INTERVIEW: Swansea City COO Chris Pearlman talks Silicon through the club’s digital transformation plans ahead of the upcoming season
The pages of Silicon have been filled with stories of the blossoming relationship between technology and sport in recent times, as it’s certainly a link that seems to have increased in prominence.
And nowhere is this more active at the moment than in football. Earlier this week Ericsson announced a connectivity partnership with Chelsea FC to provide free Wi-Fi at Stamford Bridge, just days after London rival Tottenham Hotspur had claimed that its new stadium will be the most technologically advanced in the Premier League.
We’ve also discovered how Real Madrid is using digital transformation to power success on the pitch and seen the growing role that machine learning is playing in the future of club’s data analysis.
But it’s not just the richest and most famous clubs who are taking advantage of digital, as Swansea City’s COO Chris Pearlman recently explained to Silicon.
Build from the back
The main area that Swansea City is investing in is cybersecurity, having recently announced a partnership with Barracuda Networks which will see it make use of multiple cloud-based security and data protection services.
Pearlman explained that, although there was nothing particularly wrong with the club’s old system, it had grown outdated and was failing to offer adequate protection against modern cyber attacks such as ransomware.
Data protection had also become more of an issue, with a combination of both reasons prompting the club to make the switch.
“We as a club wanted to upgrade our IT security because it was an important thing for us to do. There were some things around data protection and email security that we wanted to address,” he said. “We hadn’t done any type of IT security for quite a long time and we saw a need to do it.
“In this day and age of IT security threats we didn’t want to be vulnerable to that. We’re a club that gets a lot of exposure and we deal with a lot of important information internally and we wanted to make sure that information was secure.
“It wasn’t a specific problem, but definitely a recognition that what we had wasn’t what a club of our size with the data that we collect, with some of the core sponsors that we have, we didn’t want to be vulnerable to outside forces.”
In terms of specific products, Barracuda will provide its cloud-based NextGen Firewalls, along with its Web Security Gateway platform to ensure Swansea City is protected and security can be managed across all of its sites.
Barracuda Essentials is also a key component of the deal, providing email security, backup and archiving capabilities following Swansea City’s recent migration to Office 365.
The security firm will also become a sponsor for the upcoming Premier League season, enabling it to leverage the global exposure the club will get on a weekly basis.
“The ideal partner is one that you work with and that works with you across your different business lines,” Pearlman commented. “So it’s a true partnership where they utilise some of the sponsorship aspects that we control and we in turn are going to be utilising a handful of their products”
For the fans
But security isn’t the only area Swansea is targeting, it’s also working on ways to increase engagement outside of match days and improve the fan experience when they visit the Liberty Stadium.
The engagement issue is being tackled through a mobile app, which is set to be launched over the coming weeks ready for the 2017-2018 season. Supporters will be able to use it to get access to player data, receive club content and store their match-day tickets on their smartphones.
It’s focused on providing the “ability for us to connect more effectively with our fans,” Pearlman explained. “I think any ways that the club can make the match day experience for supporters more effective is something that we’re extremely interested in.
“Beyond that it’s looking at ways to connect with supporters outside of match days. People have an interest in football and in Swansea City not just for the two hours a week that the club is playing, they have an interest in it seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
“So the more content we can create and the more content that we can distribute, whether it’s through the app or through social media or other platforms makes for fans that are more engaged.”
Technical improvements are also being planned for the stadium itself, all of which Pearlman hopes will attract more and better engaged fans and, ultimately, translate into success on the pitch.