On this week’s episode Sean catches up with Darren Birch, General Manager of Growth, Digital and Audience at Australian Football League. Sean and Darren discuss his role at the AFL and the importance of new audiences and growth.

On this podcast you'll learn about:

  • Darren's career in the AFL industry
  • The importance of growth and reaching out to new audiences to attract new fans
  • The importance of digital to reach new fans and to sell tickets
  • What the AFL are doing with younger fans to try and future proof their sport and competing in a flooded market
  • The compelling story telling content the first season of AFLW produced
  • How Super Trade Tuesday was a roaring success
Growth, digital and audiences at AFL with Darren Birch

Resources from the podcast

Sign up for these

Sports Geek Podcast Transcription: Episode 174

Transcribed by Trint.com

[00:00:01] Welcome to episode 174 of Sports Geek. On this week's episode I chat AFL audiences and growth with Darren Birch. 

[00:00:14] Welcome to Sports Geel. The podcast built for sports digital and sports business professionals. And now here's your host who loves buying podcast listeners a beer, Sean Callanan. 

[00:00:31] Thanks DJ Joel and yes my name is Sean Callanan and I do love buy a beer for podcast listeners so if you are a listener and we meet in real life please remind me of that. I'm more than happy to. You're listening to Sports Geek. You are hopefully doing it on your favourite podcast platform and really appreciative of all the people that have left reviews so far. You can contact me either by Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram @SeanCallanan on most platforms. Or you can contact me the old fashioned way [email protected]. As I said before love catching up and hearing from listeners. This week's podcast I caught up with Darren Birch from the AFL, the Australian Football League to discuss his both career in the football industry and also some of the some of the plans going forward for the AFL in attracting new fans and growing an audience for a well-established brand and a well-established sport recognising that they've got to reach into new markets and be ever appealing to new fans and especially if we talk a lot about the 5-12 year olds in what they potentially are going to be doing in 20 years time and trying to future proof sport. So I hope you enjoy this chat with Darren Birch from the AFL. 

[00:02:07] Very happy to be here at AFL House, the headquarters for the Australian Football League. Welcome to the podcast Darren Birch. 

[00:02:15] Thanks Sean, great to be here. 

[00:02:17] I was going to introduce you with your title but it's one of those long titles that I think you even needed to get an extension into the business card. What is your title now? 

[00:02:26] Right now, my title has changed a few times but it's now the General Manager of growth, digital and audience which really indicates I guess where we're going as a business to be honest. 

[00:02:40] And so what's so what was the role before that? And again you know what was the genesis of that role? 

[00:02:48] Look I've at the AFL, this is my 13th year. I started here in the commercial team as the Membership and Ticketing Manager. So I've been on the commercial side of the business for a long period of time before that I was in a club for five years I was with the Brisbane Lions and worked in a commercial role there. And when I came to the AFL 2005 and over the journey just as people sort of left or changed their roles in the business I picked up more parts of the commercial part of the business primarily on the consumer side. So in membership, ticketing, licensing and then in 2010 I got the opportunity fortunately I was backed in by Andrew and Gil to take over Gil's old role as General Manager of Commercial Operations which was really all of the non-broadcast revenues of the AFL and that's that was everything on the consumer side of the business membership, ticketing, licensing and in the corporate side of the business sponsorships, partnerships, corporate hospitality, events and eventually digital sales. So that was an interesting journey then marketing got thrown in there because I was complaining about marketing so ended up with it. 

[00:04:12] And this is at the same time when AFL media was born. And you know you've you've scaled up from you know small stuff that supporting AFL.com.au to a large media staff as well. 

[00:04:27] Yeah sure. In parallel we had great broadcast outcomes with free to air and paid television and then our relationship with Telstra was very strong. So we acquired a number of businesses that were already doing or playing in the media space and it became AFL media. And at the same time we were shifting business internally so marketing and brand came within the commercial team and that was going along really well and we were able to get good growth in both parts of the business. And then as business change and the new broadcast cycle came around and then we've had the other executive team members leave so we've reshaped the business again in the last probably three times since Gil's become the CEO. And now we've realigned our business, with AFL media, digital, all of the technology, product development, audience segmentation, marketing and brand becoming one team under the growth digital and audience and we have split out the commercial part of the team again sort of roll back to like 2013 because it's such an important part of the business now to have a discrete commercial business and we have gone after a really talented person in Kylie Rogers who will join us. She's currently finishing in her role as the CEO of Mama Mia but we primarily went after Kylie, you know we really wanted somebody that could help us in the digital commercialization space and understanding the whole structure of on-network off-network ability to use data to monetize what we have is as a big publishing business with AFL.com.au. So my role is to continue to grow that part of the business from a content perspective, traffic etc and Kylie's role in conjunction will be to monetize that in a different way to what we've been doing currently. So that's sort of the evolution of a long period of time. But the business always changes and it's been a a really dynamic environment to be in, you know you sort of get thrown different things. It's a bit like Toyota you know they pick you up and drop you in another part of the business that you know nothing about. And I never claimed to be a marketer or I've never worked in media but in this organization you get fantastic opportunities to learn new things. It's pretty exciting. 

