Following a triumphant year for New Zealand’s National Rugby League (NRL) enthusiasts, the league is joining forces with Mi9, a leading digital media provider, to extend its influence beyond Australian borders.
New Zealand’s sole NRL team, the One NZ Warriors, celebrated a remarkable season, their first on home turf post-pandemic. Their performance was stellar, but it was their unprecedented reach in 2023 that truly set a new standard, largely attributed to the viral sensation ‘Up the Wahs’.
The NRL, headquartered in Australia, historically found it challenging to adequately service the local New Zealand market when it came to digital monetisation. Kenneth Scott, Senior Digital Commercial Manager at the NRL, acknowledges New Zealand’s unique position.
“The New Zealand audience has obviously always been a huge focus for the NRL in general, I mean, the Warriors are a great team, with a massive fan base, a highly mobile and engaged audience. The challenge we’ve always faced is that it’s not the same as another state in Australia.
“It’s a completely different country, different rules and regulations, different market, all those sorts of things, and we’ve never had a local on-the-ground presence.”
To tap into New Zealand’s market potential, Scott emphasises the importance of a local presence, one that is well-versed in the market and can foster strong connections with the Kiwi audience.
The Warriors’ fan base is fervent, demonstrated by their ability to consistently sell out the 22,000-seat Go Media Mt Smart Stadium. This underscores the deep-rooted support for the NRL within New Zealand.
Scott further clarifies, “The key thing to remember is that a New Zealand rugby league fan is not just a Warriors fan. The Warriors obviously make up a huge part of that fan base, but there are 16 other clubs that have fans in New Zealand that come to the NRL as the source of truth to engage with those things.”
In New Zealand, the NRL’s appeal extends beyond the Warriors, with events like the State of Origin being highly anticipated.
Midway through 2023, the NRL and Mi9 formed a strategic alliance to bridge the gap in New Zealand’s market presence.
“The reason we’ve gone with Mi9 and what we’ve found is that the markets are both really different just in terms of what brands are looking for, budgets that are available, and legal, and the regulatory framework as to how that can happen. You really need that sort of local expertise to help guide you through that,” Scott explains.
“What I do know is the similarities are that both fan bases are incredibly passionate and that’s what the NRL is all about, harnessing that passion and fandom and really driving home an engaging product.”
Rhys Heron, Managing Director of Mi9 New Zealand considers the timing of this collaboration ideal, leveraging the Warriors’ generated momentum.
As 2024 approaches, the NRL is intensifying its content offerings. The season kicks off early in the year, and according to Heron, this period is crucial for maintaining interest and maximising the Mi9 partnership.
“With the content or the games really starting in February, I think that our goal is to maintain interest in the NRL and build up to the start of the season from February, and then capitalise on that in terms of ensuring that local advertisers who want to advertise on the NRL have the opportunity to do so through the season,” says Heron.
“We’re really keen to work with the NRL around maintaining the excitement about the NRL season,” he remarks.
The NRL is gearing up for an action-packed commencement to 2024, with eagerly awaited events like ‘NRL in Vegas’ marking the start of the year.
Heron notes, “The fan base is starting to become active in January and February and the season starts in March, meaning there’ll be traffic to nrl.com and we want to be in a position to make sure we give NRL the best commercial success that we can for the 2024 season, and also give the brands and the advertisers that maximum opportunity to benefit from that highly engaged audience.”
“The reason we’ve partnered with Mi9 in New Zealand is that we know that there’s a huge passionate fan base there and we want to make sure that they’re serviced adequately in terms of addressing the market,” Scott adds.