Let’s Get the Fax Out of Football

As always the closing days of the European transfer window have been a source of great excitement for football fans and casual sports observers around the world. As the January transfer window closes at 11pm on Friday 31st, we’ll see the rumours come to an end and the final line up for our top teams fall into place.

As a keen Manchester United fan I’m pleased to see our boys have already signed Juan Mata, a much needed reinforcement at this point of our season! Meanwhile, a fair few of my colleagues are not as happy as me with their clubs’ activities in the transfer window. As the window draws to a close there’s still those vital few days where anything could happen. Over on Twitter we’ve been watching the #deadlineday hashtag closely.

Back in the boardroom, however, the deadline day can be an administrative nightmare. Managers are left pulling out what little hair they still possess as deals fall through. West Brom missed out on signing Romelu Lukaku in the last minute the last window, and the club has failed to emulate last year’s form without this new blood. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s last minute signing of Mesut Ozil has proven a stroke of genius.

The final rush of transfers as the deadline reaches its peak on the 31st of January means clubs often miss out on signings as paperwork fails to be put through to the FA before the 11pm deadline expires. Historically, the format has seen numerous signings fail as last-minute transfers are not put through in time. The cause of this is the sheer amount of paperwork which clubs need to file in order to sign a player.

Like any legal or business transaction, transfers can only be approved when the correct forms are signed. This means clubs need to organise documents on player wages, medical forms, transfer agreement between clubs, international clearance and visa issues. For clubs like Cardiff City who have made a number of signings so far including bringing Kenwyne Jones on board. I can only imagine the amount of forms and contracts the club administrators are dealing with right now!

The craziest thing is we’ve seen The Premier League embrace technology on the pitch to simplify processes and regulation, as with goal-line technology. Which begs the question – why have they not embraced advanced technology off the pitch?

Believe it or not clubs still have to dust off their fax machine every year in order to send these documents to their opposite number before the deadline closes. Far from the most technologically advanced pieces of hardware in the digital age, faxes are slow and prone to breakdown. When clubs are pushing through a last minute contract, this can be a devastatingly costly failure, both in terms of the finances of the club as well as its performance during the football season.

We’ve already seen this happen in the NFL just last year. The Denver Broncos were left in serious trouble when linebacker Elvis Dumervil and his agent experienced issues with their fax machine, meaning his contract renewal was sent six minutes past the deadline. When the Broncos did not receive the paperwork, they were forced to release Dumervil in lieu of guaranteeing his salary for the upcoming season. As a result, the Broncos were left with more than $4 million in dead money which could not be used against their salary cap. With so much at stake financially in the sporting world, these issues need to be addressed.

The solution? Get the fax out of football!

In the US, electronic signatures have been adopted by the NFL Player’s Association in order to avoid such a contract-signing fiasco happening again. It’s ridiculous to think that multi-million contracts are still being handled through a piece of outdated technology like the fax machine.

As Premier League clubs struggle to handle the administration involved in signing and selling players, technology like DocuSign’s eSignature solution could prove invaluable. There is definite excitement for fans in hearing that a star player has signed to their team at the last minute. However, there can also be anger when they hear a deal has fallen through as paperwork has not been put through in time.

So let’s get the fax out of football. Let’s spend less time on administration and more time on watching and playing the beautiful game.

By Neil Hudspith, Chief Revenue Officer, DocuSign

Getting up close and personal with fans – the development of the PURL concept in sport

Whatever the industry and whatever the type of business, it’s universally established that building a personal dialogue with customers is a powerful way to build longer term relationships (see a recent blog here ‘The Personal Age of Marketing is here’).  Amongst other things this approach helps to reinforce the feeling with customers that you understand them and value them.

It’s the very reason why many businesses are trying to work out the best use of social media as it provides us with the ability to speak on a personal level with our customers, potentially turning negative conversations into positive ones and we can enhance the feeling of being valued for those who interact with us positively.