[00:07:22] I mean for mine and I was mocking the title because it was long but I mean that three prong is really important. You know starting with that data piece of understanding the fan and understanding what they're doing. And that's something that the AFL has put a lot of study into to understand where they're going. But then you've got the other part of growth, you can't just stagnate and just be talking to the same people all the time. And so how do you how do you balance those two parts of the equation? 

[00:07:51] It's going to be a really interesting challenge. I don't think sport does that does this very well in this country. I think there are great examples of sporting organizations being more data driven. In the U.S. and Golden State Warriors are probably one of the stand outs in utilizing data to drive insight to then create the right product set for the right audience segment to drive the best monetization option. If you look at our partners that we work with and I'll use Crown Bet as a good example of an organization who is a digital organization that understands its customer segment extraordinarily well and leverages that data to drive a monetary outcome. We are learning a lot from them but we have to pivot our business. We have got 4 million unique people come to our website every month. But they probably avid fans and they're people who are highly invested in the sport, highly passionate and want the right information. [00:09:02] But if we are going to survive as a sport, we need to continue to grow our audience set particularly in the areas of women and AFLW's been an unbelievably good lesson for us in terms of the potential audience growth that you can get from diversification. 

[00:09:25] We need to be focusing more on the 5-12 year old space if you think about a five year old child today at the end of this broadcast cycle they will be 12. What do we have on offer for a digital native at 12 years of age that puts our sport as a consideration for consumption in their world? [50.1] 

[00:09:53] So if you look at 5-12 year olds we're running off a model of “Play, Go, Live and Learn” so play the sport, go to the sport, live which is the digital environment and then learn being around school and curriculum. [00:10:06] We've got a lot of work to do in that space on a national basis to make our game relevant in 2030 which is a child born today in 2030 will be 12 or 13 years of age. [15.2] We are playing catch up in this space to be honest. Auskick was a great program and still is a great program but a lot of other sports have gone past us. You know imitation is the greatest form of flattery and you know. But I think some of the other sports of doing much better in this space than us. And we've got to lift. And in particularly in you know I keep saying to people [00:10:50] “We're content business and that content needs to be insightfully constructed. And then it has to be delivered in the right channel, to the right segment and that provides opportunity to monetize”. [22.3] 

[00:11:13] It's a pretty it sounds simple but it's bloody hard to do in the sporting environment and to pivot your business and to invest and take risks in this space is the really exciting challenge. 

[00:11:30] I mean you know you talk there about you know different products and you know the AFLW being introduced opens up new audiences but also different you know different content products that fit for those those different markets and it's off the traditional path. And you know AFL and footy in general and we're in a a mad footy town here in Melbourne that there's a lot of focus on the product on the field and getting that right and there's a lot of focus there. But like you said you're going to be 10-15 years out looking at what are we producing and a lot of that's also happening out of this market. This is a very mature market. They get footy but I AFL's new frontier is still what's happening in New South Wales and what's happening in Queensland so you've got to have that focus you're going to pull yourself out the back page of the paper and the day to day issues that swamp footy and keep an eye on that that long term view with these kind of plans. 

[00:12:28] Yeah. That's really you know if you look at the title, growth digital and audience. If you want to grow we have to be relevant to women, we have to be relevant to the 5-12 year olds and the other area that we need to be relevant is is geographically which is the northern markets which happened to be the biggest population and the biggest television audiences and the biggest commercial audiences. And at the moment we are still you know in some of those areas and some of those regions in those northern markets we're not in the consideration set as a sport that people will either consider watching, following or playing. So we got a lot of work to do there. We think that focusing our efforts in the 5-12 year olds and particularly within the curriculum is a big opportunity for us. In our traditional markets we rely upon mums and dads and advocates of the game to promote the game. 

