Sep 15, 2020

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

The ability to adjust to ever-changing changing reality is no longer an advantage over others. It’s a responsibility of reliable business-people who want to provide their partners with the best possible solutions on the market. FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference [FOFBC] organiser, Thomas Maurer, prepared an event where people from the world of sport could exchange their finest solutions and ideas. 

Listening to experts talking about data-driven clubs, enhancement of fan experience, digital age challenges, and innovation. Asking them real-live questions on the future of the football business. Finally, having a common time in the networking zone with other participants. That’s what I’d been doing for two days at the beginning of September 2020. What key insights will we get from it? It’s no longer a secret! Check it out in this article.

KEY TO SUSTAINED SUCCESS? HANDLING DIGITAL AGE CHALLENGES

Football management must orient itself more towards successful companies.” This was a leading thought that Dietmar Bereisdorfer, Hamburger SV director, shared with us in his conference-opening speech on “Keys to Sustained Success”. Was it a coincidence that his presentation was followed by Casper Heiselberg, former Head of Digital at F.C. Copenhagen, who redefined the concept of football clubs and pinpointed their currently paramount challenge – digital age

Actually, it could be a coincidence as at that time Casper was only one of four different presenters. But the “transmission” here was better than in case of Messi passing to Suarez!

For those who are long enlightened, the answer to the question “what are modern football clubs” should be relatively easy. Still not sure? Analyse football clubs components:

  • Team, Staff and Academy,
  • Media house [with Social Media working 365/366 days a year!]
  • Websites with intensive peak periods,
  • Journalists,
  • Marketers,
  • Merchandise [both shop at the corner of the stadium and online store],
  • Sales experts,
  • Events organisers,
  • B2B relations holder with sponsors and other companies,
  • R&D departments.

Simply saying, modern football clubs are often small- or medium-sized enterprises with an extensive demand for business experts in various fields. It’s not getting easier if you realise that you need to compete with other massive entertainment channels such as Netflix or YouTube. But don’t get stressed too early. More than half of these elements can be better off if you know how to make use of digital-age opportunities (and avoid its threats!). 

Thus, what should you expect from the new digital era? 

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

Many clubs used to acquire and analyse data from third-party sources such as social media channels. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter [and soon even your own Website] won’t be enough. Why? First of all, it’s not you who control what information your fans are giving to you. Secondly, privacy issues will get “sharper” soon. What does it mean?

Major browsing platforms [Safari, Firefox, Google] are on the way to make searching on the internet as private as possible. It will become extremely tough to track and target your users if they use multiple platforms and devices. Browsers privacy will influence the way clubs need to operate. Such limitations in the means to get to know your user will create a demand for new metrics.

Simultaneously, on the other hand, a direct personalisation of your actions is demanded by your fans. It means that you are “imprisoned” in the new digital landscape where both privacy and personalisation will be the keys. Is there any escape route?

Fortunately, yes! Your own CRM, fan registrations, surveys and loyalty programmes. They’ll constitute the key to gain and process data in accordance with GDPR. Attract your fans with digital possibilities. Still, make sure to inform supporters about your plans. Persuade them to share their data with you. Prove to them that you need it to make THEIR experience better. It’s also a challenge, but I’m sure you’ll find the way. Catch some of our examples of potential messages to your fans:

  • “We will reward your loyalty if we can recognise you in our system. Digital methods will allow you to receive exclusive content/promotions from us!”
  • “Unified merchandising, ticketing and loyalty systems will facilitate your process of logging-in. One username, one password. Use it to have all the things related to your favourite club in one place!” Check Tisa’s tool – WICKET!

If you want to get to know more about it, check Casper Heiselberg’s article. Under Casper’s supervision, F.C. Copenhagen sacrificed much time and effort in digital solutions. They prioritised it among many other investments. Consider if the focus on first-party data instead of third-party figures shouldn’t be your strategy as well.

YOUR MODERN FANS, GENERATIONS Y&Z ⇒ BORN WITH DIGITAL DEVICES

Have you ever wondered what your fans’ profiles will look like in 30 years? Currently, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, constitute 24% of the global population. And they already have their “successors” that are even more progressive – Generation Z!

Y = 24%, Z = 27%. What number do we get when we add Y to Z? 

