In a world with abundant information, infinite amount of touchpoints between users and brands, and powerful algorithms capable of identifying hidden patterns and that can even predict future behavior, being able to extract and understand data has become a “must” for any football organization.
In the past, data management was considered simply a competitive advantage for football clubs, but in the present, not having a robust data plan puts clubs at risk of falling behind.
Data management was present across several panels during Football Innovation Forum 2022 in Sevilla, and this transition was probably best summarized by Fabio Gallo, Head of Product at LaLiga Tech:
“Data and sport are starting to connect to each other. Sports properties are now looking at data differently and they’re shifting from content companies to data companies.”
This rings true across the entirety of the sports landscape and is made highly visible behind any D2C initiative football clubs undertake (through OTTs, direct to consumer merchandise sales, etc.). Teams are in the middle of an aggressive race towards using data through several realms in an effort to obtain any sort of competitive advantage. In this article, based on the knowledge that was shared at FIF22, we will look at how and where football clubs are focusing their attention when it comes to data management.
The value of the data is proven by the quality of the question
Elias Zamora, Chief Data Officer at Sevilla FC, arguably gave the best advice when dealing with data management projects in football through stating the following:
“When people speak about data, you have to think about the word ‘information’. Data has to be useful – how does it help me to achieve my targets? The key point is the question which my information solves.”
To truly extract the value of a data set, you need to have a deep understanding of what you are trying to detect. Otherwise, you will be aimlessly looking at numbers. Therefore, we must understand that the quality of the data and final decision drawn from this information actually depends on the quality of the initial question.
The realms of data management
As Fabio correctly pointed out, “Data has to be about fan engagement, new content enrichment strategies, competition management and so much more.”
🗣️"Data has to be about fan engagement, new content enrichment strategies, competition management, and so much more."
— World Football Summit (@WFSummit) May 18, 2022
Indeed, the application of data is endless.
Perhaps fan engagement in one of the most strategic areas as it can lead to increased revenues. Both Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié are two of the most renowned and proactive clubs in the world regarding the area of data management. This is what they had to say on the importance of understanding fans through this data:
“We need to understand our fans better and who they are today. The quality of data that we manage helps us understand our 280M fans globally.” – Jorge Paradela, Business General Manager at Sevilla FC
“There is a challenge for all clubs to know their clients and for customization for each fan, because each fan is unique.” – Ramón Alarcón, CEO at Real Betis Balompié
This is probably why some organizations, and not only in sport, are making such a strong push in favor of Web3 initiatives. The potential use case is that the fan will interact with their personal crypto wallet which is unique to him or her. On the other hand, because blockchain-based transactions are theoretically transparent and trackable, one can really understand each fan’s behavior.
However, fan engagement is not the only area where data management is applicable. Huge volumes of data are used to analyse and improve both player performance and scouting, with the goal to build stronger rosters and strive for on-field success.
This, however, is getting very complex. As Elias shared during the panel, you cannot analyze a player’s data individually; you need to analyze it within the context of the team.
So, how does the team (rest of the roster, playing style, etc.) influence the player and vice versa? How does the player impact the performance of the team?
With such market dynamics in place, one of the key questions football clubs face is gathering the necessary skills to implement a robust data practice process. Organizations like Sevilla FC have decided to build those capabilities in-house but the majority look for external partners in the form of agencies, consultants, etc. Despite the tactic applied, the advice from the experts is clear; football clubs will need to play the long game:
“You have to work with the right partners to make sure your goal is a success. 80% companies are going for the cheapest price point, that does not help in the long-term. You need to think of a 3-5 years strategy.”
A good “data management” practice leads to revenues
“If you understand your fans, you save a lot of money.”
Towards the end of his session, Fabio summarized the value of data and, although he framed it from the point of view of “fan engagement”, it needs to be applied to any realm of the football business as a whole. Whether it is from a business perspective (fan engagement, marketing, etc.) or a performance angle (scouting, on pitch performance, etc.), the need for data management is clearer than ever.
In fact, one could even argue that data management is a cyclical full-circle process in which improved on-field performance leads to better results, which bring in greater fan engagement which impacts revenues positively, which is the first step towards overall business growth.
To fully understand the opportunities that football clubs can gain from becoming “data companies,” make sure you check out Fabio´s entire panel during Football Innovation Forum 2022:
This article features as part of the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.