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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.

Dig Inclusion makes digital access available for everyone 

For stadiums around the world, infrastructure has been created to cater for people with disabilities, however access to club websites and apps cannot be overlooked. 

In the past, stadiums had been designed so people with disability can still access the venues. As we know with COVID outbreaks, attention has now shifted towards how we get these people into the grounds by using apps and in particular to scan a QR code for contact tracing. 

As we have seen in 2021, the QR system has become a mandatory tool, while at the same time we have seen the need to go with virtual tickets, rather than the printed out copies we had always been accustomed to. 

For clubs and stadiums, they want to ensure that fan experience is at the optimal level, so that means they have to assess the accessibility for disabled people and ways for them to have entry to venues without an enormous amount of hassle. 

This is where Dig Inclusion can help. They are a digital accessibility service who ensures that football club websites and apps are equally available for everyone. 

For clubs, they should be asking themselves whether disabled fans have the same opportunity to buy tickets online as everybody else, while the other consideration should be if news feeds, match statistics, websites and apps are as user friendly as they need to be. 

For digital accessibility, Dig Inclusion takes into account people who are colour blind, dyslexic or have cognitive impairments (including people living with dementia). Through a club’s website or app design process – from the use of font, to language, to colour contrast – are all highly important so nobody feels overwhelmed when accessing a club’s resource. 

For example, if a disabled fan wants to buy some club merchandise, then they will have the same opportunity to browse and make that purchase just like any other person would, with tailored options available to assist anyone who needs it. 

When teams partner with Dig Inclusion, they are there for every step of the way, from accessible testing, research and strategy, to accessible development and content creation, and finally a check on websites, mobile apps, PDF documents and ebooks among some of the benefits. 

All of Dig Inclusion’s services are designed to help clubs keep pace in a rapidly changing digital age: 

Accessible design review: To highlight visual aspects of a design that need to be checked for accessibility, such as colour contrast and positioning. This looks at common accessibility pitfalls and turns this into what would be the ultimate experience for all customers. 

Accessibility help desk: Advice and support from someone who understands the company and what they do, offering fast response times and specialist knowledge for any stucks in the digital accessibility process. 

Mobile accessibility: Helping to get the most out of tablet and smartphone users, with those devices more often used than desktop or laptop. This is very important for disabled or elderly fans who would like to use mobile technology. 

Web accessibility: Advising organisations about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in an easy-to-understand manner, as design agencies and web developers may find it difficult to grasp or keep pace with updates as they become available. 

Disabled user testing: It’s not only digital content meeting accessibility guidelines that is important, but also making sure that the experience of a disabled person using a product is a good one. 

PDF accessibility: Accessibility guidelines are not just designed for webpages, but anything that a customer downloads is also included. Dig Inclusion can produce PDF documents that go alongside WCAG with equal access as a typical website. 

Video accessibility: When businesses make advertising material, they can be supported with transcripts, captions, subtitles, or audio descriptions that they probably would have not used before on their own. 

Ebook accessibility: Tablets have been a valuable way for people to virtually read books and other publications. An accessible ebook gives all readers instant access to fit their needs, regardless of print disability. 

Dig Inclusion provides ways for clubs to navigate the challenges associated with building an app or website for equal opportunities. To learn more on Dig Inclusion, you can find it here. 

Swan Retail: Promoting clubs through powerful app 

Swan Retail’s software development has seen the creation of FUSE – an app that has all the best fan engagement features in the one place. 

It’s been a mixed bag for Australian audiences wanting to go to live sporting events, as lockdowns and restrictions have not always gone in our favour. 

For sport clubs, they have become more reliant on finding ways to engage with their fan bases via digital, as the typical match day inclusions do not always go to plan, with unpredictable Covid-19 changes. However, what is for certain is that clubs cannot be stopped in exploring ways to promote their team in a variety of ways. 

Swan Retail has identified the demand for digital and online resources, where they have taken their expertise into the sports & stadium area. 25 years’ worth of experience has lended itself towards furniture & homeware, fashion and specialty retail to name a few. 

Swan Retails app, FUSE, encapsulates that a club is searching for when it comes to fan engagement. It is completely branded to suit a club’s identity and includes an immerse news feed to create engaging content that you would see on a social media platform. The only difference here is that the app takes everything from a club and showcases that directly to a fan, rather than trapping it in amongst other competitors.

When a fan uses FUSE, their sole focus is on the team they support. FUSE is the application that integrates quality engagement, offering clubs the chance to interact with their fans, build their brand, reward loyalty and drive sales. 

Available on the App Store and Google Play, FUSE has a host of features to maximise marketing potential: 

  • Build and theme a business app. 
  • Clubs can customise their branding. 
  • Scale up only when clubs need to. 
  • Deploy to iOS & Android. 
  • Potential to be live within four weeks. 
  • Deliver engaging content through the app feed. 
  • Segment, target and deliver content based on purchase data. 
  • Display real-time loyalty points and loyalty account balances. 
  • Wrap and enhance a mobile website. 
  • Harness the power of push notifications. 
  • Drive footfall, sales, traffic and conversion. 

FUSE can bring fan engagement benefits that are developed around loyalty. To build and sustain a fan base, Swan Retail helps to bring promotions to life. The app provides the go-to resource for planning and delivering promotional campaigns, leading to an increased rate of revenue. 

Clubs can bring across their creativity and connect with fans in a more personalised manner, whether it be game day or to provide greater access off the pitch. Swan Retail have partnered with Warrington Wolves Rugby Club, Ipswich Town Football Club and Stoke City Football Club who have already seen the following benefits: 

  • News, events, polls and promotions form the pivotal part of FUSE, making content the app’s bread and butter. This can be implemented further by integrating an online shop, which can be a post of a goal celebration during the match with a promotion applied to the player’s kit. 
  • Push notifications as a regularity can consistently bring fans to the app once they have been informed of new content, rewards and timely promotions that all contribute to driving sales. 
  • Loyalty points can be accrued to make fans feel part of something special and to be rewarded for their support. 
  • A website within the app to collaborate a fans’ online experience by seamlessly allowing them to browse and buy from a store without leaving the app. 
  • Calls-to-action as a way of offering new products such as kit releases and the ability to use redeem promotions and use rewards points. 
  • Custom forms can be created as a crowdsourcing tool to get feedback and insights from the people that make the club tick and learn more about how to maximise profits. 

To learn more about Swan Retail, and to have a read of their case studies, you can find it here. 

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