Manchester United’s dip in form after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson seems to be slowly coming to an end. Despite their lacklustre performance over the past two seasons, their brand hasn’t suffered, with Bloomberg highlighting that this year they were the first soccer club to reach a billion dollar valuation. The power of their brand is further accentuated when you consider that they didn’t qualify for the UEFA Champions League last year, an important competition for international fan engagement.
Manchester United - like all sporting organizations of its stature - is run like a business. And like a business, they understand the importance of capitalizing on new, emerging trends. Negotiations between the club and digital transformation partner HCL Technologies began at the turn of the year, and in September they were finalized. The deal is the biggest of its kind, with Manchester United hoping that the partnership will see them demonstrate best practices within the industry.
Although the club has somewhere in the region of 600 million fans worldwide, decidedly few will ever attend a match. This means that their use of digital will have to exist outside of the stadium’s walls, otherwise only a tiny percentage of them will experience what the the HCL partnership has to offer. Anant Gupta - President & CEO, HCL Technologies - made it clear that Manchester United’s digital transformation would be far-reaching: ‘This partnership is unique and creates value not just for Manchester United and its fans, but also for all forward-looking organisations across the world’.
The finer details of the partnership weren’t discussed at length when the deal was unveiled, but there will be a ‘United Xperience Lab’, which will gives fans the opportunity to engage with the club in new ways. According to HCL the lab will offer ‘a multi-layered framework wherein human intelligence and psychometrics, interface with next-gen technology to create intuitive and smart Digital solutions.’
Manchester United aren’t, however, the only club in English football to recently announce a partnership with a digital transformation agency. Last year’s Premier League winners, Chelsea FC, announced that they would also be embarking on a similar project, just a day after Manchester United did that same. They too want to use the initiative to further expand their international presence, with the hope being that that Wipro will be able to push the club’s fortunes in their native India.
With two of English football’s most successful and wealthiest clubs looking at digital transformation, it’s clear that they feel that it will have an important strategic impact on their respective fan bases. Time will only tell if such partnerships are possible with less lucrative clubs, but like the adoption of analytics, it could eventually become a mainstay within all professional clubs.