Yes, it’s true. Already, ~51% of the global population are people born after 1980! 

Sebastian Kube, Vice-President of Sales Operations & Account Management at Nielsen Sports, in his presentation on the “Target Group of the Future” explained how clubs can win Gen Y&Z. It’s exactly the topic that you should have in mind if you want to keep your organisation focused on the future of football business, isn’t it?

Gen Z is accelerating what Gen Y has already started and what concerns broadly understood digitisation and digital transformation. That’s why you should analyse your sports club and compare what you can change to satisfy the needs of Gen Y&Z, while not “disturbing” Baby Boomers.

Sebastian shared with us various statistics. One of the most interesting was the comparison of Gen Y&Z to Baby Boomers in terms of their convenience to watch games and programmes on mobile apps. You need to know this to adjust your offer for future fans. Now you’re aware – no surprise here! Gen Y&Z feel twice [2x] more convenient. They are also twice more willing to pay a provider for online programming.

Add to these figures that nowadays, children are digital natives “born with smartphones in their hands”. Therefore, we can see now that the game won’t be about who carried out the digital transformation. The real question will be: “who did it better and now has a higher quality of digital solutions?”

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

An important characteristic of new generations is their willingness to be identified with history and values. Share your mission and story instead of simply advertising products. Nike can be the best benchmark for you on how to address the young.

Remember that new generations love social media. And smart use of it gives you open access to their network of contacts. What can you do? First of all, give them benefits for persuading their colleagues, friends or family to come with them to your game or buy a specific product from you. Secondly, try making each game unique. 

I cherish unique events and I will share my special moments on social media.” Is there anything that better describes the generation Y&Z (that I’m the part of, btw)? For that reason, it’s so valuable to make each event unique in a way that it’s “shareable” on social media.

Small tip from us: The more your idea concerns the owner of the social media account, the better the effects in terms of engagement of receivers!

The last but not least is the clubs’ approach to a relatively new discipline – Esports. This inconspicuous branch of entertainment was mentioned at the conference not only by Sebastian Kube but also by Timm Jägger and Marc Rondagh. Statistics leave no doubt. Esports creates an explosion among Gen Y&Z. You may treat it as a traditional sports competitor, but it seems that it’s better to make it a part of your brand. They already did it in Eintracht Frankfurt, they did it in the NBA, they’re doing it in Eredivisie. Are “Virtual Leagues an Alternative for Traditional Sports Clubs? Read our analysis.

DATA-DRIVEN FOOTBALL CLUB ⇒ THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

The relevance of collecting data seems to be already recognised by the majority of football clubs. However, what Peter Sprenger, CEO at Techonomy, emphasised in his Masterclass is that we should concentrate on the smart collection of focused data. It will facilitate the choice of solutions to reach supporters adequately.

The battle is over “hype relevance”. It stands for clubs fighting for customers’ attention with other big entertainment providers such as cinemas, theatres, dancing clubs and others. It’s getting difficult to grab your fans’ attention in such a competitive environment, isn’t it? Thus, you need to fight for micro-moments to win supporters’ hearts and minds. 

One of the best methods to make an impact as a data-driven club is a long and complexed Match Day. The most sophisticated analyses distinguish between 150 processes through which an average fan goes on the Match Day. And around 15 of them are unique touchpoints that you may directly use to enhance your fans experience. It will have a positive influence on your brand image (and sales as well).

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

Marketing and software are becoming more unified as time passes. Digital marketing is becoming a dominant channel. It’s on the way to conquer more than half of the market soon. Data-driven decisions are about to make a difference in this field.

The truth is that there’s already a great deal of data in clubs’ “storage”. Ticketing system, websites, social media platforms – all of these possess a massive amount of unorganised “knowledge”. But what we very often lack is a tool to process all the data we gather properly. The main goal is to centralise it so that it becomes usable. A data-management platform is what any club willing to become data-driven needs.

Transactional data + Behavioural Data ⇒ The recipe for your club’s success!

The adequate mixture of these two components will allow you to segment your fans in groups. Of course, the dream is to have all the individuals identified with their needs and expectations. But, unfortunately, it’s not always possible (yet?). Nonetheless, keep in mind that segmentation is closer to unique identification than any other method created so far. 

