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How digital storytelling and gaming can lift the profile of a football competition

Spain’s La Liga competition have realised the power of digital storytelling and gaming, implementing strategies successfully to engage fans across the world.

Alfredo Bermejo, the director of digital strategy at La Liga, recently stated that building a connection with supporters is a priority, through the use of a variety of social media channels: “We need to know what the fans like, which platforms they engage with and what kind of content they like.

“Social media provides the possibility to go global and to have a scaled approach to the fans,” he said at the Social Football Summit conference.

Social media engagement data provides evidence that relevant stories of an international player at a modest club in the league, will have a bigger impact than posts about a superstar at Real Madrid or Barcelona.

“I think a common goal for all of us is to go beyond the big names and the big clubs and to try to tell stories and make other clubs and players become known by the audience,” Bermejo explained.

“We try to identify which stories are relevant within markets. Sometimes players from smaller teams have a bigger reach than the big stars because they belong to a certain territory where they are number one.”

As an example, Chinese international Wu Lei signed for Espanyol in January of 2019 with the club becoming the most-watched team on Chinese TV.  La Liga’s follower count on social media network Weibo also soared by 82% in the second half of the 2018/19 season, due to Lei’s arrival.

Similarly, in the Japanese market, Eibar have utilised the signing of Takashi Inui in 2015 to tell appropriate stories about the player and continue to build the club’s profile in the country.

The competition’s social media metrics reach their highest during the matches of each round, therefore, the use of gaming to keep fans entertained for the whole week is vitally important.

Bermejo explained: “It’s an area where data gives us an advantage. With the traffic to our official website, we have big spikes during the weekend and then, during the week, we have lower valleys. What we try to do is to generate content abroad that helps us to minimise that.”

The league’s fantasy football gaming service, La Liga Fantasy Marca, has been a huge success.

“One of our biggest investments has been in our fantasy football game,” Bermejo stated. “When we created it, we had a belief that it would help boost consumption of more matches than just the traditional Real Madrid or FC Barcelona matches.”

“When you create a team, you have to select players from different teams so the biggest match for you during a weekend may not be one involving the biggest teams,” he continued. “It may be the match where you have the most players from your fantasy line-up.”

Fans can choose which team is their favourite before selecting a squad in the fantasy game, with the data portraying a broad spread of interest and engagement with different clubs in the league.

This is significant for La Liga and for its broadcasters, as information like this is shared between both parties in the best interests of strengthening their relationship.

“In the past, leagues used to sell the rights to broadcasters and then do nothing more,” he concluded. “Now, the model has completely changed. We’re moving from B2B to B2C business, where the relationship with the client and with the fans is getting more and more important.”

Other recent examples of La Liga connecting with the gaming world include Sevilla’s commercial agreement with Fortnite, where their kit will feature in the game along with more than 20 other football teams across the world.

As of May 2020, Fortnite has amassed over 350 million players globally, with Sevilla and La Liga tapping into the potential of the gaming giant through this beneficial partnership.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Digging Deeper: Inside Melbourne Victory’s StatsBomb partnership

Melbourne Victory dropped a bomb on the A-League competition when it announced its new partnership with StatsBomb,

Melbourne Victory dropped a bomb on the A-Leagues when it announced its new partnership with StatsBomb – a name that will be unfamiliar to most Australian football fans.

However, whilst the name might be new, the pursuit is not.

As the role of data analytics continues to rise in football, many clubs and organisations are still coming to grips with how to best process and present that data and how to use it to make tangible differences on gameday.

In StatsBomb, Melbourne Victory will certainly hope they have gained an advantage on the competition.

StatsBomb firmly believes it is up for the challenge – and why wouldn’t they?

Already trusted by the likes of Liverpool FC – a club now renowned for its use of data and analytics in improving on-field performance – StatsBomb is enjoying an increasingly growing reputation within the game.

Also counting AS Roma and the Belgian Football Association amongst their clients, StatsBomb international marketing coordinator Nick Dorrington sees an exciting opportunity for the company to enter a new market in Australia with Victory.

“We have customers in over 25 countries around the world but are still expanding our reach in terms of geography and language. It is exciting to get a foothold in a new territory, particularly in a region like Australasia and Asia where we see good opportunities for growth,” Dorrington told Soccerscene.

“As an organisation, Melbourne Victory are determined to turn things around after finishing bottom of the league last season. They are keen to implement change and want to integrate data into all of their processes.

“They are looking for an objective way to track and measure things like performance and style of play, but they also see an opportunity to leverage the additional detail of StatsBomb data to gain an edge on other teams in player recruitment.

“StatsBomb data includes significant additional contextual information that allows for more effective analysis and scouting. Things like goalkeeper and defender positioning on shots, the height of the ball at the moment at which a shot is taken, pressure data at a team and player level and other variables like pass footedness, pass height and various others.

“That allows teams to get a much clearer idea of player behaviour in certain situations. For instance, if you were scouting an upcoming opponent you could look at what kind of passes their central defenders make when put under pressure and find a way of leveraging that information to your advantage.

“The integration of data will be a long-term process for Melbourne Victory, but one that the club should hopefully begin to see the fruit of relatively soon.”

