January in Melbourne never disappoints – hot, sunny days, cool evenings, and tennis, tennis, tennis! The year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the sporting calendar not only in Melbourne but for the whole of Australia.
Despite the Australian Open being one of my favourite sporting events, I hadn’t been to the AO since leaving my role at Tourism Victoria (now Visit Victoria) and relocating to Sydney in 2014.
It’s always been a great event, but this year I was truly blown away at how Tennis Australia has transformed the Australian Open into a festival of everything that is great about Melbourne and Victoria – in addition to the world-class tennis.
With the AO in 2018 said to have injected about $250 million into the Victoria economy and attracted around 80.000 overseas visitors – you can see why creating a welcoming and friendly experience is so important.
What was clear was how much attention the event organisers have put into championing the consumer experience throughout the entire event journey from the finest detail to the largest activation.
A Melbourne theme flowed throughout the Grand Slam Oval with a ‘Flinders Street Clock’ welcome arch integrated with city street names, skyline pop ups and shipping container eating areas that walked visitors around the urban heart of Melbourne.
It was a classic 38-degree Melbourne day and stifling hot when I attended. Despite that, there was no end to shady places to escape, cold filtered water and misting fans everywhere you turned. On top of that the AO staff seemed to be readily available, providing friendly help and guidance.
Beyond the AO’s own delivery of on the ground services and experience, the tournament’s branded experiences feel seamlessly integrated into the event site with each adding its own value to the consumer. Whether it was the Aperol beach club where I escaped for some shade and refreshment, or the LaRoche-Posay sunscreen stations – each branded activation felt ‘right’ – not out of place and not overtly commercial.
Experience was clearly at the heart of the on-site food choices. From the air-conditioned full size restaurant I ate at - Beijing Betty – to the high end dining options included Nobu and Rockpool, and more casual eats like Mamasita, Hellenic Republic or 400 Gradi; you could get Melbourne quality food at any time, in place of the standard fare you might expect at sporting events.
Beyond the on-site food, the AO ran its second year of the AO Chef series – showcasing local talent alongside international all-stars. For a price of $190 (which included a ground pass) you could eat multi course degustation meals with matched wines and meet the chefs behind the food! This year international French chef Simone Zanoni joined local Victorian chefs Alejandro Saravia and Jacques Reymond and South Australian Duncan Welgemoed.
Beyond food, and sport, the AO ‘s diversity of experiences kept showcasing other Victorian brand pillars such as Wine, Culture and Music: with a Treasury Wines vineyard space (complete with a tasting room vault), the AO Live Stage with back to back performances from Australian and International artists, the Ballpark which featured a 20 metre water slide, and an AO Film Festival.
When you think that a Ground Pass was $50, the value for money in included experiences is almost hard to believe. And then there’s the actual tennis to watch…
I was not paid by Tennis Australia to attend the event - or write about my visit – but given the heart of what we do as a business is making experiences happen – I felt compelled to congratulate the AO on such a successful demonstration of why experience matters.
Some key demonstrated outtakes for me:
Start with the experience in mind.
The consumer experience should outrank the brand’s desires – but a seamless integration between the two is what makes for beautiful engagement.
Fully engaged consumers will spend more time with your brand/product and take much more out of their brand experience.
Integration of the host city and destination into the event recognises a captive visiting audience which provides opportunity for wider dispersal, but also a proud and interested local audience.
Whilst the sponsorship dollars invested by regional and global brands (like the Chinese spirit 1573) might be focused on global reach via television eyeballs – the on-ground engagement for the over 750,000 visitors is key to the ongoing success of the event – as well as the brand’s sponsors.
(Whilst not a guest of Tennis Australia, at Kreate we did deliver the PR and partnerships for Alejandro Saravia’s participation in the AO Chef Series for his upcoming dining experience www.farmersdaughters.com.au )