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Sponsorship Works 2012 – Sponsorship Case Study: Telstra and Netball Australia

Presented by Netball Australia


Australia’s leading telecommunications company Telstra enjoys a better reputation than most for reliability, but there is little love worldwide for the sector with shoddy mobile phone reception, confusing data plans and non-existent customer service just some of the factors contributing to telco providers being ‘more hated’ than banks.

In 2011, Telstra entered a two year agreement with Netball Australia to reach an estimated 1.2 million netball participants and their families in Australia. A national sponsorship with benefits from grassroots to elite level, the Telstra partnership with the iconic women’s sport is now in its second year. Telstra is unique in the partnership market in that it offers a mobile and online broadcaster, a traditional sponsor, media sales business and commercial sales.

While some key elements of the sponsorship revolve around ‘traditional’ Telstra offerings, such as streaming of elite level matches through its BigPond Sport platform, the company has also leveraged
its association with the sport in some innovative ways as it seeks to engage supporter spirit and link to the fun and social side of the game by using ‘passion drivers’ to connect fans to aspects of the game that they love.

Sponsorship Objectives

Telstra organises it sponsorship program into four parts, based on consumer behaviour, which allows for aggregation of successful marketing programmes across multiple sponsorships:

Tribal Sports – Typified by a large base of passionate supporters, tribal in nature, and aligned to major content plays for VBM (voice, broadband and media), this pillar was a natural fit for the successful 17 week ANZ Championship league, with teams in the five major Australian metro markets.

National Pride Sports – Includes sports on the world stage that galvanise a nation. The Australian Netball Diamonds, arguably Australia’s most successful sporting team, having won 10 of 13 World Netball Championships, clearly align with this category.

Community Providing – localised passionate support with a national platform and partnerships that drive equity and revenue, in genuine netball space, with its vast footprint among grassroots clubs and associations.

Arts & Entertainment – Not applicable to netball. 

Key objectives of Telstra’s sponsorship of netball are:

  • To increase positive brand equity through association with netball by showing support for the sport and enhancing game day experience for fans
  • Drive incremental sales of Telstra products: the netball audience is primarily women, recognised as being the major decision makers in most households
  • To deliver commercial return from reciprocal business with Netball Australia and its Member Organisations and Associations through developing a strong connection with the five Australian ANZ Championship teams
  • To demonstrate community goodwill and positive corporate citizenship through community and grass roots programmes by connecting through the eight States and Territories that deliver netball.
  • To capitalise on the exclusive nature of the agreement and partnership, providing exclusive content online and via mobile phone to the netball fan base
  • To assist with a change in brand (logo and strapline) by strong brand presence throughout netball’s communication channels
  • To engage and motivate Telstra employees – instilling a sense of pride in being a Telstra employee

Why netball?

Netball is Australia’s largest participation team sport for women with 1.2 million participants (source: Participation in Sports and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2005-06; Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Players range from young girls competing each weekend at community centres and through schools, to ‘mid-week ladies’ and through to elite level, where Australia has dominated on the world stage winning ten of 13 World Netball Championships since 1963.

The sport provides its participants with lifelong friendships, activity and a sense of community with a strong volunteer network who deliver grassroots participation.

Despite its huge popular appeal among players and its long history (the game’s first national championships were played in Australia in 1928) the sport has historically had a low media profile. In 2008, the sport completely restructured at the elite level and a new, semi-professional trans- Tasman competition was introduced, featuring teams from Australia and New Zealand. The new competition – ANZ Championship – was shown on pay TV to start with, but moved to free-to-air television in 2009 and has subsequently enjoyed substantial growth in TV ratings and attendances.

The 2011 cumulative audience was 6,394,139 (Australia) and 5,013,100 (New Zealand) and the competition has shown year-on-year growth in team membership and attendance with weekly crowds ranging from 3,500 to 10,000+ (source: 2011 ANZ Championship season review).

The trans-Tasman competition feeds into the national team, the Australian Netball Diamonds, one of Australia’s most successful national sporting teams. The young women playing at the elite level are supreme athletes; healthy, strong, competitive, professional and attractive.

While the sport’s television broadcast rights were tied up with Network Ten, its mobile and digital rights had not previously been commercialised and the substantial amount of netball content on offer through the ANZ Championship and the Diamonds Test matches was seen as an attractive offering to complement Telstra’s already strong line-up of other online sports content including AFL (Aussie Rules), National Rugby League (NRL) and V8 Supercars. A two year agreement was announced in January 2011.

How the sponsorship played out

A visit by delegates from the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA) to assess Sydney’s bid to host the 2015 World Netball Championships provided the perfect platform to announce the new partnership. Media interest in the delegation’s visit was strong: the last World Championships in Australia (also in Sydney) were in 1991, meaning that a whole generation of players had not had the opportunity to witness the sport’s pinnacle competition first-hand.

In announcing the two year deal, Netball Australia CEO Kate Palmer made a point of noting that the sponsorship would add further credibility to Australia’s bid for the Championships: “The new partnership gives a clear indication to IFNA officials that in addition to a huge fan base, netball has the corporate backing that will allow this country to stage the most commercially successful World Championships ever,” Ms Palmer said.

Telstra’s successful partnerships with other sports and the organisation’s commitment from elite through to local levels of sport provided the ideal model to cater to a growing appetite for netball and connect with even more fans.

Significant for both partners was the fact this was the first sponsorship to be finalised under netball’s National Sponsorship Framework, meaning Australia’s second largest participation sport could offer top to bottom access, and all netball’s State and Territory bodies would benefit from the new arrangement. It was a landmark for a sport that, like many others, operates under a federated structure, and had been unable in the past to offer a single point of contact for sponsors.