Personalised-URLs-in-sport-infographicSports consumers are savvy and they can spot a one size fits all approach a mile off. Simply adding a name to an email isn’t getting personal, fans want to be understood, they want to be loved and rewarded for their loyalty. It’s only through continued innovation with data marketing approaches that real personalisation can be achieved so that we can maximise the opportunity that their needs and loyalty presents to us.

With regard to this, you may have come across the term PURL which has been being batted around recently.

A PURL is a personalised URL that gives a customer (or a fan) their own little bit of personalised space. Essentially some personal information (preferably a name) appears within the URL linking to a specific landing page.

4Sight have taken this PURL concept to create a PWP (Personalised Web Page) and more recently created a Personalised Fan Web Site. Confused? Let me explain…

The PURL was a great starting point. It included the fans name within the web page URL and linked to a landing page that was standard for all fans once they reached it.  There may have been some basic personalisation such as their name but essentially it was a landing page with a call to action.

Then we developed the concept of the PWP, a personal web page. The difference being that the level of personalisation was greater.  The personalised URL took the fan to their own web page which was highly personalised with their contact data and transactional information.  It included their own specific pricing and loyalty point information.  This worked well for Season Ticket renewals due to the number of different pricing categories within the product.

Now we have created the concept of a Personalised Web Site which offers much more depth and richer personalisation. Along with the pricing and loyalty data, we created a number of segments based on the supporter’s date of birth and presented imagery from their era. A reminder of your child hood stars took the supporter back to the experience you had in the ‘good old days’.

We believe that the next phase will be to use thee personalised website as a replacement for email marketing with fans able to login to their URL to check out their own website with relevant content, offers and services specific to them.

Using insight and analytics and through understanding fans preferences, exclusive content can be provided and they can keep coming back for more as their page is updated throughout the year with relevant offers for all of the various products and services that they might be interested in.

We’re not just talking about a page with your name and price on, we’re talking about a whole host of relevant content. Personalisation at this stage takes on a whole new level.  Relevance is key. If this article isn’t relevant to you, then I suspect you’re not still reading. And that’s what your fans will do too, if you continue to bombard them with mass emails with general information.

So here’s what we’ve found so far through our experience with PURLs, PWPs and PWSs:

The personalised approach enables us to cut some marketing spend.

- Online sales are being increased, with an average uplift of 50% (via online ticketing) year on year.

- Overall sales are up, we have seen season ticket targets beaten by 5%.

- Engagement is dramatically increased. Email open rates for the campaign linking to the personal websites are consistently in excess of 60% and click through conversion rates an impressive 30%.

- The personalised approach enables us to cut some marketing spend through a reduction in direct mail and telesales. On average, a reduction of 35% has been achieved based on previous campaigns.

- Crucially, fan feedback has been positive with fans forums and blogs talking positively about the clubs fan engagement.

With these clear benefits, our question is ‘can you afford not to be personalised?’

 

Written by Garry Adamson, Managing Director of 4Sight Sport & Leisure, a specialist sports CRM and data agency. www.4sight-sport.com

The sizes of Football Nets, Pitches and Balls are changing.

The Amateur County Football Associations voted in the change for smaller side matches, played on smaller pitches in May 2013.

The changes are to be phased in by the 2014/15 season, although many leagues have already adopted these changes.

Small side games played on smaller pitches with smaller nets will allow players more time on the ball and help to develop individual player skills. The aim is to try and reduce the win at all costs attitude prevalent in Youth Football.

Nick Levett, the FA’s national development manager said : “As soon as you put kids on massive pitches, adults want to win and pick bigger, stronger and faster kids. They’ll get kids just to whack it over the top and when they get through to a huge goal net and a tiny little kid, there’s no challenge for them and it’s very easy for them to score”

Football Nets Balls and Pitch SizesIt is hoped to emulate the success of European countries, in particular Spain where the style of play in youth academies and at grass roots is focused a free flowing short passing game with young players showing confidence on the ball.

