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03/31/2022

The Impact of Technology on Global Football

The artistic element will still make the difference

Sascha L. Schmidt / Daniel Beiderbeck / Nicolas Frevel- March 31, 2022

Tips for practitioners

Finding the right balance between art and science has always been a challenge for society, and the same is increasingly true as it pertains to football. Several organizations, including FIFA, have addressed the question of whether technological innovations should become an integral part of the game. In line with its vision and role as the governing body of the game and the tournament organizer for numerous men’s and women’s competitions, FIFA has an intrinsic motivation to investigate innovative features and new technologies that have the potential to improve the game at all levels and empirically support regulatory changes proposed to the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

Over time, the number of potential amendments to the rules related to technology has inevitably increased. Recent examples, such as goal-line technology (GLT), the use of electronic performance and tracking systems (EPTS), or video assistant refereeing (VAR), show how innovative tools can improve the game. Now, legitimate questions concerning the scope of technology in modern football (and the desire for it) remain.

Transfer to Broader Management

The battle between art and science, as previously stated, can be seen in the broader sphere of management in almost every industry. Notably, the mechanisms that can be observed in football can be transferred to corporations beyond sports, particularly as it pertains to temporarily assembled teams (as often found in agile organizations) or “swarms” (i.e., a team of externally sourced professionals that tackle and solve a problem for which an organization lacks the required expertise in-house). Science and technology could create substantial value when used to support such business teams. At the same time, the artistic element of teamwork must be protected to ensure that the team can deliver outstanding results.

Parallel to the football world, business managers must consider three phases to get the most out of agile teams or temporary swarms:

  1. Talent identification
  2. Team composition
  3. Performance optimization

In the context of football, these challenges highly apply to national teams, where players typically play together for a limited amount of time (e.g., for a tournament) and then disassemble and return to their respective club-level teams. In contrast to managers in the football world, those active in business organizations often have much less information about the performance and characteristics of their employees. Hence, a more scientific approach of how to optimize team performance could be a key to generating competitive advantages.

Tips for practitioners

  • The importance of technology in football will continue to increase. While this sounds obvious, it was nevertheless interesting to see that smaller associations expressed an even higher desire for technology. This is underpinned by the conviction that technology and data science are the fastest growing areas in football clubs and associations.
  • In football, technology is primarily seen as a supporting mechanism. Experts agree that technology makes the game fairer and adjacent processes, such as training or scouting, more efficient. It should not jeopardize the purity of the game.
  • The influence of science is on the rise. Regardless, art will remain an integral part of football. Despite the increased importance of technology and data, experts agree that the artistic component of the game will still be the key differentiator on the field. Managers need to control and leverage technological potential while simultaneously finding a way to optimize its interplay with human creativity to improve the game.
  • Professional football could be considered a benchmark to optimize team performance in business practice. Lessons can be learned from talent scouting mechanisms, digital employee profiles/avatars, and technology-driven training and development opportunities.

Literature reference and methodology

The Delphi method is a well-established technique for structuring group communication processes. The Center for Sports and Management of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management has amassed substantial experience in conducting Delphi-based studies both for academic outlets and the public press.

The study at hand was conducted among technical directors hailing from 91 different countries. As such, this study is the first and most comprehensive of its kind and considers representatives from FIFA Member Associations from all parts of the world.

  • Schmidt, S. L./Beiderbeck, D./Frevel, N. (2021): The Impact of Technology on the Future of Football – A Global Delphi Survey, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, Düsseldorf.
Further reading
  • Beiderbeck, D., Frevel, N., von der Gracht, H. A., Schmidt, S. L., & Schweitzer, V. M. (2021a): Preparing, conducting, and analyzing Delphi surveys: Cross-disciplinary practices, new directions, and advancements. MethodsX, 8, 101401. doi.org/10.1016/j.mex.2021.101401
  • Beiderbeck, D., Frevel, N., von der Gracht, H. A., Schmidt, S. L., & Schweitzer, V. M. (2021b): The impact of COVID-19 on the European football ecosystem – A Delphi-based scenario analysis, in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 165, 120577. doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2021.120577
  • Merkel, S., Schmidt, S. L., & Schreyer, D. (2016): The future of professional football: A Delphi-based perspective of German experts on probable versus surprising scenarios, in: Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, 6 (3), 295–319. doi.org/10.1108/SBM-10-2014-0043

Authors of the study

Professor Sascha L. Schmidt

Sascha L. Schmidt is Director of the Center for Sports and Management and Professor for Sports and Management at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. He is also the Academic Director of SPOAC - Sports Business Academy by WHU. In addition, he is a member of the Digital Initiative at Harvard Business School (HBS), affiliated to the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH) and a Research Associate at Emlyon Business School Asia. Sascha is co-author of various sports related HBS case studies and one of the initiators and Senior Lecturer of the MIT Sports Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. His research and writings have focused on growth and diversification strategies as well as future preparedness in professional sports.

Daniel Beiderbeck

Daniel Beiderbeck is an external doctoral student at the Center for Sports and Management (CSM)at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management and Program Manager at the SPOAC. Daniels research focuses on Delphi studies to investigate future scenarios for football and eSport. Prior to his doctorate, he worked for two years as a strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he supported numerous digital transformation projects in various industries.

Nicolas Frevel

Nicolas Frevel is an external doctoral student at the Center for Sports and Management (CSM) at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. He conducts research on topics in the field of “The Future of Sports” with the help of Delphi-based scenario analyses. His focus is on technologies in sport. Before his doctorate, he worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in various industries and functions.

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