[00:13:35] I call it, I call it in Melbourne it's guilt level marketing. You know you meet another fan and they'll go hang on you're not a member yet. 

[00:13:42] And I think you know the biggest pockets of our traditional markets that lack growth in football is where there are not white guys. So we actually have to be cognisent that our population is changing and that we have a broader ethnic community and if you're an immigrant to Australia and you wouldn't have a bought up on watching AFL football but you grew up playing soccer or rugby union or another sport what relevance does AFL football have to you and to your children? Because that's just not, that's just not in their thinking and we have to recognize that and if we're going to be relevant to those kids we can't rely upon their parents. 

[00:14:44] This is what we've traditionally done to advocate for the game. You know people say to me you know we sort of diverge into esports people say to me or I don't get this it's crazy it's like how can anyone watch. 

[00:14:57] Gamers, big screen. 

[00:14:58] How does anyone watch digital, people on screen. I said it's no different to someone from China coming and watching an AFL game of football at the MCG, you know it has about the same relevance as me watching League of Legends. Yep it's no different. So we've got a lot of work to do in that area but I think we have the tools and the strategy to to make really strong inroads. 

[00:15:39] Yeah I think I mean there was a point when I had Nigel Smart from the Crows on and he was talking about the audience extension piece that diving into esports happens and then you know you've got other pieces like the foray into China and and having games in China both works in China to introduce the market here. But it also introduces to the Asian market here in Australia to make them interested in football potentially talking to their relatives about what this game is as well as doing things like multicultural round where you've got multiple broadcasters or in different languages that kind of thing to bring them into the fold to introduce them to footy. 

[00:16:17] I think it's about partly and [00:16:21] I think one of the strengths of AFLW was the storytelling that we were delivering branded content pieces rather than on field content pieces primarily because we had to, because there was not onfield content. [20.3] 

[00:16:42] There as no content when the season started. 

[00:16:42] So you actually had to create an interesting, compelling, storytelling and I think that's one of the keys to sport is you have so much ability to tell great stories and if you can tell great stories that resonate with people you actually capture their imagination or you capture their interest then you go wow what's this all about. And you only need to get a hawk and some thinking and do those sorts of things. [33.7] So it's about how we tell great stories about the athletes about the fans about the administrators, but it is, there is always great stories. 

[00:17:26] But I think the other piece of it is we've got so much good good stuff now that we're not amplifying. I'll give you a classic example. You know I look at our kids they're all on YouTube. 

[00:17:40] Yep. 

[00:17:42] One of our biggest most successful programs is our footy card program. We don't have a YouTube channel for kids on unboxing footy cards. It's crazy. This is a massive programme in Australia and it's still probably one of the most accessible per capita head for the card programs in the world. We have two programs in Australia. They are world class. And there is no digital content around, the physical card program that then supports it into a content piece into YouTube that actually helps kid buy more cards or understand the program. Simple stuff. 

[00:18:25] And that's sort of as the digital channels are evolving right because at the moment, you know as you open up on all these channels yes the AFL will plant its flag on all the different platforms and then that channel becomes the channel for pushing content through. But then when you say well we want to talk to the hardcore footy fan but we also want to talk to the new fan that's you know multicultural that's new to the sport. We also talk to women and we also talk to kids. Those channels become very cluttered. And how do you manage them and which lever do you pull and that's when you can start looking at these different assets for this bespoke type purpose. 

[00:19:05] Yeah it's a it's a really interesting interesting challenge because not only are there multiple channels now say there's traditional media, linear TV so that's you know free to air, subscription television and Foxtel you've got over the top with Netflix etc you've got all of the social media channels, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter. You've got so many ways to reach your audience. 

[00:19:36] The audiences for ever becoming more mobile digital orientated and who would have thought that people would be spending you know 10 to 12 minutes of every game watching football live on a seven inch screen on a Apple or Android mobile device in a restaurant. [29.6] I couldn't think about that, that was unfathomable in 2005. 

[00:20:10] Exactly but even 3-4 years ago people were thinking no no people won't do that so they'll go to the screen. But they do want to be engaged and the other thing is the deeper they're engaged with the device and tuning it in it then flows back like you they want to turn on the big screen TV, want to sign up for the subscription. 

