The South Sydney Rabbitohs have gone from strength to strength on the field in recent months and it's a trend the digital team has replicated off the paddock.
The Rabbitohs have invested heavily in the digital space since 2017, introducing an industry leading Digital, Data and Insights team. The team works to understand their devoted audience better and builds strategies and capabilities which maximise their unique relationship in an ever-changing digital landscape.
Their investment has already started to show its return, with the Rabbitohs boasting the highest engagement on social media of any sports team in Australia throughout the first half of 2018, as well as the lowest bounce rate and some of the highest traffic on the NRL's brand new $100 million digital network.
The Rabbitohs understand that engagement is where it starts for digital success, particularly given Facebook's recent algorithm tweaks - which prioritise posts that generate conversation - and have focused on giving their audience a reason to interact with the Club's digital channels.
This approach culminated with the 'Book of Feuds' campaign, which hypes Souths' rivalries using storytelling content and provocative social media posts. Their edgy style made some waves in the traditional media space - with multiple appearances in commercial media, including back page spreads in the Daily Telegraph. It's real success, however, is in promoting discussion, which leads to high engagement on social media, a deeper connection with their audience, and higher traffic on their digital channels.
"One of the interesting findings in the research that we've conducted alongside the NRL, is that one of the key drivers for fans to engage with Rugby League is 'gloating'," said South's CEO Blake Solly.
The 'Feuds' campaign, although at times controversial, has been the perfect platform for this. The Rabbitohs use this engagement to learn about what their audience likes and doesn't like, and the serves them contextual content, as well as ads, for their own commercial benefit and for the benefit of their partners and sponsors.
The Rabbitohs' digital performance was further demonstrated during arguably the biggest week on the Rugby League calendar, when South Sydney ranked second place for total digital traffic on the NRL's network behind Queensland, but ahead of New South Wales, while maintaining the lowest bounce rate on the network (just 32%).
"This means that more people are engaging with us on social media than any other sports team in the country," said Solly. "More people are coming to our website than any other Club or State barring Queensland during their highest traffic period of the year, and those people are staying on our site longer once they arrive."
These benefits translate to dollars for the Club and for its commercial partners, as acknowledged by head of NRL Digital Rebekah Horne, with both South Sydney and the Melbourne Storm, two of the more popular clubs in the competition, on track to write about $1 million in digital advertising revenue each this year.
"As an industry, we've learnt the lesson that people no longer watch just on TV, so we think this is making a difference," said Horne.
"Just about every ad campaign these days has a significant digital component to it, so we needed to show we have a 360-degree solution and people across all platforms."
There is no silver bullet to keep Rabbitohs.com.au locked at the top of the NRL's digital ladder, which is also the strength that reinforces the strategy.
High quality and wide-ranging multimedia output, delivered at strategic times and promoted across social media channels, ensures the domain maintains a sound flow of traffic while users remain plugged in for more lengthy sessions.
The Rabbitohs offer a genuine multi-channel approach to its content. For example, fans can view the line-up show conveniently on their chosen platform. They aren't herded to spike specific metrics. The Club and its partners enjoy improved commercial returns because of their overall increased reach and engagement, and their audience's experience is enriched through the freedom of choice.
Across their 110-year history, Souths have proven their status as 'the Pride of the League'. That reputation continues to grow off the field as the Rabbitohs lead the NRL's progress in the digital era.