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China International Import Expo

Aussie rules sets Shanghai expo abuzz with virtual reality fan experience

  • Port Adelaide Football Club offer pioneering look at Australia’s ‘most popular game’
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 9:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 9:42pm

How do you take Australia’s national game to a country with close to zero knowledge of a sport that is played almost exclusively Down Under? Virtual reality, of course.

The Port Adelaide Football Club and the Australian Football League turned heads quite literally at last week’s inaugural China International Import Expo in Shanghai, stepping outside the box in their latest attempt to take Australian rules to China.

Port Adelaide have already played two official matches in China and run programmes in a number of schools, but they are hopeful their latest approach will add an important layer to their push into the country.

“We have used VR as a fan experience device and we are now developing the technique for education purposes,” said Keith Thomas, Port Adelaide’s chief executive.

“It’s another way of inspiring kids to embrace our game through immersing them in a game day experience, even though they can’t physically see an AFL match live, other than the Shanghai game each year.

“It’s pioneering stuff, being carried out in one of the most sophisticated cities on earth. It’s the new frontier for the AFL and Port Adelaide is proud to be leading the way.

“Our inspiration comes from the excitement we saw in the eyes of everyone who visited our little booth, as they experienced our great game for the first time.”

The virtual reality experience immersed expo-goers in the game of Australian rules, taking them inside Port Adelaide’s changerooms before unleashing them onto Adelaide Oval with the team.

But Thomas is well aware of the ongoing challenges of cracking in to the vast and unpredictable Chinese market.

“On the one hand, the overwhelming feeling you get is how inconsequential we are in this huge, bustling world of business,” he said.

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“And yet on the other hand, we noticed the continuous steady stream of Chinese buyers excitedly watching our game through specially made virtual reality headsets and taking away a small token footy for their kids.

“In a tiny, yet strangely interesting and impactful representation of Australia’s most popular game, we were reminded daily of the perplexing challenge that is China.”

Of course, the presence of Port Adelaide and the AFL at an event opened by China President Xi Jinping was about more than just virtual reality.

“Port Adelaide and our annual game in Shanghai is part of Australia’s effort to promote the nation in China – and that transcends trade, sport, culture and tourism,” said Andrew Hunter, Port Adelaide’s general manager of China engagement.

Business ties ensure Aussie Rules is in China to stay, but how do Port Adelaide make it about more than money?

“This is a really significant event for China and for the world – being the largest trade expo ever – and it shows that we are very much a part of the landscape of what Australia is doing in China.

“Being here is a statement of our ambition and intention to be here in China very much for the long-term.”

Part of the club’s presence in China is their school programmes and they are in 21 schools, but are hoping to expand that number to 100 by 2020.

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Port Adelaide have also extended their commitment to playing in China by another three years, with Melbourne-based club St Kilda replacing the Gold Coast Suns as their opponent from next year.

And Shanghai Cred and founder Gui Guojie will continue to offer huge support, with Port Adelaide, the AFL and the mainland property developer signing a five-year extension on their agreement to “nurture and expand” the game.