The changes will see under 7s and 8s playing 5-a-side football, with a size 3 ball on a smaller pitch with 12 x 6ft football nets.

Under 9s and 10s will continue with 7-a-side Mini Soccer with a size 3 ball for the 9s and a size 4 ball for the 10s.

Instead of going to a full size pitch with full size goals the Under 11s and Under 12s will use a smaller pitch with 16x 7ft goal nets.

The under 13s and 14s will play on a Junior size pitch with 21 x 7ft football nets and a size 4 ball.

The Pitch, Goal and Ball sizes for each age group are shown on our infographic.

Correct size football nets can be bought from The Soccer Store

How to Play ‘The People’s Game’ – And Make Sure You Both Win

For those of us old enough to remember the days where direct customer service was essential and not just an option,  the phrase, “Hello caller, this is the operator, how may I direct your call?” will undoubtedly unlock the memory bank of a long-gone era.

Given the chance, the precise answer to the question of course, would always have been, “efficiently and correctly, thank you very much” but people in those days were far too polite to say so.

Then the world fell in love with the utopian idea of computers doing all the work. It was the start of a new era: Number crunching and connectivity, all in one (heavy) box while the button pusher sipped tea and only spoke when the person next to them offered another biscuit. Technological advances and computerisation eliminated the need for regular personal interaction – sometimes abrupt, sometimes wondrously warm and helpful – and over time the social animal within us began to realise that we actually missed this valuable ‘touch point’. Computerisation was all very well, but there’s nothing like a real, live human.

We haven’t quite gone full circle (heaven forbid) but these days it really is all about making the systems work for us. Computers and their systems must operate in the most efficient and personable way possible and now, people actually demand it. There’s no time for fuss, no time for wasted, irritating and irrelevant interaction, let’s cut to the chase, make an informed choice and get on with life. (Please).

Bingo! That’s where sophisticated management of computerised data puts marketers right in the middle of, ‘The People’s Game.’

In modern day data management, personalisation means two things. Obviously, its important to have the correct data about the correct person but these days customer expectation – and response – requires more than just the bald presentation of ‘the latest offer.’ Now, as a service provider, you have the ability to connect with a customer in two ways. Indirectly, you connect analytically by compiling information that is available from your database of purchases and general interactions which then means you connect directly by making sure your singular approach is tailored to their own individual tastes and desires in a human, acceptable and efficient way. The result of such wondrous organisation is maximisation of the message, greater confidence and acceptance from the recipient and hence, a greater propensity for the approach to be productive. Job done, Mr & Mrs. Smith are happy, pass me another biscuit.

Yes, the personal approach is actually back in vogue.

We’re not quite back at the point where every transaction is automatically presided over by the operator, although that can  – and is – an option and Aston Villa, for example, still use tele-sales to great effect in the right circumstances. Personalisation is a valuable tool which is undoubtedly proven to out-perform the wildly targeted cold selling and mass mail outs that were the result of marketing’s initial dealings with computerisation.

In the 21st century we can ‘do’ sophisticated. The secret of success rests in the initial capturing of accurate data and for our sports club clients, that means data from every available part of the business. It also means that a unique and relevant reference is built up for each and every customer which can then be applied by anyone and any department within the organisation. The key is in the planning and it’s what we as a company preach every single hour of every single day.

Every transaction and interaction from ticketing sales, merchandise website interaction or match day experience outlets is fed into the central CRM for club-wide user benefit and if the user is wired into the whole philosophy, the results will speak for themselves. Do it this way and you’re set up to play the game in a way the modern customer effectively wants.

As one obvious example, this is how Queens Park Rangers approached their season ticket renewal programme last summer and even after relegation from the Premier League, the result of an organised, efficient approach, was record sales achieved at half the cost of the previous year’s campaign. What’s more, the campaign earned them the accolade of “Best/Most Innovative Use Of Technology By A Football Club” at the Football Business Awards in November. It’s a solid sign that creating accurate personal data records and then producing an imaginative personal experience tailored to each individual supporter’s confirmed preferences is totally in line with modern day expectation.

