David Davutovic on Preston Lions’ rich history and ambitions for the future

At the recent Preston in Business event, media personality David Davutovic spoke about Preston Lions’ storied history, it’s incredible impact on football in Australia and the Club’s future as one of the eight foundation clubs in the emerging National Second Tier (NST).

The Lions are well known for their incredible fanbase, garnered over 77 years of history and have significantly broadened this over many years. This transition means that for the first time since 1993, Preston will be competing on the national stage of Australian football.

Davutovic, a special keynote guest, reflected on the Lions’ foundation and their growth to being one of the most popular NPL-based teams.

“The club has played a huge role in Australian football. The club had 30 pretty successful years prior to the NSL and there is a truly rich history at the club,” said Davutovic, Managing Director of Bruce Media.

“The club has been in the top division, in the NSL for 13 years and before that from 1947 onwards there have been some great players come through and represent the country.” he said at the event.

“More recently, Sasa Ognenovski came through in the post NSL era and was a product of this club. He was voted the best Asian player in 2010 and won an Asian Champions League over in South Korea then went on to play for the Socceroos.

“There’s no doubt this club is right up there in its contribution to Australian football, and we are all very excited to see what the future holds.”

The NST has been an attractive idea for many years but with very little action from Football Australia, it never really came to light until recently.

Preston Lions were one of the biggest drivers and immediately put their hand up to become one of the foundation clubs. The club’s strong performance in critical revenue streams like sponsorship, gameday ticketing and membership have helped the club get into a position to take on this financial hurdle with an opportunity to dream of achieving the impossible.

“It’s really exciting for the sport and it’s interesting as to how it’s all come about,” Davutovic said.

“It’s a bit like the A-League expansion project of five or six years ago. It happened somewhat organically because there was this groundswell of support, and Preston as a club have (arguably) played the biggest role in kickstarting this momentum that triggered the second division.

“When it kicks off next year it’s going to be huge. Preston had the courage to step forward and immediately say yes and obviously it’s a massive financial commitment for the club but they said ‘we’re doing it’ and credit to the club for that.

“The current situation is eight clubs in the second division but my understanding is that they are looking at an expansion to 10 or 12 teams, maybe more from Victoria and they can really grow this second division.”

Australian football cannot afford to waste the momentum gained from fantastic performances on the pitch in international tournaments.

With the fast-growing rates of participation and attendance at the national level, as well as the emergence of a few amazing young talents hitting their stride locally and in Europe, there has never been a better launchpad for growth within the community.

Davutovic spoke on the future of Australian football after fantastic Socceroos and Matildas international campaigns – adding to the emergence of the ever-important NST.

“The future of Australian football is really bright, evidently in the results from the Socceroos at the last World Cup then the quarter final exit at the Asian Cup to a very decent South Korea side,” he said.

“Of course, the Matildas with a brilliant campaign are growing women’s football, even the representation here at Preston is great.

“I can actually see football taking on the other codes, because all of a sudden, teams like Preston and all the other state league and NPL clubs are getting recognised. They have been treated disrespectfully from around 2004 onwards.”

“They are part of the system and have just as much of a right to compete in the top division and in the Asian Champions League as the A-League clubs because at the moment it’s a pretty closed shop.”

The opportunity for Preston to make an even bigger mark on Australian football has presented itself with the NST and the club clearly has every intention to grow because of it.

Sevilla FC: Transforming player scouting with IBM’s generative AI

In 2021, Sevilla FC, a premier team from Andalusia, Spain, faced an overwhelming amount of paperwork.

With a top-tier scouting team of 20 to 25 scouts, each player could generate up to 40 scout reports, necessitating 200 to 300 hours of review. Altogether, Sevilla FC had to manage over 200,000 reports on potential players, a task that demanded an enormous amount of time.

Earlier in the year, Sevilla’s fortunes started to change for the better in terms of time management.

They had introduced a collaboration with the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) having confirmed Scout Advisor, a cutting-edge AI tool that will equip the club’s scouting team with extensive data for identifying and evaluating potential player signings.

Developed using IBM’s watsonx, which is an AI and data platform for businesses, the club introduced the Scout Advisor concept to integrate it into its existing suite of in-house data-generative tools.

IBM is a top provider of global hybrid cloud, AI solutions, and consulting services. They assist clients in over 175 countries in leveraging data insights, optimising business processes, reducing costs, and gaining a competitive advantage in their industries.

Over 4,000 government and corporate entities in vital sectors like financial services, telecommunications, and healthcare depend on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift for rapid, efficient, and secure digital transformations.

IBM’s ground-breaking advancements in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions, and consulting provides their clients with open and flexible options.

Sevilla FC’s data department collaborated with the IBM Client Engineering Team to develop Scout Advisor, utilising watsonx’s natural language processing (NLP) and foundation models to search and analyse extensive information in the club’s databases for evaluating potential recruits. This encompasses quantitative data such as height, weight, speed, goals scored, and minutes played, as well as qualitative data such as a player’s attitude and alignment with the team philosophy from over 200,000 scouting reports.

During the period in 2021, Sevilla FC could quickly access and utilise quantitative player data within seconds, but retrieving qualitative information from the database was significantly slower in contrast.

The solution’s natural language processing capabilities allow the club to utilise multiple large language models (LLMs) to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of player identification. By interpreting scouts’ descriptions of key player characteristics, Scout Advisor creates a curated lists of candidates matching the desired traits and summarises comprehensive reports for each player. Additionally, Scout Advisor connects each player to the existing database to provide detailed quantitative performance data.

Player recruitment has traditionally relied on a mix of subjective human observation and data analysis. However, these methods are limited by the time they require and the few factors they consider. IBM’s Scout Advisor now gives the club a competitive edge by merging these existing indicators with generative AI, bridging the gap between data-driven scouting and hard to measure human behaviours.

