NRL fights back as codes push further into digital space

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Having taken control of content, Australian football codes are delving deeper into ad tech to exploit new revenue opportunities as the golden days of multimillion TV rights deals potentially recede.

Remember when daily newspapers 'owned' football with special editions or even apps and web microsites? Everyone's a publisher these days, and codes in Australia, already in control of match and event coverage, are moving further to monetise their content.

Latest of these is the NRL, which has an 80-strong digital team and is investing $150 million over five yers of the money it gets from broadcasters, in order to compete more effectively against them.

It's a far cry from the days I recall of English football papers - with phoned-through half-time results and fulltime scores - available for fans to buy as they left major grounds... and the classic, "roll up yer Footy Echo," of Scouse vernacular.

Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) has just pulled the 19 sites of its 16 clubs, own and the NSWRL and QRL platforms into one network with high hopes of cashing in on the data collected. The 57 new products of the redesigned digital network are also an attempt to take on AFL, which already has an advanced digital offering.

And by no means is it about just communicating with fans who attend matches. Chief digital officer Rebekah Horne wants to reach them, "whether they're at home or out and about", and talks of the rich experience which will augment their broadcast experience.

A single log-in will simplify things for fans, and also for advertisers, who will have premium opportunities to pitch to them with individually tailored advertising products. Data collected from users will be used to target anonymised individuals, report insights to commercial partners, and drive a premium on advertising costs.

As more fans look to stream matches, the number of NRL Live Pass subscribers is reported to have grown 260 per cent this year, with more than 650,000 unique visitors visiting the app a total of 3.6 million times for every round. And Horne says the 'sold out' sign is already up on most of next year's opportunities.

The new integrated network promises "more articles, more videos, more podcasts, more images, more stats and more features" on all the digital assets, with a new Inside Pass providing single access to exclusive content including extended highlights and full match replays. There's also a new-look NRL Fantasy 2018 and NRL Tipping which promises easier tipping for 2018.

Along with the new-look websites, the 19 apps for the NRL, clubs and states have been upgraded and are available on iOS and Android.

Peter Coleman

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