QPR’s use of a personal URL (PURL) to effectively provide a personal webpage for every supporter is extensively covered in the latest edition of the football industry’s business publication, fcbusiness.  There’s an informative case study which focuses on QPR and the campaign itself and also a wider view of the Sports Alliance philosophy to reflect the whole approach. I’d strongly suggest you find yourself a copy and a spare twenty minutes to digest. On the other hand, we, at Sports Alliance are always available to discuss its implementation at any time!

Clubs and organisations are now looking for methods of communication that are both efficient AND responsible and the new year automatically sees the onset of internal annual planning processes, so what better time to consider a touch of data housekeeping? It’s clear that plans and campaigns in 2014 will undoubtedly revolve around efficiency as well as acceptable and rewarding interaction.

The modern day consumer is both sophisticated and demanding and the Personal URL approach is one avenue that can cover the options. 21st century technology doesn’t need the operator to make the connection every time, but believe me, the consumer’s answer remains the same. “Efficiently and correctly, thank you very much.”

Anthony Khan - Managing Director

Anthony Khan – Managing Director

Sports Alliance – www.sportsalliance.com

On secondment at Manchester City: Rachel Cowgill’s experience

Solicitor in Gateley’s Commercial, Technology and Media team, Rachel Cowgill discusses in detail her experience of being on secondment at Manchester City during her training contract.

As part of my training contract I was fortunate enough to undertake a six month secondment at one of the world’s largest football clubs – Manchester City FC.

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to think that the business of a football club begins and ends on the pitch. While the ‘beautiful game’ is the heart of MCFC, the substantial business infrastructure underpins everything the club does. A vital part of this machine is the MCFC legal team.

During my six-month stint at the club my work spanned player transfer agreements, sponsorship and endorsement deals, employment and IT matters. While the majority of the work fell under the umbrella of “commercial contracts” no two days were ever the same.

Football clubs are faced with a multitude of legal and non-legal issues. While some of the issues are commonplace within businesses generally, some are football-specific.

For example, if a club seeks to enter into an agreement with a new kit sponsor, not only must the parties reach agreeable commercial terms but they must also abide by the Football Association rules regarding kit advertising. These rules dictate how often the sponsor’s name, mark or logo may appear on the shirt and shorts and in what size. If a club participates in international competitions they must also comply with the relevant regulations of FIFA, UEFA and other Confederations.

In addition, as with other Premier League clubs, MCFC must ensure that it does not fall foul of the financial fair play rules which were brought in to prevent professional football clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success.

Non-football specific matters – for example the protection of intellectual property and confidential information – are just as important to the club. As with any business which licences its intellectual property, it must ensure that contractual terms and strict approval processes are put in place to control the use of IP by third parties. After all, prohibited use of IP could potentially damage the valuable MCFC brand. Likewise, when sharing sensitive information, confidentiality agreements must be drawn up to ensure that such information is not leaked into the public domain.

The MCFC secondment proved to be a steep learning curve for me. As a trainee solicitor I often came across the phrase “commercial awareness” and I believe my true appreciation of this term only came following my secondment. I was able to observe and be a part of the inner workings of a business. I saw first hand the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that players are signed, training facilities are built and fan experience is improved, and how the legal team plays an intrinsic part in helping the club achieve success. The experience I gained was invaluable and something I will never forget.

Rachel Cowgill – Gateley LLP

www.gateleyuk.com

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rehabilitation – The Perform at St George’s Park Way

Following the news that Theo Walcott will be out of action for the next six months, ultimately missing out on a place at this summer’s FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil, Paul Williamson, Lead Physiotherapist for Perform at St. George’s Park, gives his view on rehabilitation for this type of injury.

The Anterior Cruciate Ligament provides stability to the knee joint and is essential for control in pivoting movements, its role is vital for those who play sports that involve cutting, turning and changing direction.