StatsBomb’s emergence in this market come from rather humble beginnings.

CEO Ted Knutson started the business as a blog about football analytics, before being hired to work within football himself.

Once he returned to the open market, he built a team that delivered consultancy services for clubs, where he discovered a constant issue with the limitations of the available event data from football games.

Whilst the use and analysis of data is nothing new in football, Dorrington explained the StatsBomb model differentiated itself because of its proprietary data set, which provides greater context for the numbers and more actionable insights.

“One of the things that our founders consistently came across when they were using the data of other providers was that it lacked important contextual information that experienced football people were easily able to pick holes in,” Dorrington said.

“They would go to a coach with the results of an expected goals (xG) model and the coach would say: “But you don’t know where the goalkeeper is. This is worthless.” Obvious problems like that make it hard to get buy-in on the football side.

“StatsBomb data was created with that in mind. We collect over 3,400 events per match, more than double the amount of some of our competitors, and as I mentioned before our data set includes key additional contextual information that just isn’t found in the data of other companies in this space.

“Our goal has always been and continues to be to create the most football-applicable data set and associated statistical models. Just this year we have already launched StatsBomb 360, a revolutionary new product that provides a snapshot of player locations on each event we capture, and On-Ball Value (OBV), a model that seeks to measure the impact of each on-ball action in terms of its effect on the probability of a team scoring or conceding.”

One particularly interesting aspect of the StatsBomb model is the measurement of pressure – a metric developed to try and help clubs better understand and quantify the events in a game that create pressure on an opponent.

“We record a pressure when a player moves to within a given range of the ball carrier in an attempt to close down the ball. There can be multiple players applying pressure in the same action,” Dorrington said.

“The lack of pressure data was one of the key flaws in the existing datasets before the launch of StatsBomb data. It gives so much more information to work from when assessing defensive contribution.

“To give a widely understood example, if we wanted to analyse Roberto Firmino’s defensive contribution at Liverpool with the previously available event data, we’d only have around three tackles and interceptions to look at for every 90 minutes he’s on the pitch, around 90-100 per season.

“With pressure data, we have an additional 23 or so defensive actions per match, around 750 per season. That is a huge increase and one that allows us to get a much clearer picture of when and where he is involved defensively.”

According to Dorrington, StatsBomb was continuously assessing its model to try and find new-and-improved insights it can provide clubs.

“While there are many clubs who have successfully integrated data into their decision-making processes and who are deriving real benefit from that, there are still many where there is a disconnect between the data people and those who are making decisions and where there isn’t enough of an understanding of how data can be used effectively,” he said.

“Beyond that, there are many emerging markets in which data is barely being used to any meaningful degree. We are committed to providing models and analysis tools that are just as applicable at the top end of the game as in those lower-budget scenarios.

“The teams with the biggest budgets and most qualified personnel will continue to raise the ceiling of possibility but we hope to help democratise data so that teams with less resources still have an opportunity to compete.”

Victory may well be the first cab off the rank in Australia, but they may not be the last.

“It is interesting that since announcing our partnership with Melbourne Victory, we’ve already had a couple of enquiries from other A-League teams,” Dorrington added.

“We often find that’s how it works. You get an early mover in a given league or territory and then others follow.”

You can find out more on StatsBomb and their features here.

FC Barcelona and Ownix to create historic NFTs

Barcelona

LaLiga’s FC Barcelona and non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace Ownix have joined together to create unique digital assets through photos and videos, depicting iconic moments from the Club’s storied history.

With football clubs entering the world of NFTs at an increasing rate, FC Barcelona are looking to set a benchmark in the creation of these types of digital assets.

As part of this strategy, the Club has signed a new global partnership agreement with Ownix, a premium marketplace for NFTs based on the standards of the Ethereum blockchain – a platform for sharing data that cannot be manipulated or changed.

This alliance between FC Barcelona and Ownix will provide a new way for the Club to reach its followers from around the globe, as fans will now be able to acquire and own digital assets that will reproduce unforgettable moments throughout the Club’s almost 122-year history via various auctions taking place throughout the season.

The agreement between FC Barcelona and Ownix is part of the Club’s global expansion strategy and a further commitment to seek out new channels and formats to connect with new generations, while providing a different form of interaction with their fans around the world.

FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta:

“Barça has a very large fanbase around the world and is leading the way in the digital domain with over 400 million followers in social networks,” he said.

“Given this scenario, the Club is constantly looking for new ways to connect with its fans, and we believe that creating these NFTs is a unique opportunity to continue growing and consolidating the Barça brand by bringing unique moments that have made Barça fans dream and FC Barcelona a well-known club on every level.”

Ownix CEO Guy Elhanani:

“As NFTs surge, we thought it is important to give those collectors who are Barça fans an opportunity to own a piece of their Club’s history,” he said.

“This new and exciting asset class allows collectors to own things that weren’t possible to own before, and we’re thrilled to offer sports fans an opportunity to spearhead the movement. Our Mission is to bring customers to purchase NFTs, not because they are marketable, but for the pleasure and pride of owning them.”

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