Home of Professional Football –
The Football Club of the Future.
Nothing can stop the digital transformation, not even professional football. Even if you think that the game of football will stand as the last bastion against the storms of the digital transformation, the typical professional club, as the germination cell of professional football, will be exposed to a diverse range of changes in the future.
When that time comes, the world of the professional clubs will have little in common with the way it looks today. That reality will be characterized by a transformation of fan and consumer needs arising from new technological possibilities. The model of the "Home of Professional Football", illustrated below, defines the areas in which the idealistic professional club of the future should be subdivided.
Single areas of the house explained in detail:
Although the professional clubs still frequently scout and sign players based on personal relationships and gut feelings, in 10 years a “Moneyball” approach will have broadly established itself. Moneyball refers to a technique used by Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. At the end of the 1990s, he formed a new baseball team with significant resistance from his own scouts, based on Sabermetrics, a system much derided in baseball at the time. He signed players who had fallen through the cracks based on the statistics in use at the time and were therefore offered at bargain basement prices on the transfer market. The magic of this new development in statistics was that it not only took into account particular performance aspects, but also playersʼ overall performance, at the same time looking at factors such as season and stadium influences. Despite clear financial inferiority over the competition the Oakland Athletics succeeded in making it to the North American play-offs seven times between 2000–2013 – with the lowest possible average cost per victory in Major League Baseball (MLB).
The Moneyball principles obviously cannot be applied directly to football, it being far more dynamic and complex than baseball, which generally consists of a few recurring standard situations. Nevertheless, in 2015 the Dutch division league team Twente Enschede engaged Billy Bean to help it find new approaches to football. However, it was not a Dutch professional club or one of the leading teams from Barcelona, Manchester or Munich that made a committed effort to employ the Moneyball principles. Rather it was FC Midtjylland, a division league team in rural Denmark that was the first professional club to assemble its professional team exclusively according to mathematical models and algorithms and evaluate club performance independently of its current standing in the charts using its own rating model. Thanks to its radical implementation of the Moneyball principal, FC Midtjylland are the Danish champions in 2015, and compared with the competition, they did so with a relatively low budget for players.
The development of Moneyball principles and new technologies will result in fundemantal changes in the scouting system. Although the well-trained eyes of a scout will not be completely obsolete, it is almost certain that technological aids like databases and video platforms will be more important than they are today. The use of online video platforms with individual performance data will make on-site observation of players by scouts the exception rather than the rule. Players, consultants, agencies and scouts will use such online platforms as networking opportunities to pave the way for transfers. In this way, game and player analyses could become the standard basis for decision making in professional football by 2025. As such, professional clubs will have to take the lead in information based on holistic evaluations of players.
The days are over when incognito retirees acting as scouts for Bundesliga teams visit the youth leagues and offer up – hot dog in hand – well informed expert tips like, “Thereʼs one for us,” to the teamʼs management. Data analysis tools of the digital age will have largely replaced gut feelings.
Recruiting will be systematized
Assuming that players can be contacted by other clubs, tested, and involved in contract negotiations regardless of their existing contractual obligations, the recruitment of professional football players will become more and more systematic. It is likely that in 2025, with the help of intelligent ball-throwing robots, scouting will be able to test and store information not only about the individual quality of ball reception, ball passing and shooting technique, as well as the cognitive abilities of a transfer candidate, such as speed of action, concentration and stress resistance. Sensors will collect the candidateʼs biometric values and then provide insights into the state of stress and physical capacity under laboratory conditions.
Footbonaut will be an integral element
The first ball-throwing robot of this kind came into the world in 2013 in Dortmund and was presented to the public as the “Footbonaut” or “Wondermachine”. By 2025, the machine will probably be a fixture of scouting in the leading professional clubs throughout Europe. Based on available individual data, football laboratories will even be able to determine whether a potential rookie is a good fit for the team and able to strengthen individual team blocks. After all, a standardized personality profile provides information about how well a player, based on personality, fits into the framework of a team or is able to fill specific gaps in the current team.