Year one activation

Activations in year one were driven by the roll out of Telstra’s new brand, with a new ‘T’ logo and strapline ‘It’s How We Connect’. Activations needed to demonstrate that Telstra was a fan of netball, connected to its supporters, and that it understands what it means to love the game. Five key tasks were identified:

  • Brand positioning
  • Activation
  • Offers – to drive sales
  • PR – to drive awareness of the sponsorship at key points across the year
  • Broadcast integration

With leverage plans based on an overall strategy of establishing a solid commercial platform for the sponsorship, a key objective was to engage a large number of netball fans across Australia on a level relevant to them. 

Implicit in the ‘It’s How We Connect’ sentiment is a focus on community and the sponsorship also needed to demonstrate Telstra’s ability to provide improved outcomes in the community through its actions. In particular, supporting disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous Australians, rural and remote communities, and community organisations. 

Brand ambassador

Liz Ellis, a former Australian Diamonds captain and Australia’s most-capped player, has used her sporting success into a high profile media career and is netball’s most recognisable face.

Announced as a Telstra brand Ambassador, Ellis was the focus for the first activation of the sponsorship; a national competition providing the opportunity for a local club to meet Australia’s greatest player and be coached by her. The Liz Ellis Super Coach competition received hundreds of entries and was eventually won by the Miwatj Sparks Netball Club, a community in a remote area of northern Australia, who clearly demonstrated their passion and commitment to the sport.

The pairing of Australia’s biggest netball name with a group of young indigenous players was a natural draw card for local and national media. It also provided an opportunity to position the local Telstra team as the face of an activity that highlighted the benefits Telstra’s communications services provide to remote communities. Along with having Ellis drop in for a clinic, the Sparks also received a Motorola Defy Pre-Paid handset with $500 of credit from Telstra and $1000 worth of netball equipment. Finalists of the ‘Super Coach’ competition in each state also received $1000 worth of netball equipment for their club.


Telstra Netboys

A unique and completely different kind of fan experience activation was the ‘Telstra Netboys’, an all-male dance and netball troupe, which appeared at ANZ Championship matches and international Tests.

Prominent in Telstra’s social media campaign around netball, the Netboys ‘share the love’ of netball through their Facebook page: We just love everything netball and our mission is to get behind the game and share our love of the sport by entertaining and delighting netball fans everywhere.

Strong use of online video content showing the Netboys engaging with both elite players at training sessions and fans at matches provide a rich source of content for fans. Photos of fans with branded frames in specific team colours and including team mantras were taken at matches and posted on the Telstra Netboys’ Facebook page.

Other activations

Signage was incorporated into all ANZ Championship matches and international Tests (75 matches in 2011). During five ANZ Championship matches, another at-match activation was the Telstra Bill Bonus where one lucky Telstra customer at the match was rewarded with $100 off their phone bill. This activation was done at home matches where Telstra Netboys were appearing, reinforcing

Telstra’s connection with fans at the game. In 2012 the Bill Bonus activation will be conducted at every ANZ Championship and international test match. Australian Netball Diamonds were also used in year one of the sponsorship to encourage netball fans to get behind Australian troops serving abroad by sending messages of support over the ANZAC Day (a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand) long weekend.

To kick-start the ‘Message to the Troops’ campaign, players from the Australian Netball Diamonds signed a personal message of support on a series of playing bibs and balls. The signed bibs and balls were sent to troops in Afghanistan and East Timor and online video content featured Defence Force personnel playing netball and sporting their signed equipment. The campaign was supported by a TVC, the Diamonds-led messaging a clear fit with feelings of national pride and a direct link to a huge supporter base.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

“On behalf of the Australian Netball Diamonds, I’d like to thank all our troops for the amazing sacrifices they make for us all. They are an inspiration to our nation and we hope to see them home safely very soon.” Mo’onia Gerard, Australian Netball Diamond

Telstra also utilised its exclusive online and digital rights to broadcast major netball games on Telstra’s BigPond media assets, streaming ANZ Championship and Test matches online.

Second year activations

Year two of the sponsorship will continue to build equity in the strong platform established in year one while the strapline ‘It’s how we connect’ continues to inform strategic considerations around the sponsorship.

A new leverage program focused on decision-making mums will provide an additional activity to those established in 2011. Telstra Net MUMs asks fans around the country to nominate an amazing netball mum, recognising the ‘unsung heroes’ of the sport. The new program was announced during live ANZ Championship coverage on Network Ten in the lead-up to Mothers’ Day. Prizes offered include a coaching session with brand ambassador Liz Ellis, a VIP trip to the ANZ Championship Grand Final and a $500 shopping spree. Runners up from each State and Territory in Australia are also eligible for prizes, with the competition being run through the Telstra NetBoys Facebook page.

Results of the sponsorship

Results in the first year were impressive, particularly considering that the 2011 ANZ Championship season had commenced by the time the contract was signed, meaning that all activations were implemented in a very short time frame.

Since the start of the sponsorship, three of Netball Australia’s Member Organisations have changed to Telstra as their telecommunications provider.

BigPond statistics showed a first year high for viewership of the Holden Netball Test Series and ANZ Championship matches online. Netball now has its own URL on the BigPond Sports portal and  will continue to broadcast all matches throughout 2012.

Telstra Netboys have been used within the organisation as an example of a ‘unique and different fan experience’ activation. Brand awareness for new strapline – “It’s how we connect” and the new T logo was successful. The 2011 Holden Netball Test Series generated a total media value of $2.8m (Source: Repucom Brand Analysis).

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