Swansea City – the benchmark of digital innovation in UK football?

Welsh side Swansea City have been the envy of clubs in English football for their off-the-field innovation.

Since ditching the EFL Digital platform two years ago, City’s focus on fan-centred technology led to the launch of a new creative website, followed by a mobile app which breaks away from the usual.

Head of Commercial for Swansea City, Rebecca Edwards-Symmons told FC Business: “There weren’t that many apps in football at the time and the clubs who had an app often just duplicated content from their website to the app and assumed that would be fine.

“That’s not what I wanted us to do, so our whole digital strategy was about taking a risk. We were a smaller club in the Premier League at the time and we were able use this and our owners’ drive to be trendsetters in the use of app technology in the UK and to take massive strides. So that’s what we did.”

In November 2017, Swansea became the first club to create an app with single sign-on and a one club functionality, giving fans access to tickets, retail and digital accounts. City’s digital partners Other Media and Sports Alliance were instrumental to the success of the app. By July 2018, the service would allow consumers to purchase in-app season tickets.

Edwards-Symmons claimed that a key part of their digital strategy was to give fans content that was suited to their needs.

“We have a very loyal fanbase in Swansea and I wanted an app that could deliver them all the short- form content they would need while saving long-form content for the website,” she said.

“But we also wanted to be able to distinguish UK fans from those outside of the UK to give that matchday experience to those who weren’t in the local area, something that other apps couldn’t do.”

The next stage for Swansea is to take personalisation to even higher levels and deliver the best experience possible for its supporters.

“Everybody is saying that it’s next but nobody has really done it yet. I want each of our fan’s app to look different based on who they are, where they are, if they’re a season ticket holder or someone who only comes to four games a season and is based in London, etc. I want personalisation to its fullest and that is our next step for the next 12 months,” Edwards-Symmons said.

“We’ve got over 50,000 downloads which is a lot for a Championship team in South Wales and these people who have our app are our most influential, they spend more than the average fan. We get optimal engagement but it’s also the best platform for us to get information out there quickly through push notifications.”

Despite these promising statistics, the club understands where they currently sit in the landscape of UK football.

“I want us to be classed as an innovative club, while realising we now have to work within the financial restraints of not being a Premier League club at the moment. Every club wants to be different and the biggest challenge a club has is doing just that. At the end of the day, we’re never going to convert a Chelsea or Liverpool fan into a Swansea City fan but what is important is to focus on the fans and the community and we should not forget that.”

Edwards-Symmons concluded: “Working with Other Media has been a pleasure – they’re not a supplier to us but a partner – they know our business inside out, they understand what we’re trying to achieve and we trust them which is a must in sport.”

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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.

Premier League continues talks on cost control and EFL funding

Premier League club bosses are holding further talks regarding cost control measures for clubs competing in European football and additional funding for the EFL.

The top flight is examining the introduction of a model along similar lines to UEFA’s squad cost ratio, which by 2025-26 will cap the spending of clubs involved in European competitions on wages, transfer fees and agent costs at 70 per cent of revenue.

It is understood that clubs in the Premier League not competing in European competitions will be allowed more leeway on spending, with a ratio of around 85 per cent of revenue having been discussed. This is potentially to ensure a more level playing field for mid table Premier League clubs who are struggling to break that barrier.

There is a major roadblock, however, in these talks with relegated Premier League clubs still earning parachute payments in their first season back in the Championship and being able to continue working to the 85 per cent ratio whilst the bottom half Championship clubs are working on a much tighter budget, closer to the 70 per cent UEFA mark.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters spoke about these talks advancing and what it means for the future of both leagues.

“We have some proposals out for consultation with our clubs about moving and aligning more with the UEFA system,” Masters said at the Culture, Media and Sport committee.

“Some of the issues that are still at debate between the EFL and the Premier League and internally within the Premier League itself are about trying to find a resolution on exactly how the financial regulatory system will work in the future.

“There’s an area of disagreement between us on how cost controls are going to work. Because obviously if you’re going to put more money into a system, that system has to be properly regulated. That system has yet to be fully agreed on how Championship clubs, how relegated clubs and how Premier League clubs operate a common system.” he concluded.

In terms of the extra funding agreement being discussed, EFL Chairman Rick Parry announced that his competition was prepared to accept an amount that would equate to 14.75 per cent of the two competitions’ net media revenues, which he said worked out at an extra £125million ($240 million) a year.

Whilst this is a huge positive for the footballing ladder in England, there is still a debate amongst clubs and representatives over how the extra funding to the EFL should be paid out.

Recently relegated sides are already working on a bigger budget, whilst sides in the bottom half are struggling to pay player wages with this disparity being completely unacceptable.

So it definitely begs the question, does majority of the extra £125million ($240 million) a year go towards helping bottom clubs compete in the long term? or would that be a stain on the league’s integrity and fair play values?

Votes were not casted in last week’s meetings regarding cost control measures or extra funding, but reports suggest that a conclusion is being made swiftly with both parties eager to agree on a fair deal.

MLS NEXT Pro continues to expand with Connecticut United addition

Connecticut United FC joins MLS Next Pro

Connecticut (CT) United FC will join the ever-growing MLS NEXT Pro League in 2025, in a move that promises to reinvigorate the US state through investment in football infrastructure.

CT United becomes the fifth independent team to join US football’s third-tier national competition, which serves as a valuable development tool for young players at the 27 existing Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs.

It joins teams from Jacksonville, Florida and Chattanooga – who were recently announced by the MLS NEXT organisation.

Chattanooga FC have been competing at state-level for 15 years, allowing it to join the competition in 2024 alongside fellow independent club, Carolina Core FC.

Jacksonville Armada are expected to enter alongside CT United and a team from Cleveland, Ohio, in 2025.

The nucleus of CT United’s football operation will be based in Connecticut’s capital city, Bridgeport, after its Planning and Zoning Commission approved a project for a waterfront football-specific stadium.

The stadia will be a part of a larger infrastructure plan to create a mixed-use destination for retail, residential, and community zones. Bridgeport’s Mayor, Joseph Ganim, says the city is ready to drive the project.

“Bridgeport is in the midst of a renaissance, rebranding from an industrial city to now the capital of arts and entertainment of Connecticut,” he said via media release.

“I am proud to announce that MLS NEXT Pro will join that landscape in providing entertainment opportunities for Bridgeport residents and the region at large.”

The club’s formation represents the first foray into sports ownership for the Connecticut Sports Group (CTSG), an organisation founded and led by Connecticut local and technology entrepreneur, André Swanston.

Though in its infant stages, the organisation relies primarily upon its partnership with the University of Connecticut, and minor investors within the state.

Swanston, 42, becomes not just one of the youngest principal owners of a football club in the country, but also making a difference as one of the few Black sports owners in US sport overall.

“As CT United FC embarks on its MLS NEXT Pro journey, I want to extend deep gratitude to the incredible fans, community leaders and government officials who have embraced our vision – I am confident that, united, Connecticut can compete against anyone,” he proclaimed via press release.

“We are committed to building the infrastructure – from a free youth academy to a state-of-the-art stadium – needed to propel Connecticut to the highest levels of soccer.”

The formation of CT United represents an exciting prospect for the people of Connecticut, who will be eager to see CTSG deliver on its vision to ‘create unforgettable experiences that inspire communities.’

It also showcases Major League Soccer’s continuing expansion, and intent to re-invigorate communities across North America.

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