Here’s how the Australian Open is serving up their best Grand Slam yet with SafetyCulture in their court.
Hundreds of thousands of people pour through the gates of Melbourne Olympic Park each January to experience what is for many the greatest spectacle in tennis — the Australian Open. Nicknamed the Happy Slam, each year the tournament plays host to a star-studded array of tennis. Last year saw 494 players from 62 nations compete. For fourteen action-packed days, matches are played on the iconic blue courts, and broadcast on an international stage.
Getting it off the ground is undoubtedly a mammoth operational feat. From premium hospitality experiences, servicing 800,000 strong crowds to 50 courts and state-of-the-art sports facilities, it takes a small army and smart tech to keep everything in check.
Here’s how the Australian Open is serving up their best Grand Slam yet with SafetyCulture in their court.
The Australian Open is held each year at Melbourne Olympic Park. The grounds are a little over 2km from end to end, and the venue itself can hold over 75,000 people per day. Getting the precinct tournament ready is a huge process and one that starts months in advance — and as soon as the last match finishes, the Australian Open team is already thinking and planning for the next year.
The Australian Open is an operational feat like no other. The frontline team behind it is tasked with creating an unforgettable experience for the 700 tennis players, 900,000 spectators, and the millions of fans who tune in every year to witness something special. To give some idea of the scale of operations, we spoke to Lee Ross, the Manager of Safety, Compliance and Emergency Management for the Australian Open.
“If we go back to 2020, we had over 800,000 people through the gates,” says Lee. “And the event continues to get bigger. The redevelopment continues to get bigger. And the footprint of the Australian Open continues to grow.”
There are over 400 temporary structures on site, and each year these change to provide an innovative and fresh experience for attendees. From makeshift beach clubs to an excess of 80 graffitied shipping containers, the Australian Open employs techniques and activations you don’t often see at other events.
“We push the boundaries, but we're only able to do that with a level of confidence that the tools we have will enable us to get the result that we want.” - Lee Ross, Manager of Safety, Compliance and Emergency Management for the Australian Open.
The Australian Open settles for nothing short of the highest levels of compliance and safety. This involves rigorous checks in order to inform and pre-empt the operation within the precinct and manage safe work conditions.
With the frequency of checks required — twice daily for daily event checklists, sometimes more for safety officers, catering outlets, and construction — paper and pen can quickly become cumbersome. The Australian Open turned to the SafetyCulture platform to digitize their OH&S procedures and Court Services. SafetyCulture platform is being used to ensure the courts are in good working order at the start and end of the day, to inspect generators and mobile cranes, and even to make sure on-court player fridges are fully stocked.
“Previously, we were using paper checklists and just ticking boxes,” says Todd Woodbridge, Court Services lead. In having those checks and reports compiled digitally on court day by day, supervisors can go back into SafetyCulture platform and compare each report and see how our courts are performing individually in a far more streamlined way.
“With SafetyCulture platform, it's ten times quicker, it's ten times simpler. And I don't have to worry about whether or not I've got all the right paperwork with me because it's all there on my mobile device.” - Serena Downs, Safety Officer at the Australian Open
With data centralized in the SafetyCulture platform, everyone has visibility over the work occurring that day — not just the team member logging the information. This is crucial because the tempo of the Australian Open is incredibly fast-paced. They don’t have the luxury of pressing pause on operations, so visibility is key. “We’re able to ask some very simple, high-level questions,” says Lee. “Then, we’re able to add and link up the technical regulations and detail. I think the SafetyCulture platform’s biggest value is our ability to be able to build simple checklists, drawing upon those compliance requirements, but be able to extrapolate out for my team what the actual technical detail is.”
“Really, it gives us that enormous ability to be able to track a lot of data in a relatively easy way, holding people accountable for delivering on the parts they’re responsible for and ensuring that on any given day, we can get through it.”