Once you’re able to build all major profiles of your fans, your all actions will become more efficient. It will be a successful investment that will allow you to approach people according to their real needs. The more you rely on first-party data (instead of third-party), the greater your chances to be ahead of your competition. 

Peter Sprenger had no doubt when he stated that building your “owned media platforms” is one of the best investments. Not only do they constitute valuable data assets, but they will also help you in the future to make the right decisions (or at least closer to the rightest ones)

Small tip from us: Consider an investment in dashboard solutions as well. Collecting data and reorganising it should be just the first step. The next one is to visualise it so that even “non-data people” could make use of it. The more employees understand data you have, the greater the chances of your club coming up with new, successful solutions.

Ultimately, all of these marketing solutions will lead you to the process of building a strong community. One of the crucial targets of modern football clubs? “Building a fanbase with segmented profiles based on all the interactions and transactions with consumers.” Thank you, Peter, for this insight!

INVESTMENT IN INNOVATION AS A WAY TO ENHANCE FAN EXPERIENCE

Innovation, innovative methods, innovative solutions… 

These expressions are so hot that they tend to be overused. The constantly changing reality and the new digital era makes it even more complicated. It’s easy to get lost in distinguishing between what’s a real innovation and what’s already passé. 

Juan Iraola, Chief Innovation Officer at Real Sociedad, came to us with help. In his presentation “From Digital Transformation to Digital Innovation”, Juan showed the way his club operates to stay innovative. And we have good information for you. This fits previous sections perfectly. 

What Peter Sprenger defined as “Transactional and Behavioural Data”, Real Sociedad calls “Backend and Frontend Data”. The former refers to physical transactions (such as payments for food at a stadium or purchase of merchandise] that your consumer [fan] has with you. The latter is about actions that you have with your supporters in media channels or while running real-live events. 

One of the crucial information they received from this data mixture is the change in the percentage of mobile use while acquiring information about Real Sociedad. In 2016, 50% of news checked by their fans referred to mobile phones. In 2019, this number increased to 72%. Recent statistics exceed even 80%.

Data-driven Club, Digital Age Challenges, Innovation and Fan Experience… or what happened at the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference

Analysis of data also allowed Real Sociedad to classify their fans in groups depending on their relevance [emotional attachment to the club] and the value [money] they bring in. The more information you possess about these groups and their individuals, the more efficient your actions will be. 

Digital transformation in obtaining and processing data was also a leading factor in Real Sociedad’s decision to invest in a digital innovation – OTT. After an in-depth analysis of the market and consumers, they decided to become a video broadcasting centre in order to enhance their fan experience

The majority of their video content will be free. Still, they decided to have the part of exclusive content available only after a small subscription fee. “The huge advantage of digital assets is its easiness to monetise it in uncertain times of COVID-19.”

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Cristiano Vieira, Innovation Developer at S.L. Benfica, told us about Benfica Play. It’s a platform where they show the everyday life of their players. Their training units, houses, way of living. It’s an OTT-like solution. 

Panagiotis Arioniadis, Director of Media at PAOK FC, showed us the wonderful results coming from his club investing in OTT. Their broadcasting centre allows them to build a strong connection with their fans. 

What about Maarten Dedobbeleer, Head of Content & Digital at Club Brugge? No surprise here. His presentation was on the positive effects coming from building your own media house. 

Still not sure whether your club should decide To OTT or not to OTT? Consider our advice here

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Other two investments that Real Sociedad believes in are AR [Augmented Reality] and AI [Artificial Intelligence]. That’s one of the reasons why they joined SIA [Sport Innovation Alliance], an organisation which associates 22 clubs from all over the world. SIA focuses on creating modern technological solutions for football clubs.

CONCLUSION

Usually, our conclusions tend to look different. However, this time we will leave you with 3[+1] thoughts coming straight from the FUTURE OF FOOTBALL BUSINESS Conference.

  1. Consider investing in your own Media House [OTT].
  2. Consider investing in your own Data Management Platform [with dashboard visualisation!].
  3. Analyse what the best ways to approach your modern/future fans are.

+1  “Instead of using digital technology to replace manual or paper-based systems, use digital systems to totally transform your business models and operations.” ~ Sean Conroy, Genius Sports at World Football Summit.