FIFA, UEFA and LaLiga agree: it’s either innovation or game over

· by WFS2017

How can football maintain its hegemonic position within the sports and entertainment industries in this new era, in which new technologies transform the tastes and habits of the population day by day? The most visionary minds in the sector, gathered last Friday in Madrid for the first edition of the Football Innovation Forum (FIF), have no doubt: the only way is innovation.

“We will not be able to maintain the current status quo if we do not change. We need to make sure we stay relevant. Otherwise, we will no longer exist”, admitted Jean-Baptiste Alliot, Innovation Strategy Specialist of UEFA, in front of a crowd of 150 attendees who gathered at the auditorium El Beatriz Madrid at FIF, organized by World Football Summit and N3XT Sports, a Football Innovation consulting and advisory company, in collaboration with UEFA and the support of LaLiga and Genius Sports.

“We will not be able to maintain the current status quo if we do not change”, Jean-Baptiste Alliot, Innovation Strategy Specialist of UEFA

European clubs such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain were represented in the seats as well as brands like Microsoft, Vodafone, Puma or Adidas. “Innovation is necessary for our industry, because now young people have more opportunities than ever to entertain themselves“, said Benjamin Stoll, Director of Business Technology and Innovation at FIFA. Technology plays a transcendental role when it comes to competing against industries such as videogames.

Applying technological tools to improve the experience of both the stadium and the fan and to increase connectivity between spectators is one of the fields to which the football industry is dedicating the most resources. Large organisations are developing projects in that sense, but innovation areas and strategies go much further.

“It’s not about introducing the next Google Glasses model, it’s about introducing changes that reinforce your value”, explained Alliot. “Innovation for the sake of innovation is worth nothing. You have to know where you want to go and why”, said Stoll in the presentation on Strategies for Innovation in Football, which trended nationally with the hashtag #FIF19.

The main goal of most of the industry is to know exactly what the audience is demanding in order to offer it in the most personalized way possible. This was explained by Minerva Santana, Head of Innovation and Global Development of LaLiga, which, like UEFA, has launched a platform to promote start-ups linked to football and has received 250 projects from 55 different countries. A very high percentage of those present solutions so that clubs can establish a greater engagement with their growing social mass. Likewise, Susanne Timosci, Lead Key Acount of DFL Invested Company, expressed: “The key to maintaining relevance is to offer the right content at the right time and through the right channel”, she said.

In this process, social networks play a key role and have taken football’s brands and values to new markets. “Of the 700 million people who are connected to sports through Facebook, 400 million are connected because of football. We like to think that we are the biggest stadium in the world”, said Jerry Newman, director of Sports Partnership EMEA-Facebook.

“Innovation for the sake of innovation is worth nothing. You have to know where you want to go and why”, Benjamin Stoll, Director of Business Technology and Innovation at FIFA

Monetizing this new global mass of fans is one of the main challenges that football must face in the coming years. In order to do so, the speakers agreed that it is essential to continue adding value to the product. “Attracting money by attracting it has a short lifespan, what really matters is adding value, which is the most complicated thing”, explained Javier Alonso, Executive Director of Kosmos, the company that created the new Davis Cup.

The collection and processing of the immensity of data generated by football is going to be an important source of income in the future, according to Christopher Dougan, Head of Communication of Genius Sports, one of the most innovative companies in the sector. But television rights will continue to be an essential economic pillar regardless of the support that is ultimately imposed. Ignacio Arrola, Director of Commercial Marketing and New Media at Mediapro, predicts that the value of broadcasting rights will continue to grow in the coming years: “Content is king and football is the super king of content, therefore it is likely it will continue to grow”.