In the future, not only a small group consisting of coaches and club managers will be dealing with transfer decisions. Transfer committees with officials from the sports division and representatives of the financial, marketing, legal and human resources departments will be responsible for feasibility studies and implementation of player and coach transfers. Playersʼ contracts will be increasingly linked to individually measurable performance parameters (e.g. marketing success in merchandising, image values in social media) and drafted by experts in the fields of human resources and legal & compliance. The necessary figures will be made available by the sports and marketing departments. Financial analysts will generate scenarios for potential revenue and loss profiles and propose contract terms and specific contractual clauses. They will also determine the impact on assets in the balance sheet and consider implications for compliance with financial fair play.
Player Development and Mentoring
Not only integration, but also the mentoring und development of the team and individual players will fundementally change in the coming years. More experts and specialists will support the "team behind the team" and technolgical advancements will have an impact on the work with the squad inside and outside of the sports department.
To integrate new players as quickly as possible and make them productive, leading professional clubs in 2025 will already have their own “integration teams” in their ranks. Experts trained in psychology and pedagogy will be in charge of personal counseling and the “hand-holding” for stars. In addition to individual care for players, group-dynamic processes and team interactions will be analyzed and evaluated. Intelligent machines networked with mobile devices in the “internet of things” will handle the organization of day-to-day life. For instance, on his way home, a player’s refrigerator will send a message to his smartphone informing him which performance-enhancing foods or drinks are lacking at home and then lead his GPS or autopilot to the nearest supermarket or suggest a delivery service.
Dedicated R&D Teams
In the year 2025, it will be more important than ever for players to develop their individual potential through targeted exercise units, recovery measures, and dietary plans. Thus, different areas of player development will be assigned to different trainers focusing on issues such as athletics, tactics, prevention, football technique, etc. Based on genetic testing and through targeted muscle biopsies, training programs will be tailored to the individual physiology of players. Electronic clothing, implanted sensors or thin films over the skin will monitor bodily functions and determine performance and fitness levels of the players to design custom training programs and adjust them as needed. This will make it possible, for instance, to pull Arjen Robbenʼs son off the field before he tears a stomach muscle.
The use of new technologies and the employment and further development of football laboratories in 2025 will be in the hands of dedicated research & development teams. Experts will work closely with universities and research institutes to explore how new technologies can help to tap athletic performance potential and expand technological core competencies in football. Thus begins the race between professional clubs to the efficient discovery and effective utilization of innovations.
Fans without Borders
In 2025 professional clubs will make more sales abroad than at home. Untapped growth areas for clubs will mostly be found abroad. The international fan community will sit at home in the best seats in the real or “virtual” stadium. 360-degree cameras will project an authentic stadium atmosphere on the living room walls and tables. Clubs will seek to curry favor with the “fans without borders” who will follow their second- or third-favorite club (abroad) and are willing to spend money for their cross-border favorites. Increased mobility and the world of digital news will give them a feeling of greater proximity to their stars abroad. In times past you had to buy a newspaper to find out how Real Madrid played in their last game. Today, you can click on live reporting or follow a live ticker. Fans without borders follow their favorite players or coaches (star followers), seek out unusual sports spectacles (highlight fans), or have a personal connection to their favorite club abroad (regional affinity fans). This development will continue to accelerate rapidly.
Conscious Brand Management and Communication
Local dependencies for business development, flagship businesses or fan shops have become a must in key metropolitan areas in order to stay in step internationally. However, to make the club brand a continuous and consistent experience across national and linguistic borders, and across all online and offline channels and product categories, conscious and consistent brand management and communication for professional clubs has become essential.
In a few years, sales will differentiate further in the core business of professional football: Regional acquisition teams will be seeking out new sponsors and corporate clients worldwide, specialized customer service representatives (e.g. former private bankers in pinstripes) will attend to the personal needs of VVIP customers. All-inclusive travel and stadium packages will be sold to retail customers through call centers and direct marketing, and individual arrangements made in personal consultations with customer consultants (e.g. former real estate agents in department store suits).
