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Social Media Challenges – What can the A-League learn from FC Barcelona and PSG?

FC Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) are two of the biggest clubs in world football, with over 400 million connections on various social media platforms.

Both of these clubs are pioneers when it comes to its use of social media.

They continue to effectively deal with different challenges such as the growing number of audiences, social media channels and production of appropriate content for different locations and languages.

For example, PSG have four separate social media channels in China that are only relevant for that market.

China, alongside Thailand, is now among the club’s biggest markets.

However, controlling all of these factors is a difficult task. PSG chief digital officer, Russell Stopford, explained to fcbusiness: “For us, the challenge is the slicing and dicing – creating the right content experiences for the different demographics on the right channels.

“In order to do that, you need an incredibly sophisticated content production model and to be really fresh with ideas, as the new channels are constantly finding new user behaviours.

“It is about being creative and trying to be brilliant in terms of what we are trying to create.”

Spanish champions FC Barcelona focus heavily on engagement, but also recognise the complexities of expanding their scope of operations. Digital director Enric Llopart, added: “It is getting more and more complex.”

“Take Instagram for example. A few years ago, you just posted images. Today you have stories and Instagram TV. Multiply that for all the different platforms and formats, plus different languages, it brings complexity.

“We believe in engagement and making sure that every piece of content we do is well thought through for that platform and audience – and that it works properly.

“We obsessively measure everything we do in terms of engagement parameters, because we believe it is important to grow the audience quantitatively, but also qualitatively.

“We make sure we bring fans into the mix. We have core fans more engaged, casual fans that we hope become more engaged and new fans getting on board.”

Accountancy firm PwC announced last year that engagement with younger audiences is the biggest challenge for a sporting business. According to the firm, the next generation of fans have multiple consumption methods but also different expectations.

This will be something Australian football needs to focus on, with the current Fox Sports broadcast deal expiring in 2023. It is imperative that those in charge strike the right balance in the next arrangement, giving younger fans more choices and easier accessibility to their product.

Llopart adds: “We are absolutely aware there is a big shift in content consumption and behaviour in younger audiences that will affect football. We need a certain paranoia and to be obsessed with what happens with the younger audiences and how we can connect with them.

“It’s a matter of being where they are in the content and the formats that they love to consume. This means launching on the likes of TikTok. It also means developing an esports division as a way to connect with young global audiences that may not consume a 90-minute game, but may consume an esports competition.”

Esports is critical for connection with younger audiences. The E-League in Australia kicked off last weekend, with a new format for the players on the Xbox and PlayStation systems.

This is the third season of the Australian competition, as those running the game look for further revenue streams and hopefully converting the younger audience into permanent fans of the A-League.

That is not an easy task, with children of a younger age playing games such as FIFA as much as, if not more than watching and playing the sport of Football.

The audience of these esports matches also gives clubs insight into how the younger generation is interacting with their devices.

Stopford adds: “The challenges are also at the product level, some of the features and functionality we have got used to on social media over the last 10 years or so, are not chiming with younger audiences. How do we respond to that?”

In 2019, PSG became the first major European club to sign a deal with a Dota 2 team – Chinese organisation LGD Gaming. The team now uses PSG as its name.

“There are esports opportunities particularly in the Far East with the stuff that we do. Through the partnership with LDG in China, we have multiple different teams, playing different games over there,” Stopford explains.

“The reason we do that is for brand diversification and to find new audiences and to connect with those new audiences. We don’t want to create content which is not addressing the core PSG fan, but it is important to be looking at the younger audiences – and those that are not necessarily watching football.”

The use of social media has become increasingly important for significant club launches.

Last year, PSG conducted an enormous partnership launch with leisure wear brand, Jordan.

Stopford explained: “We created a whole story telling universe, it went from a 26-minute documentary, to massive amounts short form videos on social stories and a live content launch on the day. There were lots of celebrities and influencers, a dance and fashion show.

“This year we had a pre-season tour in China. We had a fashion show with most the players for the Jordan away kit launch this year – our second kit. It was an iconic experience around a story, rather than a commercial angle.

“That said, the latest kit launch, the third kit, which is a Nike kit, rather than Jordan, reflected the original Nike PSG kit from 30 years ago. The focus of the social media launch, followed the 60-fold increase to the e-commerce store, compared with an average day. That was an example of how can show how our social content affects the commercial result.”

Launches like this may not necessarily be realistic for an A-League club, but more can definitely be done.

The arrival of Keisuke Honda last season for Melbourne Victory, one of Asia’s best ever players, was undersold by the club.

A player of that calibre competing in the Asian Champions League, should have been appropriately promoted to the world across social media.

The Honda signing was a missed opportunity, if we compare it to the way he was launched at Botafogo recently.

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.

SkillCorner: Connecting video and event data analytics like never before

SkillCorner have revolutionised the football industry’s approach to data analytics in a world-leading and exciting fashion.

SkillCorner have revolutionised the football industry’s approach to data analytics in a world-leading and exciting fashion.

Established by then-university graduate in Applied Mathematics and Data Science Hugo Bordigoni and business executive Charles Montmaneix in 2015, SkillCorner extracts physical tracking data from broadcast footage and generates live match visualizations as a result.