[00:20:28] So one of the things that we have to do is [00:20:32] and in today's world you've got to go to your audience. You can't rely upon your audience coming to you with no trigger. [10.1] Unless they really avid fans and really diehard supporters who are seeking out information. But that's only a small percentage. Most of the people are leaving their lives. But I'll give you a question. The one thing that is just phenomenal is that is trade, trade is off that I've never seen anything like it. And you know we work with CrocMedia and Craig Hutchison on that and his team and our team work really well in this whole trade piece and in conjunction with Telstra also we just decided let's create Super Trade Tuesday. 

[00:21:21] Yeah. So I mean we spoke with Paul Marsh about this and for the international listeners it's a two week trade period at the end of the AFL season where all the clubs get together and that's when all the trades happen. So you know people have been talking about the NBA Summer and how it is strange because there's so many trades this is being compacted into two weeks. Content wise there was I think it was 11 hours of trade radio a day both live streaming from an audio point of view. But more on the video side and yeah I caught up with Chappy and the guys last week and the numbers were just phenomenal. People could not get enough of it. 

[00:21:58] And yes I did joke you know Super Tuesday was effectively a manufactured day like Amazon's Black Friday it like it's a day that you've got to tune in. There is no guarantee of any trades happening. 

[00:22:08] Nothing. So we were we was sitting at Craig and I was sitting at the you know as we were sort of winding up on on a Thursday or Friday and I think we're just having a beer and we said what about we create something. And Hutchy is just a content machine, and said “Why don't we create Super Trade Tuesday”. What are we going to do. So we decided to open up every channel, his channels, our channels, Facebook Live, we're going to stream from 7:00 in the morning till six o'clock at night. We want to cut up every piece of content, feed it into Facebook Live, feed it into Facebook, feed it into Instagram. Just put it in everywhere you know. You know I come back to my guys and someone said what happens if there's no trades and I said that's what trade period is about. There are no trades until the last day. 

[00:22:56] It's all about speculation. 

[00:22:57] It's all hearsay and we just made it and we made it up for the whole day and the traffic doubled. It was off the charts. And the big learning, no cannibalization. [00:23:11] You know it just amplified everything because you were finding the people in the channel that they wanted to consume in and that was a really interesting piece and people you can never give them too much content. [14.8] Because most of the time if you miss a piece of content you're not going backwards. You're not in rewind looking for anything you just you've got two minutes you jump on to have a look what's on what's in my feed. Oh here's a two and a half minute clip on what Chad Corne's or Terry Wallace saying about this. So I was just like oh ok I'll watch that. That was interesting bang. It was amazing. But this is where we got to start to look at you know how do we find new audiences like that and how do we take our traditional view was digital media and rights and work with our rights holders to drive. So we created like the Finals Bot, two years ago we were never thought that we would be putting content on the Facebook Messenger of video content on Facebook Messenger. And then drive it back to the traditional web site unbelieveable. 

[00:24:23] Unbelievable outcome and I just read an article that tennis and kudos to those guys have actually driven a 170 percent more sales through their Facebook Messenger bought than directly with the ticketing agent. Yeah. Phenomenal outcome.Well done. 

[00:24:39] And that's the thing and that's evolving like you know we've done some stuff in the Messenger Bot space and yeah the engagement that the fans have been asking and getting you know because there's so much content that's sitting there passively on the Website that you can put into a bot so they can just say you know what's a draft card for this player and boom it comes back and then but if you want more drive them back to the site. But then you seeing the advancements in the space, PayPal they will be able to send PayPal through their Messenger Bot. So things like yeah I want to buy my membership or a ticket, that's not that far away. And when we get into that transactional piece it becomes you know gets you into the commercial space as well. 

[00:25:21] I think it and then understanding not just where the audience is but understanding the audience in a different way and data and insights and we're about to be looking at what we do in this whole investment space as an industry with our clubs. [00:25:43] We're fortunate that we've got really good harmony within at clubs and within our playing group and we've got all of that deals away. And now we have this really rare opportunity to invest for the next five years and where we really need to invest is to to digitally transform our business. [19.2] We're still the traditional sports business. Primarily. We do…. 

[00:26:08] And then there's nothing to dismiss that either. 

[00:26:10] We do a lot of things really well you but if we're going to continue to drive value we have to maximize our existing value propositions and our existing operations and we have to better enable them digitally. [17.1] And then if we can create more value we actually have to use insight, it has to be data driven and it has to be again digitally enabled from an investment point of view. So they're big challenges and you talk to different people in this space and they could spend millions and millions of dollars and I know other sports are investing heavily in this space and we're on the same journey but in a lucky I think in a really fortunate position to be able to do that in conjunction with all of our stakeholders. 

