At the end of 2014, NZ Rugby decided to open its doors to dedicated All Blacks fans whose interest in the game and players was being underserved by the information on existing brand platforms and social media.
At a time when their other key sponsorship and broadcast rights were being renegotiated, NZ Rugby was mindful of the need to approach the future by building direct relationships with fans. The value in the opportunity lay in delivering unique access for fans with the need to monetize that value for the business.
The solution was to create an exclusive digital experience that would connect fans to the team through videos, match day updates, insights, offers and in-depth interviews.
“It’s about being part of a larger membership, with access to content and benefits that would not be given to a more casual fan,” says NZ Rugby digital channels manager David Barton-Ginger.
“It’s about connecting our fans with all our teams in black, not only the All Blacks. Until now you only got so much of a picture on these teams, now you can get so much more via Team All Blacks – an area for the passionate fan.”
Tasked with turning that idea into a reality was experience design agency DNA, which undertook research with fans globally to test, prioritise, validate and hone the offer for launch. The DNA strategy for delivering value in the platform, which would grow over time was founded in what NZ Rugby had to offer fans – unique access, unique offers and unique content.
In launching Team All Blacks, DNA has created a platform that serves up information, access and offers for all of New Zealand’s teams in black, and initiated a brand that sits relevantly within the NZ Rugby brand portfolio. It’s safe to say the project has been a success, with Team All Blacks gaining 150,000 subscribers in the first year, which has grown to over 350,000 to date.
The platform also won a Gold pin at the 2015 Best Design Awards.
DNA creative director Phil Dunstan-Brown says NZ Rugby came to DNA with the idea of exclusive engagement for avid fans, and asked the agency to deliver two outcomes, the digital strategy and experience for fans, and to extend the current NZ Rugby brand architecture and introduce the Team All Blacks entity.
Simply creating a new digital experience for the fans alone wasn’t going to give them the Team All Blacks experience NZ Rugby hoped for, so DNA developed a compelling story that would engage fans, make them feel they were a part of something and begin to drive a movement of global fans of the teams in black.
Team All Blacks not only had to sit alongside team brands, it had to resonate deeply with New Zealand fans, exude integrity and be both familiar and unique. “When you play with anything around the All Blacks, it’s like playing with the national flag, so you’ve got to create things that resonate,” says Dunstan-Brown.
To do this, DNA collaborated with Maori artist Tim Worrall to weave a story around a traditional whakatauki (proverb), and bring it to life through tohu (symbols), moko (face designs) and kowhaiwhai (repeating patterns); built around a single repeating element.
That pattern is made up of a mythical taniwha—the guardians of sacred places—engaging in conflict with another taniwha by encircling each other in the shape of a kakano (seed) or ball.
The taniwha is representative of the team, while its infill patterns represent the origins of that team, both from the Pacific and Aotearoa.
“It’s this sort of thought that goes into the agency’s work, which they have been delivering for NZ Rugby since 2003, that gave us the confidence to bring them in for this job again. DNA have worked on almost every part of the rugby landscape, from elite teams to community rugby, they get us, our brand, and our fans,” Barton-Ginger says.
“They are known for their award-winning work in digital, but are also really strong from a branding perspective,” he says, recalling the redesign of AllBlacks.com by DNA, and earlier work, DNA’s first project for NZ Rugby, rebranding the All Blacks prior to the 2003 Rugby World Cup. “So they were the natural choice to continue to work with.”
As well as building the Team All Blacks brand, DNA also worked with NZ Rugby to go out to fans and learn the type of content they wanted and then navigate the way that content would be delivered to them.
As much as DNA had delivered a strategy, and together with NZ Rugby they haprioritiseded features for launch, the Team Al Blacks initiative was first and foremost about the fan experience.
Dunstan-Brown says DNA drove the concept through a series of experience concepts and prototypes, designing the website component by component to ensure that fans are served up a variety of content, from news articles, video to stats and live updates. The site is laden with rich content and access to offers not found anywhere else.
One of the benefits for NZ Rugby in having its own platform to share information on is that it can better control the fan experience.
Barton-Ginger explains how the All Blacks have a huge social media audience, but the engagement with them are through platforms it has no control over.
“You’re at the whim of social media company changing the way they do things and sometimes at very short notice so one of the benefits of having a direct connection with our fans is we can control that platform,” he says.
But what social media does do well is draw avid fans to Team All Blacks, while providing snackable content to the more casual fans.
“We are careful to ensure what we put on our social media channels is different to Team All Blacks. We use shorter form ‘snacking’ content on social media and often use that to drive people to the longer form content we put on the website, specifically for those fans who wish to have a deeper experience and learn more,” Barton-Ginger says.
Players, coaches and management are creating content that can’t be found on mainstream media and the content structure of Team All Blacks allows for endless discoverability, personalisation and engagement.
Since the Team All Blacks project’s been completed and DNA handed it over, NZ Rugby has continued to collect feedback from subscribers and make changes to the platform accordingly. However, it credits DNA for being a great partner to work with and having a great contact list of people to call on for insight, advice and ongoing services.
“They’ve had a big say in the branding and digital experience we deliver with Team All Blacks and in guiding the cultural side of it as well,” Barton-Ginger says. “They’re a great partner.”