Merchandising and Sponsoring in the Future
The clubsʼ sales teams will be able to use stadium bands multiple times nationally and internationally through digitally superimposed advertising, and films applied to the skin of players will serve as a projection surface for additional advertising. Choreographies will be selected based on online surveys of the fan crowd and then implemented by external service providers in the stadium over the smartphones or tablets of the stadium visitors.
In the area of ticketing, in the year 2025, exact control of demand based on precise behavior forecasts will be used instead of last-minute sales. Dynamic pricing will allow clubs to adjust ticket prices based on opponents, season, day of the week, current game performance, weather data, competing events, etc., and to treat early birds differently from late bookers or offer best-price guarantees to season ticket holders or certain fan groups. The transactions will be carried out via primary and secondary market platforms online by smartphone. Likewise, fans can book spontaneously at the stadium or even upgrade their ticket category or access hospitality areas at special rates. Merchandising in the year 2025 will be about process efficiency of an integrated digital supply chain between physical and virtual points of sale. Fan collections will be designed with the help of fans in the cloud and then personalized before delivery. 3D printers will enable local production of most merchandise as well as fast delivery to global clientele.
In 2025, most consumers will have online access anytime, anywhere to every desired product and service. Professional clubs will compete with the entertainment industry to hold the attention and good graces of consumers. And only those professional clubs that succeed in maintaining a digitally integrated system across all business areas and contact points will be able to meet the individual needs of every single fan from a holistic point of view and offer personalized services.
Consistent Virtual Fan Experience
Thus an integrated shopping cart will enable virtual purchases from all of the contact points of a fan. Through digitally superimposing on- and offline advertising space (e.g. stadium bands, online banners) advertising messages are visible to each specific audience.
The aim is to create an integrated virtual fan experience, thus strengthening the fan bond and increasing fan loyalty. Professional clubs will have developed their own content design and content production units to process user data derived from continuous fan interaction through social media, online games, mobile apps, crowdsourcing activities, e-commerce, etc. Data scientists and data designers will bring order to this unstructured mountain of data and enable its analysis. Data journalists create a guide, based on analytical results, which enables data entertainers and visual designers to create the most unique virtual fan experience possible. In this way, user-relevant content will be created based on data available to every fan as an individual stream via personalized algorithms.
On the Trail of Tom Cruise
The swarm intelligence of the fans will be used in crowdsourcing, open source projects and online experiments to offer new products and services. In addition, clubs will use data from shopping carts, wish lists, watch lists, previous orders and time spent on individual product pages in order to bring products to fans before they have even decided to order them. In his 2002 film Minority Report, Tom Cruise was on the right track when he arrested future murderers before they had even committed the crime. Amazon already uses predictive buying technologies to test product shipping prior to purchases. Customers simply need to return the goods if they decide they do not want them after all.
Superstars as a Critical Factor of Success
Cooperation of the clubs and their superstars will become a critical success factor in media work in the year 2025. While superstars used to smoke publicly and drink alcohol before lactate levels, adductor strain and counter pressing made their way into our football world, superstars in 2025 will become international digital brands with millions of social media fans. Their social acceptance will likely continue to be very high, despite their sky-high incomes. Much like movie stars and pop stars, they will serve as role models for the broad public and satisfy its craving for heroes. At the same time, they will represent the greatest assets on the balance sheets of their clubs and will be shareholders who demand to have a say. Some will have a much bigger fan base than their clubs and control access to their fans through their own communication channels. That will make it increasingly difficult for trainers and club presidents to explain to the public why a superstar is not in a game, despite having announced his readiness to play on Facebook.
Christiano Ronaldo was the first to reach more than a hundred million fans on Facebook. Interviews in 2025 may only be possible over proprietary media, which would mean the death of independent sports journalists in search of exclusive star stories. Other superstars will probably even hire their own teams of experienced journalists in 2025 who play exclusively on their own channels around the clock. The main challenge, then, for professional clubs will be to position their superstars in the scene in a way that promotes their mass appeal, but does not cause them to “lose” their club fans to the superstars.