[00:27:08] Because you because you have got that clear runway of the you know the CBA is locked in those deals are in place and [00:27:14] the good thing about sport is you don't lack data. You've got all the data points there. It's a matter of solidifying a little bit and clarifying and then seeking out the opportunities. [10.7] And you know chasing them down whether they be with a specific product like AFLW or you know more specific digital ticketing hybrid product that gets people to the games all of those kinds of things they're all the opportunities there. Whereas you know traditional business doesn't have all of that data. All those data points immediately coming in because you've got all the pieces of the puzzle here you've just got to start deciphering it. 

[00:27:48] We told you met that in part one of our preview forms about building out this business case is we're sitting there and going our sport on the football side of things is so data driven, so data rich and probably one of the most advanced technical data businesses in the world. You know if you look at you know I bring people here from Gatorade and places and they can't believe. 

[00:28:16] And the sports tech side of it, the Catapults of the world leading the way. 

[00:28:20] Understanding all the data driven how far, how fast, where they've gone and what they've done, load etc. If we invested that amount of energy, time and resource as what we do on field to off field, my god we would transform a business beyond what we could even think about. We are so focused on being so successful on the field. That even if we invested 50 percent of that into our Administration data and analytics side of the business, my god we would be flying. 

[00:29:03] But that's all that's all upside of your role because there's all these different trajectories it's a matter of which one you chase down. 

[00:29:13] But I've spent you know in this role here and being within Head Office and sort of being in a really fortunate role I've probably spent 10 years of my sporting administration trying to convince or influence or lead or conjol or dictate sometimes here where we need to be going commercially from a club's perspective but the league's perspective getting the right balance how do we drive, how do we protect, how do we protect our assets how do we drive the assets how do we do this collectively. So this is a game we have done this before just in areas where much more comfortable in so again it's it's nothing new for us to explore a new opportunity as a collective. It's just a lot more challenging for us and we have to go and get the right kind of ability get the right people that understand it really well. And you know who would have thought that we would be thinking about how do we employ data scientists from banks to help us understand our business. 

[00:30:32] Yes. I mean the data side is fascinating for mine and because it does because I've been in that same space. You know I started Sports Geek and said hey everybody this is the space we need to be in this space from a digital point of view and it was a little bit of a leap of faith. But now the data is there, both with the data you've already got. But then also looking at what the NBA is doing what the NFL is doing what the MLB is doing to say well that's that's the path they've taken. It's not as big a leap of faith is as it was, you know in previous years. 

[00:31:02] I think it's also been driven by partnerships and those who want to be involved in a game because you know gone are the days of doing a sponsorship deal over lunch you know I remember 10 years ago, you'd go out. 

[00:31:21] But you know it's like shaking your hand you say something to someone, they were a supporter of the team, they love the game. Yeah. 

[00:31:29] It's worked for us in the past it's been really good. But now you've got you know third party groups that you know are doing analysts for brands and it's a much more competitive landscape. You know we bring in AFLW, there's Big Bash, you know different sports are getting much much more sophisticated sponsorship props and their eyeballs through digital monetization. [00:31:57] So it's a much much more competitive landscape and the brands want ROI and want to be able to see that the money that they're investing in sponsorship versus leverage is actually working for them and if it's not working for them they'll pull that money. Because it is much more expensive for a brand to get to their customer today than ever before. [24.8] 

[00:32:22] Yeah completely because of the fragmentation because if you want to actually be compelling in the social space you've got to make good content. 

[00:32:29] And that's and that's why they come to go to a product like the AFL to a brand like the AFL because it's really hard for you know a bank or a telco to produce that content and have a really strong connection with their fans. 

[00:32:40] You know look and NAB do that really well. Like you know it's not a commercial spot but they've leveraged that really well. Right through the pathway from Auskick all the way through to the elite part of the game. 

[00:32:52] And what they came up with Mini Legends was a complete authentic connection between AusKick, the elite pathway and they have spent you know over a decade aligning themselves with the code. So it now makes sense it's an authentic connection. And so that's in its second year second year. 

[00:33:20] So for those who are listening NAB did Mini Legends where they get to kid lookalikes effectively of the of the biggest AFL stars in a commercial and you're right. The launch this year everyone was tuning in for it to see that was a strong connection with the players you know with the little Eddie Betts and little Gez and all that. 

