When the Australian Football League (AFL) CEO Gillon McLachlan announced that the inaugural season of the NAB AFL Women’s Competition would start in 2017, it was a historic moment for elite sport in Australia. However, that’s not the only trailblazing move the AFL has made – the launch of the website at the address www.womens.afl is another incredible move by the country’s most innovative sporting organisation.
The keen observer may have noticed the lack of the traditional .com or .com.au extension at the end of the address, which is significant on many levels. Last year, the AFL joined over 550 of the world’s largest brands in acquiring their own web extension (.afl), giving the AFL full control of their own real estate on the web.
Some of the most recognisable brands on the planet have started using their .brand namespaces. From Google and Canon to BMW, big brands have begun to flex their creative muscle. Among this group, a handful of innovative Australian brands also applied, taking control of .anz, .seven, .monash and .iselect, to name just a few.
AFL chief information officer Scott Jendra saw a long term upside in using the .afl namespace in the communications supporting the launch, including the new television campaign. “The groundbreaking nature of AFL Women’s deserved to be supported with next-generation digital tools – we were just lucky enough to be one of the few brands to have our own web extension in .afl,” Jendra said.
“One of the ambitions of the new league is to broaden its existing fan base and engage new audiences who are hungry for information and content to maximise their football experience. We aim to support that with www.womens.afl as well as our usual digital and offline channels.”
This isn’t the first time the AFL has taken bold steps with .afl; www.play.afl was used for a grassroots community site and the commercial venture www.coffee.afl lets fans buy team-branded coffee pods. If differentiation is king in marketing, then the 550 plus brands (many ASX 100 and Fortune 500) with their own .brand namespace might just reign in 2017.
There won’t be another chance to apply for one for several years at least. Until then, the lucky few each have the opportunity to do things in the digital space that their competitors simply cannot match. There is no doubt that 2017 is likely to explode with digital branding and concepts most of us haven’t even considered possible.
Brands will use their .brand web extension to create meaningful and memorable calls to action in their promotional material, like the AFL has done with www.womens.afl in the TVC. Today’s larger companies simply have so much digital content to share, and using short and meaningful URLs really give these organisations the ability to let their customers navigate to exactly what they want easily and directly.
Digital marketers have more tools at their fingertips than ever before, but in this crowded environment our ability to track the customer journey and create strong connections with our audience is weakened. The AFL is not only building direct relationships with a new audience, they have full visibility and control of the customer experience.
The AFL was also the first sporting code in the world to launch its branded domain ahead of Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA who each also own a .brand extension.
While the AFL has been a pioneer in this space, internationally there have already been over 100 organisations putting their toe in the water with their .brand namespaces, including organisations such as the UK based Barclays bank who last year moved their entire digital presence from barclays.com to home.barclays.
According to Jendra, “the AFL will continue to roll out selective properties with the .afl extension over time and will continue with new innovations such as AFL Women’s breaking new ground – in the representation of women in sport as well as in innovative, future-minded digital marketing”.