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Arsenal uses Innovation Lab accelerator to improve worldwide fan experience

Arsenal’s Innovation Lab programme has enabled collaboration with “world-class” startups to offer the best experience for fans in the future, says the club’s IT director

Arsenal football club, in collaboration with corporate innovation specialist L Marks, has worked with six startups as part of a 10-week accelerator to improve fan experience.

The enterprise began the programme in September 2017 before selecting the best of 250 applicants. The startups’ products included advancements to the club’s online store and services for supporters at the stadium.

The scheme gave the startup companies access to mentors from Arsenal’s leadership team and from an external network of contacts, along with live testing of their product with fans. The startups then showcased their work to the club’s business executives at the Emirates stadium in March 2018.  

Arsenal’s IT director, Hywel Sloman, said the club started the Innovation Lab with four aims, one of which was to find startups with ideas the club would have missed otherwise.

“We’ve gone from 250 applicants to six truly world-class startups we’re working with and who we can get close to. Without this programme, I probably would never have come across those six startups and I’d just be missing out on huge opportunities,” he said.

Dayne Turbitt, senior vice-president of Dell EMC’s UK and Ireland sales division, said working with startups can bring new talent and fresh ideas to the large companies they work with.

“In today’s world, if you are not an inquisitive enterprise, you are missing a trick because you get two things – one, you get really cool ideas invented that weren’t invented here; and two, you get talent that may or may not choose to work for you naturally.”  

The club’s supporters were also key in starting Arsenal’s programme, with Sloman saying it was “an opportunity for us to try new things to improve fan experience and the services we offer fans”.

As technology continues to change customer demand, companies need to ensure they understand their target market. Businesses which address consumer expectations will have a competitive advantage for the future, whereas those who do not risk collapsing.

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Arsenal’s programme aims to use the startups to change how the club approaches some of its technology challenges. Sloman said these startups have “different ways of working and generate lots of internal excitement and energy”.

“We’ve demonstrated on this programme that problems that would normally take us three to four months to resolve have been turned around inside 10 weeks, so it’s just changed the way we work,” he said.

Future outlook for fans

According to Sloman, one of the changing customer demands is the increasing need for Wi-Fi in the stadium. The club’s London rivals Chelsea FC addressed this expectation by signing a two-year deal with Ericsson in July 2017 to bring “seamless” connectivity to Stamford Bridge.

For match days, Sloman said Arsenal is continuously thinking about how to use technology to improve the experience.

“How can we use technology and those customer expectations to enhance the match day experience? It can be in many ways, such as asking how can we reduce queue time? How can we enhance people’s understanding of the game? How can we give people context that is only available in the stadium that wouldn’t be available on TV?” he said.

“Those are all questions we’re asking and evolving, but what is almost key to us is that for the 45 minutes of the game [per half], we want to make it as compelling as possible so people are actively engaging with the game itself.”

Collaboration with startups

Sloman said working with small companies in projects like the Arsenal Innovation Lab can bring a new vibrancy to the enterprise, while also developing the product for the startup.

“It allows us to bring energy, dynamism, new ideas [and] bleeding edge. For the startups, it’s an opportunity to work in a big organisation,” he said.

“We’ve got this enormous brand but we’re quite a small organisation in terms of organisational footprint, meaning we can work at a speed that startups appreciate.”

He added that if these companies’ products can work for the millions of Arsenal fans worldwide, it will push them forward in their attempts to develop as businesses.

“Without exception, all six of them would say their business has improved significantly and their products have come on a lot from the learning they got from this 10-week lab,” he said. 

While there will not be a winner from the programme, Sloman said the club is in conversation with all six startups about working with them on a long-term basis.

Six startups in Arsenal’s Innovation Lab

  1. WoraPay – A mobile payment businesses that worked with Arsenal to enable supporters at the stadium to order food and beverages and get them delivered.
  2. I like that – An e-commerce startup that allows customers to buy products, including those from Arsenal.com, on one platform instead of visiting the retailer’s website. 
  3. Aireal – An augmented reality (AR) company that worked with Arsenal to provide 3D AR objects such as trophies and players for fans to interact with.
  4. BotNation – An artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot platform that worked with Arsenal on its e-commerce store.
  5. Peak – An analytics company, which used AI to provide Arsenal with information about what affected traffic on its website.
  6. KonnecTo – An AI platform which worked with Arsenal to give better insight about its supporters.

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