A good example of this is football in which the most common injury occurs at the knee. For every 1000 hours of game play there are between 4 and 7 Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries. Professional football is becoming faster and more intense than ever, players face more matches and training and a 172% increase in injury incidence over the last 15 years reflects the growing demands of the game. Female athletes fare worse and are three times more likely to injure their anterior cruciate ligament than their male counterpart.

Injury can occur though contact or non-contact mechanisms, 68-72% of injuries arise through non-contact mechanisms where a player may land on one leg following a jump or change in direction with a side stepping movement. Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament may not occur alone; other structures may also be damaged during such incidents which include the medial collateral ligament, the menisci, the articular cartilage surface and bone bruising. Additionally, the prospect of developing knee osteoarthritis later on in life is significantly increased.

Once accurate diagnosis has been made, surgery may well be indicated. A bundle borrowed from the players own hamstrings or patella-tendon is used to replace the anterior cruciate ligament. This surgical procedure is common and the player may well return to game play at the same or similar level but the rehabilitation period is long and arduous; it can take six months for elite athletes and longer for non-elite athletes to fully recover from surgery.

Good rehabilitation is absolutely essential to allow the patient to perform at levels previously achieved prior to the injury. There are several phases of rehabilitation which include a post-operative rest phase, early and late rehabilitation phases and performance phases which place emphasis on running then sports specific that replicates actual game play.

Many rehabilitation protocols are flawed and do not allow the athlete to fully rehabilitate, increasing risks of re-injury or a failure to return to sport. These protocols may control rehabilitation progression by time phases or temporal measures. Unfortunately a patient may not be ready to move onto a more difficult exercise or for example start running; however the patient may do so because the protocol allows them to at that time point.

The Perform rehabilitation philosophy encompasses criterion based rehabilitation. In simple terms, to progress rehabilitation the patient needs to achieve objective goals such as functional movement control, strength, balance, and is considered ready by their physiotherapist. This ensures patients are truly ready to progress in a safe and supervised manner which lowers risks of failed rehabilitation or injury.

Perform rehabilitation views all patients as individuals and assesses them holistically to develop a bespoke rehabilitation programme that addresses all areas of identified deficiency. Many individual factors predispose athletes to injury; we therefore screen our patients using functional movements and a robust physiotherapy assessment. Lumbopelvic stability, poor quadriceps strength, gluteal activation and poor lower limb movement control, are key area’s which we have identified as common area’s that require development.

By addressing these areas as part of the rehabilitation we not only return the athlete successfully to game play but we aim to lower any potential for future injury as research suggests that patients who have had an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury are at a greater risk of rupturing the same ligament in their other knee.

FIFA is currently working on the prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries in sport and has introduced the 11+ programme aimed at players aged 14 and over, it encourages the use of the 11+ as a standardised warm up    http://f-marc.com/11plus/exercises/

For those participating in any sports I would recommend being screened by our medical team to identify areas which have potential for injury.

‘Prevention is better than cure’

Paul Williamson, MSc, BSc (Hons), BSc (Hons) MCSP HPC AACP MACPSEM

Lead Physiotherapist, Perform at St. George’s Park

 

Reference list:

FA., (2006) Shear class, thefa.com

http://www.thefa.com/England/SeniorTeam/NewsAndFeatures/Postings/2006/04/England_Shearer.htm

FIFA., (2006) How footballers are brought to their knees, fifa.com

http://www.fifa.com/en/development/medical/index/

Majima, et al (2002) Rehabilitation after hamstring anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. Vol; 397: 370-380.

Prodromos et al (2007)

http://www.arthroscopyjournal.org/article/S0749-8063(07)00686-X/abstract

Should football fans expect an Amazon online experience when purchasing tickets? And will they ever get this?

