Know the score Jun 29, 2023

KNOW THE SCORE: Football leagues and digital development

KNOW THE SCORE: Football leagues and digital development

KNOW THE SCORE is a series of talks where TISA Group invites interesting guests to talk about the latest trends, challenges and best practices at the intersection of business, sport and technology.

In the eleventh issue, Joachim Stelmach met with Marcin Pelc, TISA Group’s Product Owner and former New Media Manager at Ekstraklasa S.A., to discuss the current digital development and the future of European football leagues.

Marcin Pelc is a versatile professional with a strong background in economics, marketing, and sports management. With +10 years of experience in marketing and interactive campaign management, Marcin is well-versed in the European and Polish markets.

In 2016, Marcin obtained an MBA in sports management from Real Madrid/UEM, adding valuable skills to his repertoire. From 2017 to 2022, he played a vital role at Ekstraklasa S.A., overseeing the official league APP and gaining insights into the sports industry.

Let’s see what Marcin has to share about European football leagues!


Joachim Stelmach: What are the biggest benefits that digital transformation brings to Football Leagues?

Marcin Pelc: I consider this on two levels. First, football leagues have to keep up with global digital changes and in business. Trends in the world of football and in the economy naturally influence Football Leagues and their needs for digital transformation. Secondly, digital transformation is reaching out to younger people and their engagement-related needs.

Therefore, in my opinion, digital transformation should be carried out on two levels and should also bring benefits on two fronts. On the one hand, it should be aimed at dedicated league users – I mean, expanding digital channels, advanced statistical tools, and fantasy games. On the other hand, the league should focus on being open to new fans and creating mainstream content that will capture fans teetering on the edge of interest in league football.


Joachim Stelmach: What exactly do you mean by keeping up with changes in business?

Marcin Pelc: I mean, other industries affect the world of football and vice versa. In some areas, sport is a trendsetter, but I would say that is in the vast minority. Sport, for example, creates new trends in the use of advanced online statistics. However, in the area of sales automation, the sports industry is not a trendsetter, and sports can learn a lot from other branches of business in this area.


Joachim Stelmach: Can you tell us about the use of digital tools to improve fan engagement and revenue in football leagues?

Marcin Pelc: There is no obvious answer to this question. In my opinion, there is no such direct way to commercialise the user, as in, there is no golden mean that would be the universal key to achieve this goal. I believe it’s more based on acting in various fields, such as creating extensive branding in social media or creating interactive applications for users. Football leagues, especially those outside the European Top 5, are not able to generate revenue from digital development in a straightforward and defined way. Usually, they rely on processes based on cooperation with a specific sponsor. 


Joachim Stelmach: Do newly promoted teams, mid-table teams, and league leaders have equal opportunities for digital development? On the one hand, there are the established giants who have huge budgets for digital needs. On the other hand, there are newcomers who cannot afford the same solutions.

Marcin Pelc: You have to look at the world of sports as you would any other branch of the economy. There are sports entities that are able to invest a lot of money in digital, making it one of the biggest goals. There are entities that often only need to rebuild their image as innovative entities, and this is enough of a reason to finance digital development.

Digital development is still expensive to finance, so in cases such as the Polish league, there are large differences between teams in terms of digital development. Newcomers to the league often prefer to focus on staying in the league, which provides them money from TV broadcasts, rather than developing their mobile applications, OTT, website, etc. And this is an understandable approach if we take into account the revenues from TV rights and digital at the moment.


Joachim Stelmach: Despite the differences in the digital development of football clubs, can the digital development of the league itself affect the state of football clubs?

Marcin Pelc: In my opinion, football leagues and their digital development can be an overarching determinant and example of the development of football clubs across the league. A good example to discuss is the US MLS. Of course, this is a different model of football than in Europe. Rather than operating as an association of independent clubs, each team is owned by the league and managed individually by the league’s investors. As a result, as the league grows digitally, so do all member clubs. 

How could the league influence the rest of the clubs digital development? By building and introducing a database of all fans coming to matches. A league that has a detailed supporter base across all demographics has a greater impact on increasing the value of media rights. The greater the value of media rights, the greater the sum to be shared with football clubs. That’s just one example among many others.


Joachim Stelmach: You mentioned how important it is for the league and clubs to know about their fans. What do the youngest fans expect now?

Marcin Pelc: There is a big mistake in this question, because it is not that the fans are getting younger; on the contrary, they are getting older. When we look at the stadium stands, we notice that the vast majority of fans are over 30 years old. For them, it is a form of entertainment, often cultivated for years or from generation to generation. However, it is not the case that young people take up watching live football with enthusiasm.

The challenge is getting their attention to watch the game for 90 minutes or even come to the stadium. The key is to understand that the football match should be the moment when the fan comes to experience the match of his beloved team with a group of people who share the same emotions. And it makes no difference whether it is the Bundesliga, Premier League, or Polish Ekstraklasa. The key to league communication is building these emotions among fans.

The emotions that football can build on many ages and cultural levels are enormous. The best example of this is a well-known photo from the 2014 World Cup final, after which Angela Merkel celebrates Germany’s extra-time goal. There are no other ordinary products or experiences that can elicit the same profound emotional responses as sports do.


Joachim Stelmach: In the past, you worked on creating a mobile application for the Polish Ekstraklasa. What was the overall outcome of that project?

Marcin Pelc: The TISA Group-created application for Ekstraklasa has been a resounding success, given the league’s resources and capabilities. The application offers personalised news and notifications for fans, a wide range of statistics for the most enthusiastic supporters, exclusive video content, and interactive quizzes. In the opinion of the industry, Ekstraklasa could easily be in the top 5 of the most technologically advanced football leagues in Europe. The mobile app has played a significant role in this success and also helps Ekstraklasa secure sponsorship contracts. 

A Fantasy League game was also developed and added to the mobile app, catering to the most passionate users/fans. The game was created in the spirit of old-school Fantasy Leagues. Fantasy League turned out to be an effective way to engage fans in the 25+ age group and monetise their participation. Fans from this age group actively participate in the game and purchase premium add-ons. An average Fantasy League player would open the game at least a couple of times per week, and actively check their results while watching the game live at the stadium or on television.

Joachim Stelmach: Thank you, Marcin, for sharing your insights on the benefits of digital transformation in football leagues. It’s been a fascinating conversation, and I appreciate your expertise in this area.

Marcin Pelc: You’re welcome, Joachim. It was my pleasure to discuss the digital landscape in football leagues with you. I hope our conversation shed some light on the challenges and opportunities that arise from embracing digital transformation in the world of football.


KNOW THE SCORE: Football leagues and digital development