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MWC 2017: FC Barcelona Looks To Digital & Collaboration To Build The Future Of The Sports Industry

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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FC Barcelona wants to expand its digital reach into more than just football

FC Barcelona is to open an innovation hub so it can share the data and digital practices it has acquired in trying to achieve success on the football field to other sports organisations and other industries. 

The ‘Barca Innovation Hub’ will be launched on 22 March, detailing how the club feels it can contribute to society and areas such as technology, health and the environment.  

FC Barcelona’s motto is Mes que un club, which means ‘more than a club’ and is owned by its fans.  

FC Barcelona MWC-1

Barca Innovation Hub 

It is seen as a symbol of the city and of Catalonia and during the Franco regime, its Nou Camp stadium was one of the few places Catalonians could express their identity and use the Catalan language.  

This is one of the reasons it believes it has a role beyond a sports organisation, even if it has succumbed to the temptations of commercialism with shirt sponsorship in recent years. It even agreed a deal with Intel to feature the company’s logo underneath the shirt a few years ago. 

But this is testament to the global appeal of Barcelona and does much to support chairman Josep Maria Bartomeu’s confidence in this latest venture. 

Speaking at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in its home city, Bartomeu admitted it was unusual for a sports official to speak at a technology conference, but stressed that as a global brand it had much to offer. 

“Barca is a global club based in Barcelona with offices in Hong Kong, New York and soon Sao Paulo with a mission to find new partners and opportunists,” he said. “We have 26 football academies across all continents, one of the largest stadiums in the world and the most digitally interactive museum in Spain. 

“The club is owned by 150,000 members and this is key for us. We are and we want to keep being more than a club. We had to generate a positive impact on society that goes beyond sport. As a sports club we don’t just compete with other clubs but other forms of leisure and entertainment.” 

FC Barcelona MWC-2

A sports leader? 

Bartomeu said its pursuit of trophies across multiple sports had seen it discover new applications of health technology, digital engagement and on data analysis. However to maintain its perceived leadership, he said it needed to work with other parties who can build on these innovations. 

In-stadium Wi-Fi, mobile ticketing and social media are but three ways clubs and governing bodies are using digital to keep and attract new fans and open new sources of revenue.

The Barca Innovation hub will bring together an ecosystem of academics, students, startups and investors and become a leader in the sports industry. Sharing its discoveries would not only advance FC Barcelona as a sports organisation and as a business, but also help society, he claimed. 

“We want to transform the world through sport excellency and the only way to do this is through knowledge,” he continued. 

“Barca Innovation Hub wants to become the number one sports innovation centre in the world and generate relevant impact in society and industry, attracting the best international talent. 

“We have a powerful brand worldwide that can lead this and we are in one of the most attractive cities for R&D and design. We always have to be in a winning position to maintain excellence. 

“We aim to build the future of the sports industry.” 

Sporting organisations across the world are looking at new ways to engage fans and improve their business. The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Wimbledon are looking at multiple technologies, while Manchester City is doing the same in football. 

Manchester City is a club with a less-illustrious past than Barcelona but is using tech on and off the pitch to establish itself as a major force in the football world. It has achieved a number of social media firsts, held hackathons and is using SAP off the field to help its business run more efficiently. 

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