Although the appeal of football remains as strong as ever, football clubs will need to adjust their business strategies to ensure the loyalty of their fans. With the world more and more interconnected and digitalised, football fans expect their football clubs to join the digitalisation in order to provide the full customer experience, research by PwC, International Football Arena and Exozet shows. In their research, the partners highlight 5 digital trends they expect to positively benefit those clubs embarking on the digital journey.
Football is the world’s most popular ball game with an estimated 250 million players* in over 200 countries worldwide, followed by its 3.3-3.5 billion fans. Its appeal is unrivalled and universal, however, the way in which fans engage with football has changed significantly over the past years. Fans are increasingly demanding digitalised engagement methods, as a result of the evermore technology-driven world, and especially the use of social media has increased rapidly in recent years. As a result of the digitalisation, fans can now interact with their club beyond the 90 minutes of playing time.
Although it is clear that fans desire a more and more technology-driven engagement, especially the ‘digital natives’, many football clubs are still taking a wait-and-see approach as deciding on which digital opportunities to embark on can be difficult. According to PwC, International Football Arena and Exozet, clubs can no longer refuse digital as it offers many opportunities for the clubs in addition to fan loyalty. In order to grasp these gains, football clubs will need a whole new business strategy for the digital age. In their joint study, titled ‘Football’s Digital Transformation - Growth opportunities for football in the digital age’, the three partners reflect on five key trends in the digital world and highlight their potential impact on the way football operations are run today. Consultancy.uk provides a summary of these five trends:
The first trend is a digitally integrated ecosystem which will, according to the researchers, provide the answer to growing expectations for personalised and hyper-targeted content. Fans are increasingly expecting personalised content with contextual relevance available to them where and when they desire. To accommodate this trend, clubs’ operating models will have to focus on four aspects: a strategic priority of digital transformation, an understanding of the scope of the data, the right intelligence to analyse the data, and an appropriate organisational structure within the club.
Crowdsourcing can offer a powerful tool when used as digital teamwork between the club and its fans. As fans are willing and wanting to engage with their club beyond the 90 minutes, clubs can make use of this by enlisting their fans’ help and expertise to solve issues and problems. According to the report, “listening to fans will open doors for business, financial and performance solutions which are effective in terms of cost and time.” In addition, will this tactic reinforce fan loyalty and take fan engagement a big step forward.
To extent their audience engagement, football clubs will have to diversify their content portfolio and use multiple channels to communicate their club brand, engage with existing fans and gain new audiences. Especially the use of social media will be used more and more by clubs and players to target fans. Another major driver of engagement with and among fans, as the researchers explain, is the digitalisation of the match day, with fans exchanging experiences in the stadium via social media and digital gadgets. The report lists four factors key for clubs’ social media success: an overarching strategy, real communication and dialogue with fans, improved social media tracking capabilities, and increased engagement of sponsors.
Match Data & Wearables
The researchers expect that connecting teams, players and fans with match data combined with wearables will offer new business models; creating more fan engagement and expanding digital marketing strategies that football clubs and players will be able to exploit.
Digitalisation of the transfer market will offer several benefits to football as it will “boost transparency, make transfer fees more rationable, and improve the overall quality competition between clubs.” It will democratise’ the market as a result of easier access to information and communication. The researchers list three trends that will drive this development: the increased use of analytics; the adoption of digital forms of personal networking and communication; and the progressive digitalisation of the marketplace.
The partners conclude that footbal clubs will need to adjust their business strategies and embrace digital to ensure the loyalty of their fans. David Dellea, Head of Sports Business Advisory at PwC and one of the others, explains: “In the digital age, football clubs need to develop new business models and marketing strategies if they want to remain competitive off the field as well as on. A growing generation of football fans has grown up in the digital world. And especially for these “digital natives”, a club’s digital offering will play a crucial role in determining whether they become fans of the club and ultimately remain loyal to it.”
* This was estimated by football’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), at the beginning of the 21st century.