New Business as an Individual Unit
In 2014, Bayern Munich was the first Bundesliga club to create a management directorate for internationalization and strategy, as well as setting up an office in New York to drive the expansion of its core business of football internationally. Borussia Dortmund followed with an outpost in Singapore. In 2025, leading professional clubs will have brought all of their international activities, subsidiaries and affiliated companies abroad (seed and farming teams, representative offices, fan shops, etc.) together under one roof. In a separate new business unit the operating companies for the stadium, catering, events, etc. will be combined with new businesses and businesses still under development. The management of these subsidiaries and operating companies, which are business segments peripheral to the core business of football, will be led by independent managers which receive guidance on matters of portfolio optimization from the board, which also will have a controlling and monitoring function.
eSports as Adjacent Business
In particular, the development of new fields of business will help ensure that professional clubs will be able to reduce the dependence of business success on sporting success considerably in ten years. One of the biggest growth areas is e-sports. While the FIFA Interactive World Cup will celebrate its 36th birthday in 2025, the German teams in the club championships square off against one another in the “Virtual Bundesliga” in their own sports arena. Now that some clubs have already begun to extend their activities to other sports (such as FC Bayern in basketball), VfL Wolfsburg was the first Bundesliga club to hire two professional e-sports enthusiasts in 2015 to wear the green and white in all national and international virtual football tournaments. In the same year Beşiktaş Istanbul became the first international professional club to buy a professional League of Legends team to open the Beşiktaş e-sports club. Fantasy games have already generated more than USD 200 million in the US in 2015, but have only recently reached the European mainland. The football console games which are getting more realistic with each passing year, are a melding of real and digital football and are giving rise to additional betting and advertising markets.
Club-Campus is Self-Evident
With a view to 2025, education is another important growth area for professional clubs. While 2014 saw the first national league clubs cooperating with colleges and universities to establish institutions such as the Kleeblatt Campus in Fürth, the VfL campus in Wolfsburg and the Schalke Academy, in 2025 educational institutions will be part of the inventory of the leading professional clubs. The point is not only training and development of their own management personnel, but also the coaches, players and specialists within the club. In addition, having their own campus will give the professional clubs targeted employer marketing (employer branding) and position them as education-oriented employers on international employment markets. In addition, having their own educational institutions enables clubs to bring internationally renowned experts to their own campuses and secure access to best practices.
Technology Enables new Possibilites
Global data volume is currently doubling approximately every two years. Only professional clubs capable of using data and computer models to identify opportunities others do not see, and then exploit them promptly and consistently will gain the favor of fans in the entertainment competition. Here, professional clubs have a distinct advantage over other companies in the entertainment industry: They have oligopolistic control of the game of football that fans love and pursue passionately. After all, in 2025 digital technologies will not have torn apart the business of football, but helped it to tap into new possibilities. It is thus all the more important for professional clubs to exploit this advantage and react immediately to market changes, new behaviors and the needs of fans.
Key Area Technology & Data Management
In 2025 a chief digital officer must ensure that all of the interaction data available within the overall professional club from social media, online games, mobile apps, crowdsourcing activities, e-commerce, and other sources is aggregated and linked together in a form that can be evaluated. With the help of data mining and CRM systems, individual patterns can be predicted and customer relationships deepened through targeted product and service offerings. In addition, proprietary game and player data from fields such as player development, scouting, medical and the football laboratory can be used along with simulation models to generate decision options on issues such as player transfers, prevention measures or training design.
While the expertise to interpret and use the data will be decentralized in the operating units, the necessary technical infrastructure will be provided by a central technology & data management department. This department within the club universe will provide the required hardware and software, apps, analysis tools and the necessary computing and storage services via cloud-based and proprietary platforms. Furthermore this department will exercise control over the technology portfolio across all the other divisions. This is the only way to achieve economies of scale and plan technology investments sensibly and efficiently in the overall interest of the club.