[00:33:46] Mo Hope. 

[00:33:46] Mo hope as well you know I think it did a great way for them to make that connection and it again goes back to your point before of connecting with those 5-12 year olds as to say. How cool is this ad, connects them with the AFL and it's a far more integrated bigger approach than just the can we put the logo on the side of the stadium. 

[00:34:11] And most of the brands we work with in Australia, they don't need awareness. You know everyone knows who Toyota is, everyone knows who NAB, everyone knows who McDonald's is, everyone knows who Virgin is, everyone knows who CUB is. They don't need brand awareness they need in most cases consideration, emotional connection, validity and foot fall and those things if you can't demonstrate that you are providing that I was having this conversation with some of my commercial time yesterday about we are just a conduit between the brand. So the commercial team we don't put the game on, we just provide the right assets channels and opportunity. So what I sort of draw from them is we are just a big pipe, the brand sits on one end the customers or else and sit on the other end and in between is a whole lot of ways for that brand to interact with these fans and these fans to understand and consider this brand. Make it as frictionless as possible, but aligned to the objectives of the brand and if we are not aligning the brand objectives now of the sponsor and delivering. I tell you what, there's organizations out there that will tell them where there is better value and that's what you know if anyone is working in this space knows it is an ever increasingly difficult environment. Brands don't have the same amount of money and they are switching from sponsorship to leverage or media. We are fortunate that we have built both and so it's a really good strategy that we started five or six years ago to not only are we a sponsorship property but we are also a media business plus we are involved in signage and LHD and we've got a print you know in terms of the record. So we have a number of pieces of the pie for a leverage budget around sponsorship. 

[00:36:15] Last thing I wanted to ask because growth in audience is a big part of your role and we've got international listeners. So how can international listeners people in the U.S. or Europe, how can they consume the AFL and how is that product developing over the years? 

[00:36:33] Well look we've got a really strong international digital pass that's available and we've got Australians travel, huge numbers expats all over the world that consume the content. The other thing too is that we have a lot of international students that come here live here for four five six years go home and still actually fall in love with the game and they consume it through that digital pass. So you know that continues to grow at double digit sort of growth rates. It's off a small base but we're still pretty happy with how that that goes. But can consume it anywhere. 

[00:37:14] I think the other part of it is we need to be starting to make some of them more of a red zone sort of product which is much more consumable much more you know a snackable package but also explains the game a bit better. 

[00:37:32] I mean it's similar to I guess the developments in speaking to Chris Wagner from Neulion around what they've done in the NBA in creating those quick turnaround games and the shorter highlights that they're finding, you know when so many games that the NBA play that people do want to watch that 6-12 minute recap of the whole game and get all get all the highlights. That becomes more consumable in you know in the international market that someone doesn't want to sit down for two hours and then you know that gives them that taste and then potentially they get onto that onto that product grows grows the brand and grows the sport potentially internationally. 

[00:38:06] Yeah I think that's the same domestically. So it shouldn't be any different internationally but I think the other piece of the puzzle for us is had we partner with some of the bigger sporting codes and because you know it sort of runs really nicely for us with the NBA and NFL offseason onseason and you know with the advent of digital passes and the time zone differences not only are we competing we as rugby league and soccer or football and cricket were competing with the with the NBA and the NFL in this marketplace. The NBA is probably one of the fastest growing consumable sports in this country. So you know we need to, if you can't beat em, they're pretty big. You know you might as well try and join them and that could have some benefit for us internationally. 

[00:39:05] Yeah definitely definitely. Well thank you very much for coming. So where can people find you on the internet or where should people look to connect with you? 

[00:39:15] They can find me on Linked In. I probably need to, now that I'm in the digital space I probably need to update my LinkedIn profile. I tend to not be on social media all that much. It's probably advice and the public affairs people, just find me generally at wwww.afl.com.au. 

[00:39:39] And to finish my closing five, do you remember your first sports event you ever went to? 

[00:39:47] Major sports event. I grew up in a small country town and every year we would get on a bus and come down to the MCG and the first game I think I can really remember on that bus trip was Geelong vs Richmond and Gary Abblett kicked 14 goals. 

[00:40:05] That's not a bad first game. 

[00:40:07] Awesome. 

[00:40:07] Father of Gary Ablett Jr. and known as one of the, if not the best. It's obviously argued that either one of them is one of the best players ever to play so that's not a bad first game. Do you have a you would have been a few sporting events in your role over the years. Do you have a favourite food memory or do you have a go to food when you go to a sports event? 

