In 2018, fan engagement technology developer InCrowd delivered the Rugby Football League’s full-scale ‘Our League’ digital platform seeking to optimise all core components for the unique sport – ticketing, match streaming, communities and content.
InCrowd CEO Aidan Cooney and Marketing Manager Darren Parsons spoke to SBC about ‘Our League’s platform development from concept to planning and delivery, and how InCrowd had to enhance its research dynamics to fulfil Rugby League’s tribal demands…
SBC: Hi Aidan and Darren, Why has ‘Our League’ been such an important project for InCrowd to deliver?
AC: InCrowd and the RFL share a vision. Sports marketing is about inspiring people and in order to inspire you need to know what makes people tick. Our League is a membership first approach, that enables the RFL to reward fans that take part and help us understand what they love about the sport with exclusive content and experiences.
InCrowd’s mobile platform underpins the membership but more important was the organizational change undertaken by the RFL to achieve this and we are very proud of this partnership as well as the involvement of Sky Sports, StreamAMG, Rewards4 and Ticketmaster who have facilitated the development of unique features and benefits, which are fully transferable to other sports clubs or rights holders.
DP: We are also proud that we have managed to challenge some of the pre-conceptions of an older Rugby League fanbase, with the average age of an Our League member being 10 years younger than the wider audience. We firmly believe that the future of fan engagement and sports consumption is digitally focused, and the first year of Our League has gone a long way to prove this.
SBC: We have seen many sports-specific platforms fail. Why is it such a hard endeavour to create a dynamic sports platform? And what key rugby league dynamics did your team research?
DP: People talk about the Rugby League Family as a very tight-knit community and this is backed up by the research that presented a hugely engaged following along the M62 corridor, but also in the rest of the UK and overseas. The RFL felt that it made sense to try and capture this community in a digital membership; we also knew that the players were more accessible than their footballing counterparts and so there was an opportunity to base the membership incentive on truly exclusive content.
The Rugby League Family are also known to be vocal so we wanted to give the fans a voice, hence the name. Fan focus groups also helped us see the opportunity to service fans in a way that would resonate with them by providing free to play games, allowing them to challenge others, win great prizes along the way and have a say the key decisions such as Man of the Match, Player of the Month etc., which often brought out the tribal side in them.
AC: The concept is the easy bit. The hard bit is making the membership work and re-calibrating the organization of the sport to serve its members and this is something that we have been a witness to.
We also considered the launch date carefully to coincide with the Rugby League World Cup 2017 and subsequent 2018 Super League season. This meant that we could cater for both the internationally and domestically focused fans in close proximity.
SBC: ‘Our League’ delivers live match broadcasting, ticketing, news, stats, and community portals. Did you ever worry about delivering too many components for just one platform?
AC: From the outset there was a clear shared objective from the RFL and InCrowd for Our League to become a one-stop-shop for all corners of the Rugby League audience. We have built the foundations for most of those audiences in a short space of time, but there is still a lot more to come before it becomes the ‘must have’ membership that unlocks benefits and efficiencies for all stakeholders. InCrowd has a wealth of technical know-how and we are excited about what the future will bring to enhance the offering further.
SBC: Rugby League is a ‘tribal sport’; how exactly do you build a cohesive and engaging platform for its fans? Did you worry that diehards would just return to their forums?
DP: Rugby League is indeed ‘tribal’ and it was very important for us to consider the various fan characteristics from the occasional fan, player, armchair fan, attendee etc. A big part of the journey to date, and going forward, is understanding each fan profile; what aspects of the game interest them and then serving them relevant content.
AC: This is where the FanScore authentication steps in. This powers Our League and has facilitated the first year focus on analysing the usage, engagement and other data at our disposal, helping us answer questions like, is a live streaming user more likely to play the predictor, attend a game, take part in polls, open an email etc This joined-up approach sets us apart from other app providers who can often only provide anonymised usage data leading to broad generalisations about wider fan bases.
SBC: How do you see Our League developing in 2019; what new developments do you have for Rugby League fans?
DP: There is much more to come from Our League in 2019. With the benefit of a World Cup and full Super League season behind us, we have learnt a lot about what resonates with fans and where more work is needed. We know that there is a big rugby league audience to drive awareness and the benefits of Our League to, and that is something we have a real hunger for.
The players (both professional and amateur) are a really important part of the family and this is an area that the RFL really wants to focus on including. More digital brand activations are being discussed along with a new prize structure for the predictor, improvements to the match centre and UX of polls and rewards for engagement just to name a few. Lots of this will be driven by focus groups which continues to help us shape the direction Our League takes.