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Australian Open Tennis & ESPN Team Up on Roblox

Tennis Australia's Ridley Plummer shares details about updating their Roblox experience.

 

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Across the sports industry, various organizations have been leveraging Roblox to reach young audiences. In addition to popular US-based leagues such as the NFL, NBA, NHL, NASCAR and PGA, international organizations have also activated on the platform including Manchester City, FIFA, Wimbledon, and F1 racing team McLaren.


One sports organization that was relatively early to Roblox and that continues to build on the platform is Tennis Australia, the group responsible for hosting the Australian Open tennis tournament.


After they had a successful launch last year gaining millions of visits to their experience, I spoke with Tennis Australia's Ridley Plummer about how they measure success.


With Tennis Australia having just updated their AO Adventure experience on Roblox to coincide with their latest 2024 tournament, I decided to catch up with Ridley once again and learn more about this latest foray onto Roblox with partners such as ESPN.


What was your overall approach to updating the Australian's Open's Roblox experience?


Ridley: Our Roblox approach was very similar to the approach we take in real life. Tennis remains as Grand Slam tennis, but 50% of the AO precinct must change [in real life]. This gives the visitor something new to explore, with unexpected moments of surprise and delight.


AO Adventure followed the same model. We added more entertainment and engagement adding surprise and delight for new and returning consumers. In the lead up to AO24, we introduced Dunlop Tennis Ball Rain. Followed by ESPN Super Showdown, which included UGC’s and commentary from NPC’s Ace and Courtney.


We also relaunched the Emirates Sky High Obby with a new look and feel and UGC, along with an updated Ralph Lauren Ball Kids Kit and retail store.


In addition to that, we updated game sounds, lighting and added a new Cross Court Challenge with Wimbledon’s Wimble World and the US Open – Champions of the Court.


Roblox avatar holding tennis raquet and tennis ball
AO Adventure obby update with Emirates Airlines.

 

Are there any success metrics that stand out to you?


Ridley: Success for me is what happens in the 50 weeks outside of AO. How many users, male and female of all ages are engaging with the brand when we’re at peak irrelevance.

The AO only lasts for 2 weeks in January, and then we pack everything up and start planning for next year.


We’re incredibly fortunate to utilise platforms like Roblox where our brand can live on, 24-7. Engaging with a global audience, 365 days a year is exciting, so long as we can keep numbers strong and keep growing the base audience.


The AO is simply a springboard for the rest of the year.

 

How did ESPN get involved?


Ridley: We treat our broadcast partners much like our sponsorship family. They have every right to get involved in an activation like AO Adventure. And there are many mutual benefits that we can gain from it.


For example, ESPN wanted to be part of AO Adventure and offered up significant advertising and broadcast exposure for us, so it was a no brainer to get them involved.

ESPN were amazing to deal with. Being such a forward thinking company meant ideas flowed easily and the lack of red tape allowed us to move incredibly quickly in what can be a challenging time over Christmas and New Year.

It would be remis of me to not thank Brian Iglesias and Sandra Blacio for all their help in bringing ESPN Super Set Showdown to life.



Roblox avatars wearing headsets.
ESPN NPC commentators in AO Adventure on Roblox.

 

It was cool to see you collaborate with other tennis tournaments that are also on Roblox. How did this come about?


Ridley: We’re very fortunate that our great friends at The Gang also produced Wimble World and US Open – Champions of the Court, so collaboration came easily.

For Tennis Australia, Wimbledon and The US Open, our objectives are very similar. Engage with new, younger global audiences and ultimately bring more people to tennis.

Over the last 2 years, the Grand Slams have all increased their focus on collaboration and innovation, so you can expect to see many more Cross-Court Challenges in the future.



3 Roblox avatars on a tennis court.
Wimbledon, Australian Open, US Open collaboration.

 

What was your favorite part about this updated experience?


Ridley: The addition of the ESPN commentary gave AO Adventure a new depth that made it feel more ‘real’ and engaging.


Working with the team at Tennis Australia to record the voice overs and leverage iconic tennis moments was a great example of how the team stepped up to take on a challenge and nailed it.


Seeing ESPN promote the partnership across 50+ territories was also incredibly exciting and was ultimately a big factor in our success.

 

What were the new lessons or takeaways you had from this updated experience?


Ridley: We’re constantly learning and Roblox allows us the opportunity to continue to try new things. 12 months ago, it felt like UGC’s were the highest priority, but that can become detrimental to game time and make your experience transactional. So, as we continue to grow and elevate AO Adventure, it’s key that we adapt to consumer expectations of what makes a great Roblox experience.


Ultimately, thinking outside the box and innovating is always going to get great results, but understanding the consumer and adapting is key.



Stephen Dypiangco is the CEO of Metaverse Marcom, a strategy and consulting firm helping entertainment and sports brands enter Roblox.



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