As we enter 2014, there has been a raft of New Year predictions are being reported at a prolific rate. One of the most hotly reported trends is that 2014 is going to be the year where ‘personalisation’ comes into its own. Brands will be jumping on this trend to gain a piece of the significant e-commerce pie – read one well reported piece here from The Drum: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/12/04/2014-will-be-year-personalisation-brands-try-take-piece-14trn-e-commerce-pie.

This certainly comes as no surprise to us. We’ve been evangelising the importance of offering a personalised customer experience for some time, focused primarily on our work with customers in the sports arena using our TALENT platform. We believe this is central to building fan engagement; whether rewarding loyalty to committed supporters, or incentivising engagement with new fans, or looking specifically at the next generation of supporters via family packages and promotions. It’s been at the heart of our product strategy to ensure customers can use the data held within TALENT to deliver a unique customer experience to their sport fans when purchasing online – whether this is for buying tickets, retail merchanise or corporate hospitality for example.

We’ve been focused on our product roadmap to deliver new developments, such as linking product data so that TALENT prompts customers about relevant offers and deals they may be interested in, specifically based on their preferences. There’s also the ability for clubs to use TALENT to provide an increasingly richer personalised experience when developing targeted marketing campaigns. These utilise all the data that sports fans provide at that critical point of ticketing transaction, held within TALENT, hence allowing clubs and organisations to tailor their communications to supporters.

However, when you look at the retail experience offered online by companies in the retail space – and I’ll pick out Amazon for its remarkable personalisation of service – there’s still a gap between that which sports fans are offered, especially in the football and rugby area. There are quite a few significant reasons for this.

Fundamentally, Amazon can sell any of its products to anyone – there are no restrictions. All Amazon really has to consider is stock, and delivery of this stock. However, in football and rugby, there are lots of different scenarios that need to be considered before a club can even begin to sell a specific ticket, with varying qualification criteria which differs from supporter to supporter.

I’ll give a few examples. There’s the issue of fraud to ensure tickets are legitimate and don’t get into the wrong hands; there’s safety and access control to ensure the right number of tickets are sold and only the right people can enter the stadium. And that really is just the start. Clubs tend to make tickets available and allocate these tickets based on loyalty. Each ticket buyer needs to be categorised, which comes down to a set of criteria based on a perception of ‘fairness’ and ‘entitlement’ around loyalty – whether they are a season ticket holder (the most loyal supporters) and how many games they have attended. These all count for ‘points’ and these points mean prizes in terms of being given first allocation of tickets for premium games and early access during ticket sales. To make it even more complicated, this qualification system can be different for every club and sporting organisation.

So before any tickets are sold, the ticketing commerce platform needs to be able to manage a level of intelligence and logic, which is essentially a number of pre-requisites which have to be accounted for before the potential ticket purchaser can even put anything into their basket.

This comes into action more fully around key dates such as season ticket renewals and high demand match ticket sales. For Liverpool football club for example, it operates a unique bi-annual sale of its tickets. Its most recent members sale – which took place last month – saw more than 70,000 tickets sold online within two days and around 100,000 over the full four day period.  The success of this sale – which avoided extensive queuing for fans online and ensured the right tickets reached the right supporters – is a great example of TALENT operating a system of pre-requisites based on fan loyalty, where tranches of tickets are made available to fans in planned phases to manage peaks of demand and reward the most loyal of fans first.

So although retail operations do reward loyalty – early bird offers, exclusive deals for card holders etc –we’d argue that in sport, there is a different level of sophistication required.  And quite rightly so – the degree of loyalty that sports organisations demand and receive from fans goes far beyond the commitment around most retail purchases, not to mention the long-term nature of loyalty delivered by fans. The commercial success of clubs is largely based around those fans and the experience they deliver on match-days – imagine a stadium without its fans to drive excitement for the teams. So when you think about the degree of qualification that needs to be delivered by sports clubs, it’s also worth considering the intelligence that is contained with the ticketing systems. It’s only after this is delivered successfully in sports, can clubs take the opportunity to then concentrate on delivering the truly unique and personalised customer experience.

Mark Dewell, MD

Advanced Ticketing

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