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Matt Pascoe

Senior Conceptual Designer

​How Can Football Clubs Engage Fans Using Digital?

Sports entertainment is now being consumed in totally different ways. Matt looks at how football clubs will need to evolve with new technologies.

In the last 5 years, there has been huge advancement in how we consume our favourite news and entertainment. I read somewhere that there are now more mobile phones on the planet than there are toothbrushes, and these phones are being used for much more than just calling. Our ‘always on’ society has now opened the door for a different type of user engagement and data consumption, a market that the world of sport could really utilize on every level.

A month or so ago, I was in London, listening to the very insightful Sanjit Atwal of Squawka. He was talking about how big data can enrich not only the football fan experience, but also club management. He argued that the average fan is now ready for the huge amount of data that is being collected, and people finally understand how to use it to make their own football experience better.

This is an important step for football fans everywhere. Not only do we have the technology to create personalized experiences, but as a population, our understanding of how to analyse complex data is becoming second nature. The classic pub football debate may soon be a thing of the past, we can not only have our opinions but we can back it up with genuine fact on the spot.

Utilising Technology

The data revolution is already here, and the usage possibilities are endless. The problem is, as fans, we aren’t being digitally engaged on a club level. Football clubs are forever being shot at for not connecting with their fans, instead choosing to spend their time constructing corporate deals and grooming high profile sponsors. Who can blame them? Surely fans must understand that the clubs need money to afford the horrifically expensive players that those same fans feel the club need for success?

This is simply a part of the modern game and it must be accepted. However, most clubs (especially the ones less likely to land the big sponsorship deals) still rely on fans to put bums on seats every match day, as well as selling club shirts, programmes, food & drink, hospitality packages and pretty much anything else the club shop can put a team crest on. Premier League teams have the branding rights, players and the international reach to make money from all of these methods, but what about The Football League?

I support Peterborough United, and I am very excited by the work currently being done by the club’s digital marketing executive, Neil Gilby and the rest of the team at London Road. They have brought Posh fans a wealth of digital material over the closed season. I’ve enjoyed a host of video shorts that bring me as a fan closer to both the team and the management. From the more traditional player interviews all the way to bonkers glimpses into the personalities of the players. How many clubs out there would you get the chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, interviewing the manager, Darren Ferguson? I was thrilled to see the two men talking honestly and openly about the club, the management and the players.

However, the fact of the matter is regardless of how great this content is, I still don’t feel the club has an adequate website for fans to make it their go to place for everything Posh. Football League clubs currently offer fans a small number of templated sites with no real variety or soul, there is a pay to use service that for me doesn’t really hit the mark, with minimal, and on the whole, slow-to-appear content that leaves our ‘always on’ society with much to desire. So what could clubs do to ensure their fans (or should I say customers?) are engaged with their off-the-pitch offering?

1) More Insight

Give fans the live data and statistics that they now crave. Pushing data onto people may not have worked in the past, but things have changed. The average fan has managed to work ‘big data’ into their everyday enjoyment of sport. Fans can already get post-match highlights & analysis for free, but its the real-time, in-game experience that is lacking. I now live nearly 3 hours from Peterborough and can’t get to matches week in, week out. It simply doesn’t work. But I still want to feel that connection with my club and much to the frustration of my wife, come three o’clock Saturday I am glued to my phone waiting for news from the game.

Betting companies, and to a point the BBC Sport app, are bringing live data to fans but again, the main club site doesn’t do this. Live text commentary alongside a Squawka data feed could be the tip of the iceberg in keeping fans on top of the action, regardless of whether or not they are viewing the game at the stadium, or from the comfort of their own home.

People want to see the full player stats from every match, with full access to any area of the game or players performance at any time. This not only sparks informed debate about the games through social channels, but it also hits on a very real need for people to understand behind the scenes. Its the same reason we pay for collectors edition and directors cut versions of our favourite films.

This relentless thirst for knowledge has been echoed by The Football League’s Director of Digital, Russell Scott. With more ‘behind-the-scenes’ content being created to give fans an idea of what goes into running a successful club, from the player’s training regimes all the way to how their chefs prepare their meals.

2) Renewed Community Spirit

The clubs may see the bigger overall football picture, but fans will only ever see their supported team as their own town club. Although narrow sighted, this creates die-hard, passionate fans who would go well out of their way to have some sort of connection with a club.

This is where social media could be used to plug into what is being said by the avid community and invite more conversation on match day talking points. Showcasing community projects and engagement could also help encourage both more engagement and even get local businesses to cross promote their services.

Some teams even have players who have a larger community following than the club itself. Players such as Joey Barton (although recently promoted to the Premier League), seem to transcend their club and engage fans with controversial and opinionated content. Could a player’s following become a part of a their contract value? It has certainly been done before.

3) Sell The Dream

Going to watch games used to be a complete treat, but with recent advancements in viewing technology, fans are more often than not preferring to watch games in the comfort of their own homes. Never before has the stadium had to compete with a superior home experience. So how do clubs 1-up the armchair?

Streaming content to fan’s mobile devices at the game seems like a great way to create a more engaged stadium experience, but with so many people in one place, poor signal becomes a very real problem. Its not all doom and gloom though, as some clubs are offering free wi-fi services and Cisco even offer a ‘Connected Stadium’ product, specifically to enable clubs to stream content to mobile devices.

This way, video highlights, fan reactions, digital match programmes, alternative commentary, voucher codes, social conversations and fan made content can all be part of the stadium experience. All of these engagement levels could then be tracked for later analysis, giving club content producers all the data they need to evolve the experience further.

Locker Room Discussion

Until very recently, football teams seem to have paid little attention to their digital offering. However, this is changing, and fast. Under the direction of Russell Scott, The Football League are shaping up and with forward thinking clubs such as Peterborough and Brighton leading the charge, it won’t be long before my digital thirst is quenched.

P.S. If you would like to see Squawka’s charismatic CEO, Sanjit Atwal, talk big data in Football, you can sign up to our RawSport event on the 28th August below:

With enhanced live coverage, catch-up TV services, exclusive online content, interactive features, huge social media integration, second-screen experiences and the ability to watch every game on any device, Brazil 2014 attempted to be a global digital event like no other.

Brands, broadcasters, teams and even players themselves used digital channels to heavily interact with fans across the globe. The question is: Will Brazil 2014 live up to the digital hype?

On the 28th August, Join us at the Rawnet offices for free drinks and discussion, analysing the digital success of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.