Back

Inside Look: Commercial Value Of Partnering With An AFL Grand Final Winner

I
n an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, nib health funds chief executive of Australian Residents Health Insurance, Edward Close, discussed the Australian business’ partnership with AFL Grand Final winners, Richmond Football Club.

When asked how the club’s on-field success translates to the value of the partnership between Richmond and nib, Close said nib didn’t go into the partnership with any expectations of on-field success, but the success of the club has had a knock-on effect for their co-major sponsor.

“Absolutely it does, the on-field success has been incredible, and we had obviously hoped to have such success; three premierships in four years is an outstanding achievement,” Close told Ministry of Sport.

“That return really does drive higher brand exposure and awareness at a national level, but particularly in Victoria, which is one of the key strategic drivers of this brand partnership we have with Richmond.

“The viewership numbers from the Grand Final alone, talking 3.8 million viewers for the decider, significantly up from the previous year, 30% up from 2019 and the biggest audience since 2016.

“All of those numbers obviously assist from an ROI (return on investment) perspective around the partnership, and the night scheduling also played a role, but that sustained success over a long period throughout the finals has been incremental brand exposure we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.

“In saying that, the on-field success is immense, but it really is a reflection of the club’s culture off the field as well, they’ve obviously invested heavily around the culture, in the broader stakeholder environment, and we are really proud to be a part of what the Richmond club have been able to do.

“We didn’t go into the partnership setting firm expectations around grand finals or premierships, we saw it strategically and still very much do, as a really strong cultural alignment between the brands with that challenger mindset and how they’ve been able to grow and evolve their club over a fairly short tenure.

“You reflect back to the early 90s, don’t quote me on the numbers, but they had around four-or-five-thousand total members and now they’re exceeding 100,000 members.

“Irrespective of on-field performance, we were always in it for the long-term and we see it as a really sustainable long-term partnership, it’s not just about brand exposure for us.

“We’re seeing strong correlation in terms of Richmond’s growth and nib’s growth in terms of our brand trust, brand consideration and awareness,” he said.

Discussing the impact and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which first suspended the AFL season in March, before the season could be resumed in June, Close said the innovation in digital activation proved to be the light in the dark.

“It was obviously disruptive, and I absolutely pay tribute to the AFL, the clubs, the broadcasters and partners around how they responded to that challenging period and then got the season back on track and then finished with a bang,” Close said.

“From our perspective, we were always fully committed to the partnership, there were some questions around what does this mean in terms of broadcast exposure, and obviously the restrictions around stadium capacity were a significant challenge we had to overcome.

“It was really then around how do we continue to evolve the partnership in these times, and Richmond worked with us really collaboratively around bringing up some innovative ideas.

“We leaned heavily into digital platforms and how we can leverage and activate that brand partnership not just around nib assets, but equally through their digital assets, and they have really strong engagement across their audience base, so it just meant we had to do things a bit differently.

“How all of those stakeholders responded was really impressive, we are always thinking long-term for these sorts of things, but short-term, Richmond have been really fantastic in finding new ways to create value for members and audience and create value for their partners.

“We had fantastic access to the playing group and also the coaching staff, in particular, Damien Hardwick, so we activated a concept called team talk, which was across sponsorship property for nib, with Damien Hardwick from Richmond, the Newcastle Knights coaching staff and the Auckland Blues.

“We had a collective conversation around health and wellbeing, particularly in a mental health space, and how the teams, individuals, coaching staff deal with things through COVID.

“That drove superb engagement across the audience, and allowed us to better connect nib’s purpose, which is about ‘your better health’ and the overall health and wellbeing of the populations we serve, with our sporting properties.

“It sets us up for taking through those types of innovative activations ongoing when hopefully we do return to full capacity back at the grounds,” he said.

Close said the ability for the AFL Grand Final at the Gabba in Brisbane to have almost 30,000 people in attendance in the COVID-19 affected world was great to see as a co-major sponsor of Richmond, despite the fact Grand Finals at the MCG in Melbourne typically hold around 100,000 people.

“There’s no shying away from the fact not having a jam packed MCG with 100,000 people is difficult to offset through various other mediums, that’s just how it is, but the 30,000 people at the Gabba the other night was superb,” Close said.

“The ability to get bums on seats was no doubt well received from us as a partner.

“It was strange when professional sport came off the TV, because it is really what ties communities together, particularly when facing adversity.

“As soon as COVID hit, we were very proactive in our commitment to our partners to say we’re here long term and we are going to come out of this together, then seeing how clubs have responded, it highlighted how professional sport, and also grassroots sport, is such a fundamental part of our way of life.

“As a large national organisation with a strong presence across a variety of geographies, we feel sport partnerships play a huge roll in connecting communities with their sporting heroes and gives people the excitement they won’t get through other means.

“There were a lot of questions around financial stability of clubs, entire codes, and broadcasting implications; us as an organisation, we felt we had a roll to play.

“I’m hopeful other organisations also see that.

“We’re continuing to diversify our sporting sponsorships and properties, and that’s exemplified in the role we are now playing with the AFLW team, we’ve also been actively involved in a number of grassroots initiatives.

“We will continue to diversify and make sure we’re supporting sport right throughout.

“Sport for us is such a huge enabler, and it’s here to stay,” he told Ministry of Sport.