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From Kickabout To Boardroom: Microsoft’s Bid To Transform Sport

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Microsoft outlines its plan to transform sport at every level, from the elite in the boadroom to jumpers for goalpoasts in the park, using tech

Earlier this year, Sebastián Lancestremère, general manager of Microsoft Sport, told executives of some of the world’s biggest football clubs about how digital transformation could make them more competitive on and off the pitch.

New technologies, he said, would open up new sources of revenues by engaging existing fanbases and opening up new markets. Key to this is the company’s suite of software, including CRM and Office 365, as well as its cloud platform.

But Microsoft’s vision extends beyond helping just the world’s biggest sports organisations to transforming sport itself through digital health initiatives, new equipment and other technologies powered by big data and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Microsoft Real Madrid (3)

Madrid capital of sports innovation

Lancestremère said changing demographics such as urbanisation and the spread of social media are changing the way people consume entertainment. This means sports organisations need to make sure they are able to understand fans better and work with sponsors to maximise brand associations.

Digital can open up entirely new streams of revenue by tapping into an appetite for content and satisfying demands of an increasingly global fanbase. Microsoft claims more than half of all professional revenue goes on player salaries, so new sources of income would boost margins.

Madrid is an important showcase for two reasons. The first is that it’s home to Microsoft’s most high profile sporting customer, twelve times Champions of Europe Real Madrid, and the city also hosts the company’s Global Sports Innovation Centre (GSIC).

Real Madrid uses the Microsoft Sports Digital Platform, which comprises Office 365, CRM, Bi, and Azure services among other things, to track fans journeys across offline and online touchpoints and launch highly targeted marketing campaigns.

Staff at the club can see information about an individual fan and data is visualised so it is easy to understand without a degree in data science.

“This gives the possibility to put the fan at the centre and to connect them to different touchpoints,” said Lancestremère. “You can provide different experiences and learn from every interaction. This allows a club to track and have a personal relationship with every single fan.”

Microsoft Real Madrid (2)

Beyond clubs to ecosystem

You can read more about Microsoft’s work with Real Madrid later in the week, but the company is already looking beyond elite sport. It wants to power the entire ecosystem.

“Sport is broader than just clubs, it’s an ecosystem that generates $100 billion a year, but when you consider infrastructure such as stadium construction it’s $1.5 trillion,” claimed Lancestremère. “Sport is not just professional, it’s amateur. We have small businesses and the aim is to promote the competitiveness of the sports industry.”

Microsoft has a network of more than 100 innovation centres around the world, but the one in Madrid is the only one focused on sport. But that’s not the sole difference. It’s also organised as a cluster and open to anyone.

Since it opened, the centre has hosted more than 180 events with more than 4,200 attendees and has secured more than 160 partners.  For example, the Italian Football Federation has held a hackathon.

“We want to make this the best possible environment,” said Lidia Valverde, GSIC lead. “As a not-for-profit organisation we have associates and we are open to every sports organisation around the world.”

Microsoft Real Madrid (4)

Sports Innovation Centre

That’s not to say Microsoft doesn’t have a vested interest. The main areas of sports transformation are entertainment, practice, health and education with related activities including leisure, performance, team management, sports goods, software, training and sports tourism.

Participants are given Microsoft tools such as Azure as well as networking opportunities to help them develop new products and business opportunities.

Among the projects on display are Kinect-powered health applications as well as advanced equipment such as shinpads. Another was a new IoT-powered helmet that notified users when it needed replacing through sensors.

Microsoft also showcased G2K from Germany, which is working on smart crowd management, Wildmoka which generates real time video content, Tribom which is a crowdfunding platform dedicated to sports, and a UK free agent player directory. Some of the other potential projects include interactive museums or education tools.

The point is to demonstrate the broad spectrum of areas within sport that can be transformed through technology, but the ultimate goal is to create the sports tech equivalent of Google.

“We can make the sports industry more competitive,” declared Valverde.

 Quiz: What do you know about sport and technology?