[00:40:29] Is Beer a food? 

[00:40:32] It is when I go to the footy. So yes beer, it's the first time anyone just named liquid as the main. 

[00:40:38] Well I don't know a number of sporting events and it seems to be the staple. 

[00:40:43] It is that it is very much a staple of every sports event. What's the first app you open on your phone in the morning? 

[00:40:54] I think it would have to be silly not to say I have a AFL Live, that's not probably my email. 

[00:41:02] Email. Check what's happened overnight? 

[00:41:03] Yeah they'd be the two. 

[00:41:11] And is this someone that you suggest that you follow to keep up with everything whether it be a magazine or a blog or something that you suggest people should be following. 

[00:41:26] No not really I mean you should be following Sports Geek. 

[00:41:31] That wasn't it a log ball. 

[00:41:34] That's a that's a given because the aggregation of all of that information I find really beneficial. My suggestion is outside the sport, you know I spent a fair bit of time just reading. I'm not a big reader of books but I consume a lot of content and it's usually outside of sport. It's like what can you learn from outsiders. 

[00:42:00] So in the entertainment industry how movies are being promoted? 

[00:42:02] Anywhere, it's just like OK what what's this what are these people doing around leadership or are these people doing around you know people because at the end of the day even though we are in a sports business everything's about people. You've got to have good people who have good structures you know and I'm really lucky I work with some really great people. Last question Kevin Durant style where he named his real MVP. What social media platform would you bestow the honor of the MVP? 

[00:42:41] Right now you can't really get past Facebook. Their innovation, their segmentation, the ability to get a return on investment when you invest in Facebook, is beyond every other channel that we've explored. 

[00:43:04] I mean it is the innovation that putting in the in the ad product is that's where it is. 

[00:43:12] Yeah look we we we for the first time last year we partnered with the clubs need a whole heap of stuff in Facebook around ticket sales you know tried a whole lot of different things and really with the you know Karen from Facebook just it's been a massive supporter hasn't really helped us and delivered some really great insight. And we had a one -25 ratio return on investment. And you know we sold probably over $3 nearly close to $4M worth the tickets last year through Facebook and you measure every purchase you and that's it. 

[00:43:48] And that's the advantage of it. Completely agre, thank you very much for coming on the podcast and for next season. AFLW coming up in January. 

[00:43:59] Well it's only, not far away now. 12 month a year sport now. 

[00:44:10] It is. 

[00:44:10] Thanks Darren. 

[00:44:10] Thanks Sean. 

[00:44:10] Download our latest guide on Facebook audiences at SportsGeekHQ.com/FBData. 

[00:44:18] Thanks again to Darren Birch also known as Birchy in the AFL football circles. It was good to catch up with him when we had this chat and then follow it up with the AFL Summit where they bought the clubs in and started to discuss their plans for 2018 and beyond. But you got up and and sparked a lot of the stuff that we discussed in our chat around data and attracting new and and tackling where there is opportunity for new fans and also establishing and doubling down where they do have a stronghold. So it was good to catch up with a few of the clubs that were in attendance and also see Priya from Yinzcam who has been a previous guest, they do the club apps in AFL land. So it's going to interesting next couple of years for the AFL and the clubs as they further develop the digital offering to fans and really putting the fan at the center and that pretty much came from Gil McLaughlin's opening speech at the summit. It's all about the it's all about the fans and making sure they are at the they're at the centre of it. So the thing for mine and it's not it's not an AFL specific thing it's something that is worked in sort of both sides of the landscape in clubland and understanding what the teams are doing. And also at the league point of view in doing some stuff at the league level and knowing that it's a it's a different objective and a different set of circumstances and different challenges. 

