English Premier League clubs lead the way with digital fan experience

15 December 2017 Consultancy.uk

Digital technology has transformed the way that businesses across all industries are expected to interact with their customers – and the world’s most popular sport is no different. According to the latest figures, the vast majority of top tier football clubs now use apps to engage with their fans, with English Premier League clubs leading the way among Europe’s elite leagues.

According to the latest analysis from KPMG’s ‘Football Benchmark’, thanks to a constantly growing appetite for content in an age of 24/7 news and constant social network engagement, the digital experience has long been an essential component of the football fan experience. As a result of the disintermediation of the club-fan relationship, this responsibility falls largely on football clubs, but, in many cases, clubs find themselves lacking the resources to meet this demand.  

KPMG’s researchers state that responsive apps are a core element of the digital environment, even more so as clubs increasingly understand the importance of owning the content they generate. Thanks to the pervasiveness of digital technology, particularly smartphones, clubs can put out news and features which they can make direct revenue from, rather than relying on the press for distribution – giving them inexpensive access to communication techniques that have long been the preserve of only the most elite clubs. MUTV was established for similar purposes almost 20 years ago, as Manchester United sought to grow their global profile, while owning content they put out during what was becoming the most successful era in the club’s history.

Now, even mid-table sides can utilise such potential, catering for the demand of fans who want content before, during, and after each game, while enabling themselves to benefit from yet another avenue of sponsorship via advertising on the apps. Applications provide a platform to meet these requirements, constantly feeding the clubs’ system with new data, memorised to create a “virtual” person for whom offerings, such as different ticket categories or merchandising products, are customised. Despite the major benefits, 34% of clubs in the European ‘big five’ leagues still lack an official app, on Google Play or iTunes.Percentage of top tier clubs with an official App on Itunes or Google PlayEnglish clubs are presently way ahead of the curve, with a 6% higher level of digital permeation than rivals in the German Bundesliga, despite being a larger league. 95% of England’s top tier clubs have an official app on iTunes or Google Play, leaving just one of the twenty teams in the top division without such a presence. 2015/16 champions Leicester City are, at time of writing, the only team not to provide fans with an app, despite making concerted efforts to expand their local and global fan-base in light of their recent and unexpected success. The team only won promotion from the Championship two seasons before their coup, which saw them reach the Champions League quarter-finals in the spring of 2017.

Mirroring this trend, in German’s premier division, surprise success story RB Leipzig, who finished second in the league last season following their promotion in just the previous campaign, qualifying for the Champions League – have yet to catch up with the digital trend. Just two of the 32 from 98 European clubs without an app reside in the Bundesliga. The only other club is Hannover 96, who were promoted at the end of the 2016-17 season. Longer term members in both leagues have all made sure their digital offerings are easily accessible, as cheap and simple methods of expanding their support and income globally in a way that would have previously been incredibly difficult, and costly.

Leagues apart

However, while English clubs lead the way in terms of hosting apps, they lag behind German football’s smaller and more equitable league in terms of downloads. No club outside the ‘big six’ of Manchester United and City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs, received more than 100,000 downloads on Google Play. Bundesliga clubs, however, saw as many as eight clubs recording greater than 100,000 downloads. Unsurprisingly, in leagues which boasted far fewer apps, 100,000-plus downloads were still achieved by the major clubs in Spain (FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico), France (Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyonnais, Olympique Marseille – though notably, not champions Monaco) and Italy (Juventus, AC Milan, Napoli and AS Roma).

While it should also be noted that these figures are influenced to a large extent by the size of the club’s fan base, rather than the quality of the digital offering, that is predominantly the aim of these apps. These are, realistically speaking, marketing tools, which are designed to find new ways of engaging incumbent fans with content which appears alongside sponsored messages, as well as to engage new fans in this manner with relatively minimal effort. However, KPMG’s analysts note that thanks to the steadily building mountain of content now available from clubs even outside of Europe’s elite, clubs need to provide a superior fan experience, both in terms of content and the user experience, if the potential of this technique is to be realised, and they are to differentiate themselves from the horde of other mid-table clubs trying the same thing, as digital revenues become the beautiful game’s fourth revenue pillar.

National footballing institutions are also getting in on the act, as they seek to use digital offerings as a way to boost engagement, as well as public perception of the game’s governing bodies. Recently, this saw the English Football Association engage consulting firm Cognizant to design a new digital platform to boost female football. Following a racism scandal at the top of the England Women’s team, the FA’s ‘For Girls’ app offers the latest news, content and information to engage female football fans and players of all ages – as the FA works to repair its relationship with the female side of soccer.


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Champions League glory hard to buy for football’s economic elite

15 March 2019 Consultancy.uk

The thrills and spills of knock-out football can still be one of the sport’s great levelling forces, with the Champions League’s second round having shown that the biggest spenders aren’t always able to buy their way to glory. While a league format broadly favours the squad depth of the beautiful game’s richest teams, half of the tournament’s wealthier teams exited in the first one-on-one elimination round.

