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On & Off The Pitch: How Fan Data Is Keeping Real Madrid The Kings Of Europe

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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IN-DEPTH: Real Madrid understands each of its fans more than at any other time in its history. Here’s how this can help it dominate European football

Real Madrid is Europe’s most successful football team with 12 European titles to its name. Each season it battles (most recently) arch-rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for the right to be named  champion of La Liga (the Spanish top division).

Although recent seasons have seen the club blood a number of exciting youngsters, much of this success can be attributed to recruitment, which can be expensive in terms of transfer fees and salaries.

This makes the business side of the club just as important as the Galacticos performing on the pitch and digital transformation, or the better use of data to engage fans, is essential to this goal.

“Our business is simple. We want to win but to win you need the best players and for that you need more money,” summed up Rafael de Los Santos, head of digital at Real Madrid. “If you have the best players you win.” 

Real Madrid Microsoft

Real Madrid digital transformation

Real Madrid has been a customer of Microsoft since 2015 and the two have created a PaaS based on various Microsoft services to help the club track and learn more about its fans.

The Microsoft Digital Sports Platform collects data from ticketing, e-commerce and membership platforms to create an individual profile for every supporter. Whereas the club previously had access to just five sources of data, it can now tap into 70.

Here, the club can see the age, location and economic value of a fan, along with what they’ve bought from the club shop, what matches they’ve attended and when and where they’ve logged onto the official application or website.

Whereas traditional revenue streams are growing by ten percent year, the growth of digital far exceeds this. Moreover, the digital initiatives are benefiting the entire of the business.

“We are reinterpreting our business and undergoing big change in how we position ourselves and our fans,” added de Los Santos. “The reason for this is we know our fans better than at any other time in our history.

“One of the key things when we started this was to make sure people were actually going to use it. [This includes] people selling tickets, the tour, sponsorship, the people making content. It’s being used all around the club.

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Targeted campaigns

“We can’t make decisions based on intuition. We have to make decisions based on data.”

Silicon was shown an example of one fan from the US who had visited Madrid for a La Liga and a UEFA Champions League match, but had not visited the museum.

Thanks to the platform, the club could target him with offers to visit. A wider group of fans fulfilling certain criteria could be targeted with a particular campaign.

This greater understanding is also impacting how the club negotiates its sponsorship contracts. Real Madrid’s main sponsors are Emirates and Adidas, both of whom could benefit from the data.

For example, if Emirates was planning a new route, it could ask Madrid about which fans to target with advertising, while Adidas might want to know which fans have already purchased a replica kit. If a fan already had a shirt, but Madrid knew this person had a child, a targeted ad for children’s kit might appear when they visit the official website.

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Going social

Content is essential to attracting fans to Real Madrid’s social channels as after a certain amount of interaction, they are pulled into the Digital Sports Platform.

Earlier this year, Silicon heard how Microsoft became the first football club to reach 100 million fans on Facebook (its closest rival was inevitably Barcelona) and the club estimates it has more than 500 million fans worldwide.

Just three percent of its Facebook fans are from Spain, meaning it has to interact with them differently. After all, a fan in Argentina is unlikely to attend a match so social becomes a key factor. Content is tailored according to platform and even by geography.

For example, a Costa Rican fan might want to hear more about goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and for languages other than Spanish a simple translation isn’t enough. The way the Chinese market consumes content is massively different.

Fan loyalty

There’s also an acknowledgement that a fan outside the heartlands might be a bit more difficult to retain – at least to begin with.

“A fan who follows Real Madrid here in Spain is a core fan, but a fan in China [might only support Madrid] because we have a certain player and next year they are following Barca,” explained de Los Santos.

“The idea that someone can support both teams is crazy, but this happens. We need to be able to ensure a fan that is loyal.

“You need to make sure they don’t just feel you’re there to get the money and get out.”

But despite this, there is still the understanding that results on the pitch are what matters most.

José Ángel Sánchez, Director General of Real Madrid summed up this attitude perfectly: “The club has to do things every day like a normal company, but every three days, there is nothing more important than the game.”

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