[00:46:03] So it's a little bit like I've said before that digital divorce counselor or so I understand both sides the club point of view and and the league point of view. And so it's it's a matter of bringing those two in alignment. And you know I do understand the challenges of delivering technology and strategy to for a league wide thing. I was talking to the to the same Telstra that do a lot of the infrastructure in partnership with with the AFL and I sort of described it as trying to draw either a stagecoach with 18 horses and so some are pulling in the roadway and some are pulling in different ways and so it's a very hard thing to manage that that league approach and as I said this is not a this is not an AFL specific commentary because it's common across a bunch of leagues when you talk to people who work in headquarters for a league and what their objectives are and then trying to align them with club objectives. It's always it's always a challenge but I think it's something you've got to keep aspiring to. And one thing I want to do is sort of follow up and sort of speaking of Darren's and trying to put in a smooth segue. There was Darren Rovell a well-known sports biz tweeter works at ESPN, made the news here in Australia for his, I'm not going to understate it, his horrific attempt of eating a Four n Twenty meat pie for those of you who are listening to the podcast regularly have been doing the closing five quite often now and in the last past year I'm one of the things I ask is what is the favorite food you ate at a sporting event. And quite often a lot of the Australian guests and myself included would say a meat pie with sauce or ketchup for my US friends and you just simply do it with your hands Darren not with a knife and fork. So we've seen the video of Darren Rovell trying to eat a meat pie with a knife and fork. The trending hashtag was #teachdarren. So quite quite funny and you know an innovative way for the Four n Twenty, to get into the U.S. market partnering with the Philadelphia 76ers with Ben Simmons. Aussie number one pick that is tearing up the NBA so it will be interesting to see. I was tempted to offer a live video to show Darren how to eat a meat pie but I might wait that for the start of the AFL season. So one of the things that they want to wrap up with. It's been a big week it's been an early morning week here at the sports Geek view if you've been following my Instagram send a few more posts over the over the week you have seen that we've been part of a Kickstarter launch the launch of a Super Bulbs. It's a smart device for football fans and it it's wifi connected light and speak that is connected to the stats feed as you're watching a college football game. It will be connected. You will say I am watching Alabama on Tennessee or Michigan State. And then when the quarterback goes back into the pocket throws the rocket a pass in the endzone. 

[00:49:26] The Super Bulb will light up in celebration mode. And so it's really exciting it's looking to bring that stadium experience that we now all know around sounds LED and all of that kind of thing to build at the stadium experience to try to bring some of that back into the home. So work with the guy is a Creator Sport to launch this. We launched it. We had to launch it at 4 a.m. in the morning Mebourne time to sort of, it was 12 o'clock in New York so we wanted to get the Eastern US to upon launch. And so yes the first day one it was a whirlwind behind the scenes we launched it on Kickstarter at 4 a.m. We set the amount of the list that we'd built up in the previous three weeks. We did a couple of Facebook livess and Kickstarter lives and we achieved 15% of our funding for day 1. So I'd really love your feedback as you listening are in the sports space so I think the super bulbs has got some real validity as a fan of tool in the home it will effectively give teams a means to engage with Fanes in the home you know engage that 99% if you will that are not attending the game that are potentially watching it at home. So you know the ability for for the club to be sending messages effectively to a smart device that the teams will be able to send messages and clear right experiences at the homes if you're doing something with the LED lights in stadium. That experience can be can be duplicated back in the time so it's early days yet we've just started. It's going to run up to Christmas so you can go to a SportsGeekHQ.com/superbulbs to check it out. If you got any questions please send me an email [email protected] at the moment it's going to be working out of the box once the Kickstarter is finished and be ready for next year's college season. The guys behind it at Creator Sport have done this before but done with big brains so they are problems they have from a delivery point of view. So. And then the next the next part of the equation is to talk to talk to teams around around licensing and putting official markings and logos on the on the device as well. And developing a partnership on that side so if you're looking to better engage your fans at home and your interest in the product, please send me a line I'm happy to connect you with the guys from creator and then once. Once things have settled down and the project is underway I am actually going to sit down with Trav, Slade and Doug and sort of break down the behind the scenes of the Kickstarter campaign as well as you know the process of building at this kind of future fan cave products is what they're calling it in that intonate of things connected devices. It's been an interesting project so so far a real roller coaster but I would love your feedback. 

[00:52:46] So either just go to a SportsGeekHQ.com/super bulbs and that will send you to the Kickstarter or you can just search for super bulbs on Kickstarter and you can buy one and have it fire off when your college team scores next next year. Until next episode, my name is Sean Callanan and you've been listening to Sports Geek. 

Some tweets you may have missed

AFL Draft – Class of 2017

Congratulations Nicole

Wait and see….

How NOT to eat a meat pie…

Here's how you eat a Four ‘n' Twenty Darren Rovell!


Thanks for the review on iTunes

Great industry insights by Sports Geek

★★★★★ in Apple Podcasts by Michael Bocquet from Australia on November 7, 2017

The variety of topics and content makes each episode engaging. Love the different and interesting people out there in sports business.