As the Champions League burst back into life in February, following an agonising winter break, only two of the 16 teams re-launching their Champions League last-16 bid were from outside the so-called Big Five football leagues. With the exceptions of Portuguese champions FC Porto and Dutch footballing powerhouse AFC Ajax, teams from the world’s biggest spending leagues monopolised the second round. As outlined by analysis from KPMG’s Football Benchmark, the Premier League was represented by four teams, with three clubs come from La Liga and the Bundesliga respectively, while Serie A and Ligue 1 both retained two clubs.

This followed a grimly predictable group phase, which had seen the two most expensive squads progress in all but one of the eight collections of four teams. The one team to buck that trend, Ajax, had last won Europe’s premier club competition in 1995, but those halcyon days have long since faded into memory, and Ajax had failed to progress beyond the group stage in 13 years. With the second youngest squad in the tournament, what now seems to be an awakening football giant had some shocks in store for the second round too.

Group Stage values

Despite an impressive Europa League run which saw the team reach the final two years ago, Ajax had not progressed in a Champions League knockout stage tie since the 1996-97 campaign. That all changed this time, as Erik ten Hag’s men overturned a first leg deficit to trounce Real Madrid 5-3 on aggregate. Having felt hard done by in a 2-1 defeat at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, the Amsterdam club cruised to a 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu, a result which saw the tournament’s fourth most expensive squad crash out to the third cheapest remaining team.

The supremely expensive team, which had won three Champions Leagues on the trot, had crashed out in spectacular style. For many footballing purists, the end of the seemingly invincible Galacticos would have been enough to restore some of their faith in the sport – but there would soon be more schadenfreude to revel in, as a succession of Europe’s most bank-breakingly costly teams would soon join Los Blancos in their exit.

The pick of the bunch was unquestionably Paris Saint-Germain, who forfeited a 2-0 first leg advantage to somehow crash out of the Champions League. The team, who are fast becoming known as the foremost bottlers in Europe, faced a grim dissection in the French press following a 3-1 defeat by Manchester United at Le Parc de Princes. While it would be over-egging it to paint United as ‘giant killers’, the Red Devils squad is worth markedly less than the club bankrolled by Qatari oil money. PSG hold two of the most expensive players of all time in French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian playboy Neymar.

Second Round values

Elsewhere, the round’s cheapest squad proved further that money is not everything, as Porto overcame Roma (the Italian club has since parted ways with manager Eusebio Di Francesco in the wake of this humbling) – while Juventus battled back to beat Atlético Madrid. The most ‘balanced’ tie of the round, there was a squad value difference of only €22 million between the two squads, in favour of the Spanish giant. With that being said, €113 million of Juve’s price-tag came from the summer acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s tie-settling hat-trick went to show that money spent in the right place ultimately makes the difference.

Spending wisely

At the same time, there were also four teams which lived up to their large price-tags. Manchester City pummelled Schalke over the course of two legs, hammering the German team 7-0 in the second game. With the largest squad market value in the tournament, the Citizens showed that their spending had not merely been a frenzy provoked by having large amounts of money to throw about – a la PSG – and that every penny had in fact been used to craft one of the continent’s most well-balanced and dangerous teams, to ultimately contend for the title.

Tottenham Hotspur similarly brushed off Borussia Dortmund, while Liverpool eventually overcame Bayern Munich, to leave no German teams in the tournament. Meanwhile, Barcelona similarly did for the French contingent of the Champions League, bundling out Olympique Lyonnais 5-1.

Operating Revenues

Going forward, the humbled economic superpowers of European football will take solace from the fact that their huge operating revenues will allow them to buy up talent which has emerged in this year’s Champions League. With Real Madrid having re-installed Zinidine Zidane as Head Coach, the club has already committed itself to spending big in the summer, cashing in some €50 million of its €743 billion revenue stream from last year to sign Éder Militão from Porto – who has impressed in this year's Champions League – in the summer.

Whether the PSG project is financially sustainable in the long-term remains to be seen, meanwhile, but with a huge portion of commercial revenues including shirt-sales from the club’s array of superstars, it will likely also seek to bring in more big names in the summer. The club was reportedly in the running to sign Ajax star Frenkie de Jong, before Barcelona finally secured his services from the end of the season.

The likes of Ajax will meanwhile face an uncomfortable wait, as a range of its new crop of outstanding players inevitably attract the attentions of Europe’s top spenders. With the lowest operating revenues of any team left in Europe, the club will face an uphill struggle to hang on to the likes of teenage captain Matthijs de Ligt. However, it would not be the first time that the club has been plundered for its top talent, and what Ajax and clubs of its size can take forward is that with the right eye for lower-key recruitment, they can rebuild, and still challenge Europe’s elite.