The importance of being digital: The new fan experience


With the appetite for content growing all the time, the digital experience has long been an essential component of the football fan experience. As a result of the disintermediation of the club-fan relationship, this responsibility falls largely on football clubs, but in many cases they find themselves lacking the resources to meet this demand.  

In this article, the Football Benchmark team looks at the “big five” European leagues and explores the importance of clubs’ mobile apps.

For many clubs, the effort of introducing a new digital presence begins with the unification of databases under one IT-system, as the different segments (e.g. club members, online store, ticketing, museum), are often still largely structured as stand-alone data streams. By introducing a single ID, new and existing members can access a club’s diverse offering, and the data analysis at the core of a new digital strategy becomes richer and more simplified.

Responsive Apps are a core element of the digital environment, even more so as clubs increasingly understand the importance of owning the content they generate. Fans want content before, during, and after each game and apps provide a platform to meet these requirements while constantly feeding the clubs’ system with new data, memorised to create a “virtual” person for whom offerings, such as different ticket categories or merchandising products, are customised.

Despite this trend, an analysis of clubs’ Apps across the European ‘big five’ leagues shows that 32 out of 98 clubs (34%) still lack an official App, neither on Google Play nor iTunes. However, when closely analysed, major differences can be found among the five leagues.

The Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga stand out in this regard, with 95% and 88% of their clubs respectively offering an official App to their fan bases. At the time of publication, Leicester City was the only Premier League club without an official App, while in Germany only Red Bull Leipzig and Hannover 96 had yet to adopt this functionality.

By contrast and despite their sizeable fan bases, a significantly higher number of clubs do not provide their followers an equivalent solution in Ligue 1 (9), LaLiga (8) and Serie A (10). While clubs without an App are often less wealthy or recently-promoted, examples of Spanish, Italian and French clubs participating in European competitions can also be found within this group, highlighting the gap with their English and German peers in terms of commercial development.

A comparison of the number of downloads of the clubs’ App on Google Play (data not available on iTunes) also provides interesting insights. In this regard, Bundesliga clubs are again a step ahead, with as many as eight clubs’ Apps recording greater than 100,000 downloads, while in England, no club outside the ‘big six’ group reached that landmark.

Unsurprisingly, 100,000-plus was also achieved by the major clubs in Spain (FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico), France (Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyonnais, Olympique Marseille) and Italy (Juventus, AC Milan, Napoli and AS Roma). However, it should be also noted that these figures are influenced, to a large extent, by the size of the club’s fan base, rather than the quality of the digital offering.

Indeed, with the vast amount of content available outside their channels, clubs need to provide a superior fan experience, both in terms of content and the user experience, in order to differentiate themselves. Impressive fan numbers are no longer a sign of digital progress and the creation of a club-owned and unified digital environment is a prerequisite to avoid being left behind as digital revenues become the industry’s growing fourth revenue pillar. 

The KPMG Football Benchmark team can advise clubs on the development and implementation of a new digital presence, allowing for a clearly defined broader digital strategy as well as a more efficient and effective use of resources. 

This article has been written in cooperation with Dirk Distelrath and Klaus Schulze Vowinkel (KPMG AG).