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The importance of esports in football

Interest in esports is ever growing, Influencer Marketing Hub reports that in 2020 there are almost half a billion esports followers – and Newzoo predicts that the audience for esports will grow to 646 million by 2023.

Football organisations also have a presence within esports. FC Barcelona, Manchester City and Bundesliga are among the many clubs and leagues who run or participate in esports competitions.

The Entertainment Software Association found that in 2018 there were over 164 million adults in the United States who played video games. With the large amounts of people playing video games it makes sense for football organisations to become involved in this industry.

James Gallagher-Powell of CSM Sport & Entertainment at the ESI (esports Insider) Digital Summer conference said that esports can help football clubs to attract a younger audience.

“In terms of this younger audience, I’m sure that many of you have seen the stats before, probably from a brand sponsor perspective. So why do brands think about sponsoring an esports property over traditional sports property,” Gallagher-Powell said.

“The average age for a Premier League fan is 42 and rising, and no doubt is higher than 42 within developed fan markets like in the UK. This ageing fan base begs two questions to football clubs: How do the clubs ensure their longevity and remain relevant to the next generation of sports fans? And how do they ensure that their club remains attractive to potential sponsors?

“esports can provide the perfect channel for this. It’s a way that clubs can attract a younger audience to their core operations, i.e football, and it can help clubs to safeguard their future popularity and therefore their future profitability.”

EA Sports’ FIFA games have become incredibly popular over the years. FIFA 20 launched on September 27, 2019 and by October 10, 2019 over ten million people had played the game across various gaming consoles.

Although despite this popularity of football games, CSM Sport & Entertainment’s Account Director Debs Scott-Bowden at the ESI Digital Summer conference said that these games were only a small part of the esports world.

“But whilst FIFA and PES are good entry points for clubs to go into esports, for the wider esports communities, these titles are largely considered niche. So for clubs looking to reach a wider audience, football games aren’t necessarily the best route to achieve this.”

Bundesliga has its own Virtual Bundesliga Club Championship. The championship will start on November 10 and will be the third season of the competition. The Virtual Bundesliga Club Championship will feature clubs from both Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.

The Chief Executive of DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga Digital Sports and DFL Executive Vice-President, Andreas Heyden told SportBusiness in November 2019 about the importance of the VBL.

“The growth of the Virtual Bundesliga since its inception shows how seriously we are taking the whole area of esports. We highly benefit from out club brands and players [being present] but also we have proven to have created ne of the highest degrees of authenticity of the Bundesliga in the virtual world of stadiums, clubs and players,” he said.

Bundesliga is taking its esports approach very seriously and has major plans for the Virtual Bundesliga and hopes it can grow.

“We want to grow the Virtual Bundesliga to become out third competition brand, alongside Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga in regards to media rights, participation of clubs and users in the open series.”

“There are not many leagues who are committed as we are to create an eFootball league, with the amount of focus we are giving and the investment we are providing.”

In Australia, Football Federation Australia has the E-League.

Matches are streamed live on twitch. The finals of the 2020 edition of the series unfortunately had to be postponed due to COVID-19. The finals were due to be held at an event in Melbourne on May 9.

At the end of 2017 when the E-League was announced then FFA Head of Commercial, Marketing and Digital, Luke Bould, spoke about the appeal of an esports league.

“FFA’s strategy is to build a competition that provides FIFA competitors with the ability to represent their favourite A-League clubs and create more fans for the A-League and Westfield W-League. This is also a great way to connect the League more globally and in particular, with an Asian audience who love football and FIFA, but may not yet know the A-League.”

During the A-League COVID-19 shutdown, a tournament was also organised which featured both gamers and A-League players.

It is great to see that FFA and the A-League does take esports seriously and is following the lead of other leagues such as the Bundesliga. The FFA should continue to do so and look into expanding its esports properties.

Daniel Foley is a sports junior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and micro industry matters.

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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