This advancement will enhance Sevilla’s talent identification and support the decision-making processes.

The club’s scouting team is well-known for its data-driven approach to recruiting emerging talent. Furthermore, the club is at the forefront of developing innovative methods to use detailed information, allowing for a more holistic evaluation of every player they scout.

Watsonx processes this data and presents it in understandable terms, identifying potential signings using key qualitative indicators and expert scouting insights.

The club intends to use Scout Advisor during the summer in the recruiting season and expects to see results by September, with feedback having been positive so far.

With the time saved, scouts can now focus on human-centric tasks such as engaging with recruits, observing games, and making data-supported decisions.

One thing is certain is that the ability to make better-informed decisions about who to play, when to play them, and why has fundamentally transformed the recruitment process at Sevilla FC. This refined approach has not only enhanced the club’s ability to identify and secure top talent but has also provided a strategic edge in their overall team management and performance planning.

Recently, Melbourne Knights FC had agreed a new collaboration with leading football management software company, ProTrainUp. It would benefit local clubs, in terms of time management, to follow suit and by doing this they can focus their attention elsewhere.

Investing in AI is not a walk in the park as it does require large amount of funds, however A-League sides in both the men’s and women’s should also be taking an approach into implementing technology whether it’s for player scouting or the way footballers train, for a task that demands a vast amount of time that could easily be executed by AI as it eases the workload on team management and club operations.

Angel City FC: Uplifting women and strengthening communities

Los Angeles is a city that produces pioneers and cultural influencers across various industries, including entertainment, technology, and sports. The Angel City FC epitomises LA’s ambition and innovative essence more than any other organisation.

Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit, Initialised Capital and Seven Seven Six, is the largest shareholder as an individual investor for the club, however, he does not hold a majority of the equity or control of the board, instead sharing authority with co-owners Julie Uhrman, entrepreneur with a talent for community building and ranks among the most influential figures in the sports business industry as well as being President of the club. Joining in the ranks as founders are Kara Nortman, a visionary venture capitalist and , the acclaimed Academy Award winning actress and passionate advocate for women’s rights.

Angel City FC’s journey started following the US Women’s National Team’s 2019 World Cup victory. The triumph, which garnered record viewership, alongside movements for gender and pay equity, propelled the creation of the club has obtained attention since it was awarded expansion license for the 2022 season back in 2020.

Capitalising on the World Cup momentum and data indicating strong fan interest in women’s sports, the group established Angel City FC, confident in the increasing value and growth potential.

Angel City FC’s business strategy in sports is truly pioneering. By implementing creative revenue models, including distinctive sponsorship arrangements and a dedication to community investment, the club has shown that supporting women’s sports holds significant, untapped commercial potential. It is important to highlight that the club’s sponsorship model, which allocates 10% of sponsorship dollars back into the community.

Rocky Rodriguez headers the ball
Image credit: NWSL website

This approach has redirected over $4.5 million into the community, forging partnerships with Hollywood A-listers and influential activists like Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner, and Eva Longoria, are amongst an ownership group over 100 strong, most of whom are women.

Through a new partnership with HubSpot, Angel City FC will support women athletes via a fund dedicated to post-retirement education and entrepreneurship endeavours. Emphasising revenue sharing and community reinvestment, Angel City FC persistently adopts a groundbreaking approach to achieve commercial success while advancing its broader mission.

Central to Angel City’s mission is the community it serves and builds. In its brief existence, the club has successfully cultivated a diverse and inclusive fan base, resulting in unprecedented support and engagement.

Angel City’s impressive 90% season ticket holder retention rate and strategic, values-aligned sponsorships further attest to the club’s success in community building. “How do we leave the community better than when we started?” Uhrman emphasises as a key question the club seriously contemplates with each partnership opportunity.

Consider the partnership with Sprouts Farmers Market. Through this collaboration, the club focuses on nutrition and education, partnering with two local schools to create gardens and host free monthly farmers markets benefiting the community. Additionally, an education program teaches children about nutrition and the importance of developing strong bodies, further enhancing the impact of the Sprouts partnership.

While Sportico reported that for the clubs first season in 2022, the new entity had already been valued at more than $150m approximately, Angel City’s average crowd attendance for the 2022 and 2023 seasons at BMO stadium had surpassed Sydney FC’s attendance during the 2022/23 A-League Men season by approximately 3000, which led the competition.

With at least four more expansion franchises planned in the coming years, perhaps the question is why the A-Leagues can’t strive to establish their own Angel City FC, or at the very least, embrace the concept of standalone women’s teams in the A-League Women?

However, Uhrman, on her end, recognises that the Angel City model isn’t universally applicable and cannot simply be replicated everywhere around the world.

The NWSL was established in 2012, the following year was when matches were played, ever since then NWSL is being praised for reaching a stage where there is ongoing work needed to address sustainability and player safety concerns (the league has faced a series of abuse scandals in recent years).

With new investments and ambitions, such as relocating its headquarters from Chicago to New York, aligning with the MLS and America’s major sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL – the league is poised to strengthen its foundations and sustainability as it enters a new phase of existence.

In this phase, the NWSL not only aims to solidify its position in the American sports hierarchy but also seeks to distinguish itself within the rapidly expanding women’s football ecosystem worldwide.

The club’s website has a dedicated category for their six unique supporter groups, with each of them having social media platform and a website, with a brief description about each group. Looking at this from an Australian footballing perspective, it all sounds too good to be true, how Angel City FC has excelled the marketing area for its club efficiently in a short period of time, whereas compared to the clubs here in the country, it needs to take learnings from America on how they implement the marketing strategies in different area of a football club and apply it for their respected clubs.

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