CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE – WHY THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN’S APPROACH TO A COVID-SAFE EVENT IS BEST PRACTICE, PANDEMIC OR NOT

ZOE HARTAS

Senior Account Director

in Sport

February 26, 2021

The Australian Open is known world-wide as the Happy Slam for good reason. Tennis fans flock to Melbourne to experience the 2-week extravaganza of food, drink, entertainment, live music, shopping, kids zones, cooking demonstrations, product sampling, celebrity-spotting… oh, and the tennis.

According to Tennis Australia’s annual reports the Australian Open’s attendance figures have nearly doubled over the last 10 years, as has the event’s footprint. The event’s expanded offerings and attractions are designed to draw tennis and non-tennis fans alike to experience The Open for the first time, and make it a part of their annual summer plans.

Then COVID-19 struck. Tennis Australia undoubtedly worked through many versions of event plans and scenarios, to deliver the best COVID-version of AO event experience it could.

Traditionally, an AO Ground Pass – the cheapest ticket available – granted you access to the vast majority of the event’s offerings. Only a small handful of show-courts and areas were off-limits. To help manage and monitor crowds, movement and interactions, COVID-19 saw the sprawling event footprint segmented into three distinct zones for 2021. Each zone was tailored to meet the varying interests and attractions of the AOs key attendee groups. Below is my description of each:

  1. Rod Laver Zone – Just the ticket for those keen to watch the big names battle it out paired with premium food and beverage options. It likely isn’t your first AO rodeo, and the ‘kid zone’ was probably never an area you spent much time in anyways.
  2. Margaret Court Zone – You’re here for the tennis, but equally for the social aspect and likely coming with a group of mates to make a day or night of it. With access to several courts, bars and dining setups to accommodate groups, plus plenty of live entertainment – it’s the hottest ticket in town this summer.
  3. John Cain Arena Zone –The best place for kids and families to enjoy some of their favourite AO activities and activations, plus access to the practice courts where you might score a selfie with Ash or an autograph from Alex.

Whilst this segmented approach may be foreign to Australian Open faithfuls who have always been able to roam the event grounds freely, it’s not an entirely new concept. In 2019, on a work trip in the US, I met with NASCAR and several NBA franchises who outlined their segmented event / game day experience. Each explained how this strategy enhanced fan experiences, demonstrated greater commercial benefit for their partners and increased revenue opportunities. They made a very compelling case for why this ‘segmented’ approach should be considered commercial best practice and the way of the future for sport and entertainment events.

Using fan data and analytics to get a deeper understanding of key audience groups, sport and entertainment properties can tailor every touchpoint and aspect of the fan experience – from pre-event comms to ticketing and pricing to the at-event extensions that tap into cross-passions. Delivering commercial value to partners is simpler, and integration is authentic and concentrated.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge if the Australian Open’s attempt at delivering a segmented event in 2021 was a success or not, as there were so many variables working against them –  the timing (not being in the school holidays), restricted capacity, a 5 day shut-down, a pandemic, just to name a few. However, I would love to see them take the same approach to event delivery moving forward and be the catalyst for more major sport and entertainment properties in Australia to follow.

What do you think – would you welcome a more tailored fan experience at sport and entertainment events moving forward?