NRL revamps digital properties, offers fans a personalised service

The National Rugby League is launching a free subscription service as part of a relaunch of its digital properties, aiming to provide consumers and advertisers with a “cleaner, premium” product.

As part of the refresh, NRL has rebuilt the desktop and mobile sites, along with the websites of the competition’s 16 clubs and two states.

NRL website to offer new opportunities for integration, and the chance for brands to make “bold” statements

Alex Alderson, general manager of data and digital said the company was aiming to construct a “digital network” which allows marketers to integrate across multiple platforms.

“If I were to break down what we are doing into really simple terms, we took a look at our business throughout recent years and one of the things we realised is our content is obviously extremely compelling and is driving outstanding engagement amongst our audiences,” Alderson said.

“One major change is to think about all of those assets in an interconnected way, and to encourage people to stay in them for as long as suits them.”

Matt McAleer, head of product for the NRL said the new platforms, which were built mobile first, were “cleaner, and less cluttered” with more white space.

He added: “It’s a much cleaner feel, less noise, less cluttered. We want this to be a rich premium experience that the fans feel happy staying around and exploring, and generating much richer engagement.”

The current NRL website

“What we’ve done, is we’ve taken these mobile designs and we’ve expanded them out into this rich desktop experience. We have a fully responsive framework that scales up and down all the way to a wide screen desktop treatment and it lets that imagery stand out and let’s the content speak for itself,” McAleer said.

But the main change for the website is the addition of free accounts, which will allow the NRL to have a direct relationship with fans, along with offering personalised products based on the club, state and national teams each fan follows.

“Threaded through all of the product is what we call NRL account, this is kind of integral to our strategy moving forward is we want to get to know our fans directly so all through the products will be the opportunity to create an NRL account or log in and certain features and certain content will be behind the NRL account wall,” continued McAleer.

“Part of that (NRL account) is us getting more strategic about how we move people around the network and give them the best experience possible. It’s also about – as we get more sophisticated going forward with our targeting and marketing.”

Alderson said while the aim was to provide “premium product experiences”, NRL account was an enormous opportunity for fans and advertisers.

“If we think about a club view, if we think about a league view, what we see is an enormous opportunity to encourage people through value, to tell us about themselves, and to engage across the full scope of our network,” Alderson said.

“As well as being premium, we need to make sure we are talking to the right sub-sets of people and that we are doing in as personalised way as I suppose our infrastructure.

“We mentioned that around 2.2m people visit every month. At the moment it is fair to say we know very little about those people.

“NRL account will be integrated across the network and will be in place from when we launch next year,” he said.

However Alderson later admitted there would not be a loyalty program in the club or NRL digital products at first.

He said there are currently looking into opportunities around game day, for later down the track.

Also as part of the changes, Telstra will adopt NRL’s design library and pattern guide, to provide a “consistent experience” across all platforms.

Telstra has been a co-developer and designer of the new app product, which will launch next year

“Our partnership with Telstra has been really fruitful, and Telstra are coming on this journey with us,” McAleer said.

“We are looking at really trying to unlock the value of mobile imagery, so we are looking at much more integrated ad placements and really kind of leverage the power of the app.

“The framework that we built is the same across the network, using the brands and colours of our key properties.”

When asked whether Telstra’s streaming subscribers would affect NRL’s digital broadcast strategy, Alderson said: No, not at all. One of the distinctions that we make internally a lot is because we are building a set of products, we think we can often talk a lot about how there’s a big change occurring. What is really important that I stress is Telstra and NRL remained joined at the hip with our digital ambitions.

“The subscribers will be rolled over and will be working together to pursue a whole bunch more of them.”

As a result of the relaunch, the NRL will now have more than 40 individuals dedicated to NRL’s digital offering, with plans to increase live video, media highlights and create live content for the app.

Todd Hewitt, general manager of commercial and digital strategy said consumers could expect at least 50% more video content through the NRL network.

“This is a big change and transition within our business and obviously as you suspect we are going to be resourcing it accordingly,” Hewitt said.

He added the new platform would provide opportunities for brands to integrate into content franchises and editorial, as well as have opportunities for homepage takeovers for major events, such as the NRL Anzac Day match.

The different fan personas which the NRL linked to every part of the development process: The Super Fan, The All-Bouncer, The Juggler, The “Family” Fan, The Socialiser, and The Young Critic

Kenny Scott, commercial digital manager said all ads would be “highly visible” and “highly viewable” so brands can make a bold statement.

He told the audience at NRL’s digital launch yesterday the NRL would “respect the ad slot.”

“The ad and the content are all in the same view port, and the ad will be viewed organically as part of that consumption journey. There’s nothing else competing for attention.”

“It’s really about acknowledging the fact that when somebody advertises with us, they’re putting faith in our product, they are taking money out of their advertising budget because they think we will deliver them an audience. We as a publisher need to take that on board and respect that,” Scott said.

Alderson said the “overwhelming” priority as part of the changes would be to deliver to brand partners.

“Our ambition is to create a premium place for the sports major investors. We’re an important extension of our sport, but we are very fortunate to  be operating within a sport that is funded by a small number of big investors,” he said.

“Part of what we do programmatically will be to ensure there is a variety in what we offer there, but our principal concern and priority is to seek out and secure investment from our partners, and protect them accordingly.”


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