Undestanding the Data Becomes a Competitive Advantage
In addition to providing the necessary infrastructure and central IT services, technology & data management will be responsible for trend scouting and strategic issues of risk diversification within the technology and investment portfolio of professional clubs. While in 2015 American professional clubs such as the LA Dodgers compete for the best start-ups in the sports technology sector with the venture funds of former NBA or NFL stars or US sports leagues, the football clubs of 2025 will have their own incubators to secure revenue sources outside of the current sporting events at an early stage.
Such investments secure options in future markets that bring the fan experience to new spheres through augmented reality, artificial intelligence, gamification of live football, etc. Specialists will be needed within clubs’ technology and data management departments for the identification, assessment and professional support of such sports technology companies. The aim will be to discover technological trends early on and understand their implications for the real or virtual fan experience ahead of the competition. This will also ensure access to junior staff in the technology sector.
Key Competence Units
The world of work will be organized in a fundamentally different way in 2025 than it is today. This will also effect how professional football operates. Work will no longer be limited by office buildings, borders and time zones. Organization of professional clubs will also become more permeable, with essential value creation taking place in interdisciplinary projects, in which areas of responsibility “flow” into each other. Central routine tasks and support processes will be outsourced to cost-effective shared services pools (payroll, financial accounting, contract management, etc.), some of which will be shifted to low-wage countries. Project-related specialist activities will be bundled in centers of expertise such as strategy & corporate development, finance & controlling, legal & compliance, public & investor relations, and human resources & administration.
External Specialists for Research & Development
Strategy & corporate development will have the task of defining strategic guidelines for the control of the professional club from an overall perspective and preparing them for the chief decision makers. This will involve systematic monitoring of competitors and changes in the market (so-called competitive intelligence). At the highest level of management, experienced consultants will develop proposals for which areas of business professional clubs should get involved in. For instance, does it make more sense to invest money in the development of an e-sports unit or in flagship stores abroad? These advisors will ensure in 2025 that an overall view of the portfolio of the club’s activities is maintained. Experienced business developers will then identify new opportunities and help build new businesses until they can be transferred to the new business area of the professional club.
Finance & Controlling
In ten years, experts from finance & controlling will deal not only with the impact of player or coach transfers on the income statement and balance sheet, but also with potential failure risks and implications on compliance with financial fair play. The external financing of players will also take on greater importance. Former investment bankers will design and issue investment products to finance player contracts via crowdfunding from fans (e.g. Kickrs.de) or external investment companies (e.g. private equity firms such as KKR) or hedge funds (e.g. Hero Investments). Finally, new forms of lending transactions will be securitized and new investment models for external investors will be developed.
As in cloud computing, in the future professional clubs will also develop their organizational structures towards the dynamic model of the so-called human cloud. It will then fall to the HR experts of professional clubs to build up this human cloud and make it available as an international pool of experts for part-time engagements and internal projects. This will require not only rigorous quality management, but also the systematic use of talent management and staffing tools. Therefore, a substantial part of the demanding tasks of the club will be performed by external project staff, agencies, consultants and partner companies which are closely integrated into the business processes of the professional clubs. Only those professional clubs that manage to gather the right talent at the right time and in the right place will be successful.
Leading a professional club with fluid structures in 2025 will mean constantly questioning borders and barriers within and on the periphery of the club and thinking about processes not in terms of discreet parts, but rather moving toward interdisciplinary teamwork. Roles and responsibilities will be redefined based on the project. A current example is Bayern Munich’s “Internationalization” department. Under the direction of a board member and a relatively small core team, representatives of internal departments (such as “merchandising and licensing”, “new media, media rights and IT”) are matched up with external experts in project teams to promote dedicated regional growth initiatives. Who takes the lead on which topic is determined based on the thematic focus of the project and not on the hierarchical level, but rather on professional competence.
The new challenges to the leadership of professional clubs indicate that we will see a different breed of decision makers than we have today. The issue of education and training will take on a particular significance in the area of leadership. Of course, in 2025 competence in football will remain critical to staying competitive on the field. But in addition to what happens on the field, management competence and specialized expertise will be needed for clubs to hold their own against competitors in the entertainment industry.