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The Premier League is the world’s richest football league and, with the 2015/16 season now in full swing, clubs are extending their horizons to the realms of digital marketing to improve how they engage with fans and provide digitally powered sponsorship initiatives.
Customer engagement and digital marketing are among the trends driving IT spending in 2015, according to analyst Gartner, as businesses look to capitalise on new market opportunities.
Social media is one of the easy wins, around which some teams have started to build a strategy. Earlier this year, Sunderland AFC introduced a social media hub, bringing together Twitter, Facebook and Google+ conversations in a single place.
“Social media is key to supporter engagement, and the launch of the social hub will showcase our online presence in a one-stop shop for our fans,” said Sunderland AFC’s commercial director, Gary Hutchinson.
Some industry watchers believe UK football clubs have, in some ways, been playing a defensive game, sticking with a proven formula for sponsorship and engaging with fans.
“The new emphasis on content and engagement has brought social media to the fore. But football hasn’t moved fast enough,” Antony Marcou, chief executive of London-based sports media and digital marketing agency Sports Revolution, wrote in a recent article. “Too often, the typical ‘package’ offered to a sponsor today is the predictable mix of shirt, interview backdrop, LED minutes, club programme and website. That hasn’t changed in years. Brand owners demand a more modern and sophisticated approach, with digital fan engagement at the centre.”
Digital opportunities in the Premier League
- Track playing statistics and open up this data to fans. This may be particularly useful as a way to extend reach in the US market where pundits and fans are interested in this information.
- Track fan attendance for more accurate match attendance records. This can be useful for managing ticket prices and monitoring attendance to predict if certain matches need to be promoted more than others.
- Track team and individual player sentiment. It would be interesting to analyse if a player’s Twitter reach, social score and social mentions correlate to their valuations.
Source: Sean Donnelly, senior research analyst, Econsultancy
Digital football initiatives
In recent weeks, two Premier League clubs have embarked on digital transformations, hiring IT services firms to help them engage with fans and sponsors more seamlessly.
Chelsea FC recently signed a deal with IT services firm Wipro, which it claimed will help the club re-imagine the digital and technology experience by creating experiences for millions of fans, from the in-stadium, game-day experience to the digital experience any time and anywhere.
“We plan on using this partnership to truly enhance the fan experience for millions of Chelsea supporters worldwide,” said Chelsea FC managing director Christian Purslow. “It is also exciting for Chelsea FC to enter into a global partnership with Wipro, given its significant presence and brand coverage in India – a market where we have more than 50 million passionate supporters and where there is great potential to further our fan base.”
It is a similar story at premiership rival Manchester United, which recently signed a contract with IT provider HCL Technologies, launching the United Xperience Lab based at Old Trafford. It selected HCL to bring the club, footballers, sponsors and fans closer together through technology.
Manchester United is reported to have 650 million followers worldwide, so the partnership with HCL offers the club a chance to figure out how to engage with fans better, but also provide potentially compelling targeted marketing for its sponsors.
Krishnan Chatterjee, senior vice-president of Beyond Digital at HCL Technologies, said: “There is potential to create an enterprise ecosystem where co-sponsors could be invited into the lab.”
Local rival Manchester City is also on the attack with a new IT-driven initiative. In July 2015, the club announced it would be using SAP as part of a drive to innovate with technology. “Our common ambition is to create groundbreaking football-specific technology solutions and products, and I have every confidence that we will be successful,” said club chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak.
Manchester City Football Group is using SAP Hana and SAP cloud software as part of its strategy to support the players and coaches and re-invent the fan experience.
Improving fan experiences
Customer experience is one of the topics that digital business specialist Econsultancy has been focusing on.
“Sports clubs and players have graduated from measuring their fan base through match attendance, purchase of replica jerseys and receipt of fanmail to tracking Facebook likes, Twitter engagement and sentiment analysis,” said Sean Donnelly, senior research analyst at Econsultancy. “Some of the bigger Premier League clubs have incredibly strong international brands.”
In Donnelly’s experience, consumers today engage with brands across multiple channels and demand more relevant experiences from those engagements. “To respond to these demands, organisations are developing ways to track and actively manage each and every customer touchpoint,” he added.
So it is no surprise to see some clubs experimenting with new ways of interacting with fans. One example is the introduction of wearables at Southhampton FC. Through a tie-up with Barclays, the club has begun offering stadium access with a swipe of the wrist through Barclays’ bPay contactless payment system. It has created bPay-band-only lanes to enable users to avoid queues for food and drinks, and is offering special deals on merchandise.
In the Forrester paper Five urgent truths about the future of wearables that every leader should know, analyst JP Gownder highlighted this recent innovation at Southampton FC, which he said is helping to sweeten the customer experience for ticket holders.
“This form of mobile engagement can drive customer loyalty by driving contextually relevant, exceptionally convenient experiences – the hallmarks of a strong mobile engagement approach. The bPay band is also driving new incremental revenue as partners design new customer experiences,” Gownder added.
As Econsultancy’s Donnelly noted, what these clubs are all doing is consistent with other commercial organisations. New digital processes will replace traditional business processes, and the Premier League is now starting this journey.