On Saturday, Real Madrid defeated Italian club Juventus 4-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff to win a record 12th European title. But off the pitch, the club is in the middle of a digital transformation project that seeks to keep the success coming.
The project covers every part of Real Madrid: commercial, operations and football, according to Rafael De Los Santos, the club’s digital head. He said sport is no different from other industries with the potential to harness the power of new technologies.
“Digital Transformation is important for everyone,” he explained at the KPMG and Microsoft Football Benchmark Forum. “The important thing is what it means for you, your company and a specific club. Digital Transformation at Real Madrid is not the same as Digital transformation of Juventus.
“At the very beginning we asked: ‘how can [Digital Transformation] improve Real Madrid?’
“We have hired many people who aren’t the normal profile. This year we have three mathematicians working for us. This is a first for the club, they’re doing data science.”
De Los Santos said the obvious areas of focus were how the club used technology, how its staff were organised and the creation of a new business model in the social media age.
“The first thing we did was put the fan at the centre,” he added. “Previously it was all one way and we were just throwing content at the fan. We want to build the relationship.”
In 2014, Real Madrid signed up Microsoft as its technology partner. Coaches and staff have been provided Surface tablets alongside software such as Office 365 while cloud and big data tools have been employed in the back office.
But the most intriguing aspect was a plan for a digital platform to engage fans with exclusive content and digital services such as a virtual stadium that can be accessed on multiple devices. Microsoft’s cloud and analytics capabilities can visualise key statistics and allow fans to make more effective comparisons between players and historic matches.
Social and video content is seen as essential to engaging fans and winning new ones. Real Madrid has an estimated 500 million supporters around the world but just three percent are in Spain and Indonesia its largest market.
Sport is unique in terms of fan loyalty – you can’t switch clubs like you can with Netflix and Amazon Prime – but there is an acknowledgement that football clubs are competing in a media and entertainment business for people’s time.
Rights to transmit live matches are held by broadcasters but De Los Santos said this represented just a tiny fraction of what happens at the club. Videos on social media are an example of this strategy but De Los Santos said the next step is to improve the quality.
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