Australian Football League

Goal! AFL builds participation and wins lifelong fans with Tableau Cloud

All clubs using the new platform increased membership during the 2023 season

Clubs saved 72+ hours per week from email automation, auto-renewals, and cross-sales activities

The AFL now engages 1.2M students each year, helping sustain excitement and grow the game

The Australian Football League (AFL) used Tableau Cloud and Einstein 1 Platform to increase memberships by 10%, centralise data management, and grow its business via more effective fan engagement.

About the Organisation

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the pinnacle of Australian Rules Football, a sport deeply entrenched in the nation's culture for over 150 years. Comprising 18 clubs, the AFL orchestrates a fast-paced, skillful competition while driving fan engagement and participation through strategic data utilisation and innovative initiatives.

Understanding what makes our fans tick as well as where they come from, how they transact, and how they consume content are all critical to our growth. Tableau allows us to visualise all that data and embed it into our flow of work.

The Challenge

The league lacked access to insights hidden in spreadsheets and data silos

Football or ‘footy’ is a way of life in Australia. Fans of all ages cheer on their favourite teams and players in the country’s skillful, fast-paced national sport.

At the centre of this phenomenon is the Australian Football League (AFL) which comprises the league’s 18 clubs (teams) and coordinates competition among them. The AFL is on a mission to help fans celebrate “footy in every home,” whether by playing, supporting, coaching, or umpiring games, or even just volunteering at the local club.

For years, the AFL managed information about its fan base using spreadsheets, emails, and siloed data sources. This made it increasingly difficult to support smart, timely decisions or measure the impact of community engagement projects and campaigns. The AFL Data & Analytics team wanted to build a centralised view of data that would give the AFL and its constituent clubs easy access to data like fan participation and demographics, membership data, and marketing program details.

How Tableau Helps

Data products built with Tableau Cloud empower insights from fan data

“Before Tableau, we just had a handful of reports that were focused on club membership data and not much else,” says Elisa Koch, AFL Head of Data and Analytics. “Fast-forward to now, and nearly every customer data source across the industry flows into our Snowflake platform, and from there we can view it and get insights using Tableau Cloud.”

This data includes everything from memberships and ticketing data to merchandise purchases and fan engagement in fantasy programs and social media competitions. Using it, Koch’s team built four key data products that serve the AFL and can be adapted further by the clubs:

  • FanView, dashboards for analysing all fan engagement touchpoints
  • FanMap, which enables geolocation of fan bases to assist with targeted and localised planning
  • FanScore, which visualises machine learning models for lead scoring and membership churn
  • FanShare, an advanced service that enables Clubs to receive raw fan data for club-level analytics

Dynamic, adaptable dashboards help AFL clubs invent their own programs

To stay agile, Koch and her team focused on the core design of the four main data products, then developed about 80% of the dashboards and their capabilities. This left further enhancements up to each club to develop based on their unique priorities and requirements. It also led to the natural evolution of a data community around the core product set, which helps foster better sharing of insights and learnings among AFL and the clubs.

“We made huge strides by simplifying the narrative,” said Koch. “With data and analytics, a lot of people feel they don’t know where to start. Our data products solve for these four pain points, and give the clubs a starting point to supporting their own activities.”

Uniting sales and marketing on Einstein 1 Platform drives 10% membership increase

Grassroots participation propels the AFL’s continued popularity. To capture and sustain excitement, the AFL reaches out to students, teachers, and coaches to increase participation and gain traction with younger potential fans.

To unlock new opportunities in the grassroots program data for expanding membership and save time by automating processes, the AFL implemented Einstein 1 Platform. Sales Cloud replaces spreadsheets and emails where grassroots program data was previously hidden, and several clubs use Marketing Cloud to automate and personalise engagement.

Using Tableau Cloud and Einstein 1 Platform, the AFL makes better decisions using a shared data language across the league and all 18 clubs. Clubs now work smarter and faster, saving as much as 42 hours per week from email automation and 30 hours per week. In 2023, 15 out of 18 clubs outperformed their membership targets. All 10 clubs using Tableau Cloud and the Einstein 1 Platform solution during that time increased their memberships, including four that increased membership by more than 10%.

Data-driven campaigns engage teachers with targeted, timely offers

Consolidating data into Einstein 1 Platform replaced the formerly siloed methods, and brought school-based game development activities onto one platform. Now, the AFL game development team can track local program activities, and how many students take part. They can also centrally track key data points and follow up with informed offers of AFL support.

One example is engaging with teachers who show interest in running school programs. “Teachers are so busy, so when we can catch them and have a meaningful conversation, we need to track that and follow up at the right time,” said Rebecca Marshall, AFL National Participation Program Manager. “Recording our interactions in Sales Cloud will also help us relaunch our school membership program and offer rewards to schools based on their engagement.”

Through smarter use of data, the AFL has transformed how it plans, performs, and instruments its school outreach programs and campaigns. After implementing Tableau Cloud and the Einstein 1 Platform, the AFL successfully engaged more than 1.2 million students annually, nurturing grassroots participation and fostering a new generation of lifelong fans.“We are big on understanding the level of engagement across our school programs,” said Marshall, “and can now measure that better than ever before.”

Tableau Pulse will use AI to deliver key insights in the flow of work

Tableau Cloud and Einstein 1 Platform have provided the AFL with a foundation for increasingly seamless and hyper-personalised game day experiences. Future generative AI use cases have the potential to drive these experiences even further. For example, the AFL can help ease fans’ travel to and entry into the stadiums by delivering real-time, game-day information.

“It’s all about creating GIANTS moments in fans’ lives and providing them with experiences that they want to keep coming back to and tell their friends about,” said Mitchell Dale, Head of Strategy and Growth for the GWS GIANTS, an AFL club. “The more we can connect our data and the faster we can understand and act on customer insights, the more we can unlock those opportunities.”

The AFL also plans on implementing Tableau Pulse to provide real-time reporting at the executive level. “We’ve gone from table-based views to interactive charts,” said Koch. “The next step will be using Pulse to offer our execs more real-time interaction. For example, if an exec looks at a chart and sees a sharp increase in attendance over the weekend, they can ask: What games in which states contributed to the spike?”

AI will be key and help the AFL and clubs improve decision-making and stitch together its data to create better, more personalised fan experiences. Einstein 1 Platform and Tableau enable powerful insights that help AFL reach the right fans at the right time.

“For us, AI is also about freeing up people from tasks that have previously been overly time-consuming and onerous,” said Rob Pickering, AFL General Manager of Technology and CTO. “However, as we move down this path, it is important that we use ethical and trusted AI that’s without bias and makes employees' lives easier, so no one is left behind.”

The Tableau Difference

Transformation at the AFL to becoming a data-driven organisation has given the league and its 18 clubs unprecedented business momentum. Along with Einstein Platform, Tableau Cloud makes analysts at the clubs and at AFL headquarters more productive by embedding intelligent analytics. With the future implementation of Tableau Pulse, the AFL will gain further momentum by integrating a natural voice interface and other native AI capabilities into its flow of work.

Underneath all this, the newly unified data layer provides smarter ways for the AFL and its clubs to manage their programs using data they trust. "A huge benefit of Tableau being the de facto industry reporting and insight solution is that it has enabled siloes to be broken down,” said Koch. “Between AFL and the clubs, people are looking at numbers in new ways, and speaking a common language."