for 300k members

The head of marketing for the NRL Lewis Pullen has admitted the biggest challenge he faces in building better relationships with fans is being “disintermediated” with them.

In a talk at the Association of Data Driven Marketing’s (ADMA) Global Summit yesterday Pullen admitted there is “a lot to do with our brand” in highlighting some of the challenges faced by the code, and suggested streaming may play a bigger part in the next round of rights negotiations which are now underway.

“It’s not all about TV any more as we all know, there’s the rise of streaming and we can all see what’s happened with Netflix which has disrupted the market,” he said. “There’s an indication our rights value will increase significantly.”

His comments come after Mumbrella revealed, earlier this year, that the NRL had approached Google, who owns online streaming giant Youtube, about lodging a potentially multi-billion dollar bid for the broadcast rights for the code.

“The outcome of the rights deal will probably decide how the game is funded over the next five to seven years. We are lucky we have such high engagement with our content and it’s going to be a fascinating process,” he said.

Last week Telstra, which currently holds the mobile rights to the sport and AFL, announced a new streaming service Telstra TV, and did not rule out streaming live matches via the service in the future.

Lewis Pullen

Lewis Pullen

Looking at the challenges of taking control of the brand’s relationship with its fans Pullen admitted his goal was to “get better control and ownership over our content and our customer”.

He added: “Those are the two bookends of the value chain. At this point in time the biggest issue to us is we’re disinter-mediated to our customers. I don’t get enough visibility to who our fans are, or that data and I won’t go into the reasons for that and that is a major issue for us as a sporting code and those around us and how well you know your customers.”

Pullen also talked about the challenges faced by the code, saying: “We have a lot to do about our brand, its reputation its positioning we always feel we go two steps forward and one step back and we’ve got a lot of work in getting our governance, our integrity and getting the players to behave themselves.

“We’re very conscious of that that’s an important part of the strategy going forward and particularly challenging as we’re not necessarily in control of all those assets.”

Turning to social media he said Facebook was its best performing platform and admitted the code does use its social presence to  “put our point of view across” as the code faces a “fairly tough time in the media”.

He said the code was driving about 70-80,000 referrals to the NRL.com website, where it is then able to convert people to buying tickets and merchandise.

He said he also uses different clubs to experiment with engagement methods, and pointed to the Melbourne Storm’s loyalty scheme Lightning Rewards which he said was an attempt at gamification.

That scheme offers people points in return for different social engagements, leading to “money can’t buy” experiences for the top influencers.

The former Qantas marketer added: “The reality of league is these are relatively low value customers – not Quantas Frequent Flyer customers – people who may spend $200-$400 with us in a  season if we’re lucky. We needed it to be cost effective and offer rewards money can’t buy.”

He said they had seen the behaviour of the trial fans lift significantly, moving the Storm from “middle of the pack” to the top club around page impressions, which are able to be directly monetised.

Melbourne Storm marketing director Mike Billings is appearing on the panel on fan engagement at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit at the MCG next month. For more details and tickets click the banner.

Sports Marketing Summit

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