Football clubs are steeped in history and tradition and regardless of the age of the club and its stadium memories are made that are treasured by fans. But now, clubs are turning to new ways and new technologies to help tell their stories. 

The club museum has been a staple part of the fan experience beyond the 90 minutes on the pitch for many a year. It’s a tried and tested formula and one that helps create a link between the old and the new and keep alive football’s history and traditions. If you’re lucky, there may even be a very nice collection of trophies to look at. 



But is the humble museum and stadium tour enough to satisfy the desires of fans that have binged on the assorted fan engagement activities of late? Clubs are increasingly looking at new ways to attract and engage fans. In the age of Financial Fair Play where every penny counts, they are looking to increase revenues and with the expansion into new territories bringing new fans to the game, some clubs face a squeeze on demand for match day tickets. 


Football is now a 24hr, 7 days a week, 365 days a year entertainment business. There’s a desire for non-stop information and entertainment. The growth of social and digital media and the expansion of the game across the globe means football can be consumed at all times of the day. 


In 2014, over 800,000 overseas visitors attended a football match in the UK according to data from Visit Britain which, in partnership with the Premier League, uses football to promote tourism in the UK.


In 2017, the top region for football tourism was the North West with over 10% of visitors attracted to the home to some of England’s biggest clubs in Manchester and Liverpool.


For Manchester, football plays a key role in the city’s identity with its two main club’s fighting it out for global brand domination as well as title success on the pitch. And it makes the perfect destination for the National Football Museum.


Originally opened in 2001 in Preston North End’s Deepdale Stadium, it was a critical success but the withdrawal of external funding forced its closure in 2010. It was revived by funding from Manchester City Council and moved to the city’s Urbis building in July 2012. Since then it has grown in stature and is now a major tourist attraction which sees over 500,000 visitors per year and growth of 12.5% in 2017. 


It’s a significant addition to the city which attracts visitors from across the world, drawn to its two super clubs Manchester United and Manchester City – both clubs becoming tourist attractions in their own right.


More and more football clubs are seeing the benefits of developing their visitor offerings as the game grows in popularity. Current SPFL champions Celtic FC recently gained approval from the local council to develop an £18m museum and hotel on land adjacent to their famous stadium.


A statement released by the club, stated: ”The history of the football club and its worldwide support mean that Celtic Park regularly attracts visitors outwith match days with stadium tours, the club shop and ticket office.


“Provision of a club museum and improved shop/ticketing facilities as proposed will greatly enhance the visitor experience and will help to sustain jobs and economic activity throughout the year.”


In September 2017, Italian giants Juventus announced a partnership with Costa Cruises which will see the launch of a Juventus themed cruise offering to the Asian market in what is part of the club’s development strategy in the region, where they count millions of supporters and numerous regional and global partners.


“This partnership shows the extent of the club’s interest in the Asian market,” said Giorgio Ricci. “The philosophy and values shared by Costa and Juventus help to display further Italian excellence around the world.”


Building a global fanbase clearly has benefits and clubs see themselves at tourist attractions in their own right. For those based in large cities, they’ve become entwined with the local tourist economy and offer a significant boost to the tourist itinerary.


Andrew Nugee, CEO of Imagineear, which designs and builds robust audio and multimedia equipment for culture and attraction clients around the world believes clubs are benefitting from the the global growth of football and advances in technology. 


“As the Premier League has grown you’ve seen these hundreds of millions of fans attracted to clubs like Manchester United and with that there’s some sense of global responsibility and nurturing of the global brand.”


Imagineear works with a number of football clubs and organisation to provide audio and visual tour guides and suggests the use of technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are helping to enhance the visitor experience.  


“We bring technologies which we coordinate to create a seamless and a personal experience to fans which is in their own language,” Andrew added.


Attracting over 100,000 visitors to its stadium tour each year, Imagineear recently engaged with Wembley Stadium to enhance its group guided tours by producing new video footage, edit existing content and design a bespoke new interface including image recognition and 360 video technology  for the national stadium. This will be delivered on Imagineear’s revolutionary group tour system – MultimediaGroupGuide™.


At the National Football Museum, along with its array of football memorabilia, there are six fully interactive football games which are aimed at enhancing the visitor experience.


“We like to think that the addition of the interactive elements have allowed us to appeal to a broader demographic, attracting more young visitors to the museum and encouraging them to explore our shared football culture in a way that they may not have done before,” said Craig Dobson, the museum’s digital marketing officer.


“Football is such an immersive game, so it’s only natural that visitors would expect to experience the same sensations as they might do at a match when they step through our door – or the turnstile into the Hall of Fame area. Evoking those feelings and memories is what we are about, and to do that visitors need to have a connection with the objects and the stories behind them.”


Technology has enabled the National Football Museum to bring to life some aspects of the displays as well as provide visual and audio cues. “The touch screens and information panels throughout the museum make visitors feel part of the game, helping to illustrate the significance of the items we have on display. We believe it is important for visitors to engage with the collection in the most tactile way possible, and the interactive elements allow them to do just that. The treatment table is my personal favourite, bringing knowledge about football injuries and remedies to the tips of your fingers.”


Taking the use of technology and interactivity one step further are Paris Saint Germain who recently launched the Inside PSG: Escape From Parc des Princes. The aim is to ‘escape’ from the Parc des Princes by solving a number clues within a 90 minute timeframe which take participants around the inner most parts of the stadium including the dressing rooms, private lounges and press conference area. 


With more and more people attracted to football, and as technology develops, clubs are seeing the benefits of offering truly unique and immersive experiences which push the boundaries between the old game and its new audiences. We can only wait and see how far this can be taken but providing an entertaining experience will be a top priority in 2018.​


This article appears in issue 107 of fcbusiness magazine: read the full issue here