This week marks the start of a time-honoured Melbourne tradition, when the entire city skives off work for the Australian Open. Besides getting simply getting decked out in sweatbands and Lacoste, his year Tennis Australia is engaging with a new tradition that’s de rigueur for sporting events: engaging fans via iOS devices.
While most major events franchises, Vodafone’s Cricket series for example, or the Big Day Out, have been offering iPhone Apps to help fans keep pace of schedules and scores, Tennis Australia has partnered with IBM, as well as developers jTribe and Flink Labs, to go a step further.
Apart from the requisite (and rather useful) iPhone app that offers draws, scores and player profiles, this year the Australian Open will be offering its digital program exclusively through an iPad app. Tennis fans can access all the AO content that’d normally appear in the physical book, plus all the up-to-the-moment scoring and scheduling data that’s constantly streaming from Rod Laver.
Sarah Cole, IBM Australian Open project leader, says Tennis Australia decided to use the iPad app exclusively; “We chose the iPad over any other tablet device, probably because it’s out there a bit more,” she said.
The app also features a fancy ‘endless’ dashboard, as well as a digital autograph book, inspired by Barack Obama’s iPad signature.
“It is a little bit of a novelty, but it’s about working with Tennis Australia to figure out how to make the experience different,” said Cole. “The beauty of what we do for Tennis Australia is that a lot of it is the mainstream. But we also work with the team to find out what we can try out there to be innovative, and this is one of them. “
Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood believes that engaging prospective tennis fans through devices like the iPad and iPhone is an important strategy in luring them to attend.
“I think that the more we can connect with our customers and our fans, and those who have a distant interest in what the Tennis is all about, and if we can get them tempted by what’s going on online and on TV, then that can stimulate interest to come along,” said Wood. “My sense is that the more rich content and connectedness we can share directly with our customers, the more likelihood we’ve got to have a meaningful relationship with them, which we can move to the ultimate outcome, which is that they will come to our event.”
With this in mind, IBM hopes to continue improving the iPad app in later iterations for the Australian Open, adding more information about the day’s play and photographic content. The IBM team had also tried streaming video content via the iPad.
“We think about [streaming games through an iPad] all the time, but unfortunately, we’re limited by broadcast rights. Hence, we’ve been testing the streaming right up until the start of the tournament,” said Cole. “When those broadcast contracts next come up, then obviously they’ll look at that.“
Besides video streaming, Cole admits that there was much more IBM would’ve liked to include in the app, given the time: “As we started looking at it we wanted to do more and more, but unfortunately they wouldn’t move the tournament for us to get this finalised.”
Maybe next year.