English Premier League clubs lead the way with digital fan experience

15 December 2017 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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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.