“SafetyCulture has been in our corner for several years now, supporting our operations team behind-the-scenes of the Australian Open. Together we’re working towards a seamless, safe and enjoyable event for the public.” — Alex Hamilton, Tennis Australia Chief Event Officer
The Patron Experience team is always on the move — they roam the grounds of the Australian Open, helping to manage the needs of patrons and looking out for crowd control. The SafetyCulture platform is their on-the-go solution to help log customer feedback on their experience at the AO. With it, they create customer surveys and sift through findings to find out how to make the customer experience even better. Previously, they defaulted to whatever messaging platforms first came to mind to facilitate reactive communications — for instance, directing staff to areas that need attention, like congested entrances or ticket booths. Now, they also use Heads Up as a purpose-built tool to send out one-to-many communications to the right staff members on the ground.
The Australian Open is one of the largest sporting events in the world, but it wouldn’t run without the help of ballkids. Ballkids help the Australian Open run smoothly, whether that be in Rod Laver Arena to lend a hand to the likes of Naomi Osaka or Rafael Nadal, or on the outside courts.
“To be a ball kid, there’s a lot of things to remember,” says Elise Mace, Ballkid Strategy and Operations Lead. “There’s the skill component — how to roll the ball, how to service the players, the court movement, and the concentration they need to do their job on court.” On top of that, there’s the need to understand the basics of how tennis and scoring works. This demands a considered training program that runs throughout the year.
For the first time ever, the Australian Open is introducing a mobile learning element to their ballkid training. To brush up on their ballkid skills ahead of the AO, EdApp by SafetyCulture lessons have been built using videos and gamification to refresh techniques.
“This has never happened before in our program so it's really exciting! We know that kids aged 12 to 15 really like using their phone, downloading apps and interacting in that kind of way. We're keen to see how this program can complement our on-court training program.” — Elise Mace, Ballkid Strategy and Operations Lead.
The Australian Open leans on a workforce of 8,500 accredited staff — with around 5,000 workers on-site at any given time. From permanent Tennis Australia staff members to security guards, Melbourne Olympic Park staff, and other casuals and contractors, it’s a huge team effort behind the scenes to bring the AO to life. This makes the onboarding process extremely important to get right.
Going digital is key to this. With the sheer number of staff involved, virtual onboarding gives staff the ability to upskill on their own time. “Some of our employees have other jobs. They’re working full-time during the Christmas holidays. It’s so much easier now that we don’t need to set a time, day, and place for upwards of 150 people to be available in one go,” says Jonothan Lee, Retail Manager.
And once they’ve onboarded within EdApp? The SafetyCulture platform takes the complexity out of day-to-day processes and brings it all together in simple checklists. “The reality is that the system itself is extremely easy to use,” says Lee. “So even if you’re a novice and don’t really understand what the compliance requirements are, SafetyCulture makes it clear. We supply checklists to a particular team or function and schedule the checks twice a day. There’s nothing complicated about what the expectation is for team members.”
Professional tennis is a finely tuned sport where the weather is a major consideration. It’s not just the players’ comfort that can be impacted by the weather — it also affects the performance of the balls and how racquets are strung. The Australian Open introduces more variability than other Grand Slams around the world. Held in the height of summer, temperatures can rise to as much as 40°C (104°F), making for intense playing conditions. As well as extreme heat, wind, and rain are also major considerations.
To help keep a close eye on conditions, the Australian Open pulls weather data straight into SafetyCulture platform. Within the platform, team members receive instant notifications and alerts for extreme weather changes. “A big one for us is wind because obviously a lot of our structures, like umbrellas, are directly impacted by wind,” explains Serena. “So the real-time notifications are really useful. It means that within an instant of getting that alert, we can immediately start putting in place our wind management plans.”
SafetyCulture is also supporting the Tennis Australia Climate Action Team as they progress in their sustainability journey — starting with waste stream management at the Australian Open. Using the SafetyCulture platform, the Australian Open is managing recycling centers on-site, assessing waste streams and levels of contamination with inspection templates customized to specific categories of waste, helping to create cleaner outputs. The use of the SafetyCulture platform will provide data and insights which will help support the AO on its journey to a more sustainable future.
And it doesn’t stop there! We’ve got behind-the-scenes access to the Australian Open – and we’re sharing our backstage pass with you. Tune into ‘Almost Open’ on YouTube, a seven-part series that lifts the curtain on the operations the Happy Slam.
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