By pairing AI data collection with broadcasting, SkillCorner allows fans to see real-time stats gathered from broadcast footage. Metrics such as Sprint Count, Acceleration and Deceleration Count, High-Speed Running Distance and Total Distance are measured via a combination of computer vision and machine learning technology that aids in multi-object tracking over the course of a match.

SkillCorner has since filled a gap in a sporting landscape which had not yet embraced artificial intelligence and had stuck largely to a manual process of collecting data.

In addition, SkillCorner has developed into one of the strongest tools for clubs in their approach to player recruitment. With an access to both a growing database of football tracking data and tracking data on matches that is received instantly, SkillCorner have proven to be a major advantage for some of the world’s biggest clubs.

Whilst SkillCorner’s early days saw their analytics acquired mostly by sportsbooks, their platform came to the attention of Liverpool’s head of research, Ian Graham, in what was a landmark moment for the data analysis tool.

At the time, Liverpool already had access to excellent tracking data for all English Premier League matches – first through ChyronHego and now with Second Spectrum – but it didn’t have anything comparable when considering moves in the transfer market.

In an interview last year with SportTechie, Bordigoni reflected on the manner in which SkillCorner filled a gap in Liverpool’s approach to the transfer market.

“When we started discussing with Liverpool, it was not the plan to go into the performance business. But Liverpool reached us and said, ‘If you’re able to do it for the betting, it means you don’t have some cameras inside [the venue], you’re doing it from the broadcast and it interests us for player recruitment,” he said.

“When they want to scout players playing Bundesliga in French Ligue 1 or in La Liga, they cannot access the tracking data.”

Liverpool’s business last year saw the then reigning English Premier League champions spend $14 million for left-back Konstantinos Tsimikas, $24 million to acquire central midfielder Thiago Alcantara and $49 million for forward Diogo Jota.

Of its three new players, Liverpool had access to rich tracking data for only Jota, who competed in the same league. SkillCorner compiled data from 23 leagues for last year’s summer transfer window and expects to provide coverage of roughly 40 in the near future.

Jota

Liverpool and SkillCorner collaborated for a year to hone the accuracy of the algorithm before agreeing to a partnership.

Word then spread across Europe – prompting more inquiries – and since then SkillCorner has begun working with new clubs in the Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga (including 1.FC Köln and Bayer Leverkusen) and France’s Ligue 1 (including Olympique de Marseille and OGC Nice).

For SkillCorner, event and tracking data are critical to unlocking football performance and engaging with fans. But until now, tracking data has been expensive to collect, time intensive, and not available across different leagues and competitions.

SkillCorner is changing that by providing clubs, betting operators, and media access to exclusive player and ball tracking data without the usual restrictions.

Their fully automated system allows users to access dynamic and contextualised insights that can power a club’s recruitment process or deliver unique new insights to fans. Their Live Match Visualisation is an impressive alternative to live match streaming, with turnkey animation and immediate integration ensuring broadcasts are experienced to their full capacity.

SkillCorner’s recent growth has seen partnerships unfold that will further enhance the options available to football fans and the football industry.

A recently announced partnership with Twenty3 – creator of AI sports data tool Twenty3 Toolbox – will see physical data collected by SkillCorner added to the Toolbox. Twenty3 recently revealed a new partnership with MLS club Sporting Kansas City, giving the club access to Twenty3’s set of AI tools which now include SkillCorner player tracking.

SkillCorner are illustrative of the changing of the guard in the approach to data analytics. Whilst football has embraced data collection as a necessary facet of player, coaching and overall team improvement over time, SkillCorner have established an alternative forward-thinking method that is adaptable to its multitude of user types.

Liverpool confirms expansion for Anfield Road Stand

LFC

Liverpool Football Club’s proposed expansion of the Anfield Road Stand has been confirmed.

The project, which has been undergoing enabling works throughout the off-season in anticipation, will begin with an official ground-breaking ceremony planned for next week.

Liverpool City Council awarded the club planning permission in June 2021, which included the right to hold up to six concerts and major events at the stadium for a period of five seasons.

The redevelopment of the stand will see 7,000 more seats added to Anfield, taking its overall capacity to more than 61,000. Following two stages of public consultation and feedback on the initial plans, Anfield Road’s expansion project will reroute Anfield Road itself around the footprint of the new stand.

Akin to the construction process undergone by the recently redeveloped Main Stand, the Anfield Road Stand will be worked on throughout the season while matches continue to be played.

Liverpool Managing Director Andy Hughes outlined the steps taken by the club to ensure that the Anfield Road Stand redevelopment could go ahead.

“We have been clear from the beginning that in order for this expansion to go ahead we needed the co-operation of local residents and the community, to successfully navigate the complex planning landscape, and to ensure the project is financially viable,” he said.

“We needed certainty for this project to progress and are now in a position to be able to move forward. We began this journey in 2014 and are grateful to everyone for the contributions they have made to bring the project to this stage.”

When complete, the expanded Anfield Road Stand is expected to create around 400 matchday roles in addition to the 2,200 people currently employed in various operations at each home game, of which 95 per cent are known to live in the Liverpool City Region.

The redeveloped Anfield Road Stand is anticipated to be ready for the 2023/24 season and its design will see the lower tier retained and refurbished with a new upper tier built above it.

As well as an increased capacity, the redeveloped stand will be similar to the Main Stand, with improved concourses and sports bar lounge hospitality facilities. This stand will also see the relocation of the Family Park to a covered position.

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