In Focus: Other Media - Making Digital Work For Fans & Finances
Head of Marketing at West Bromwich Albion, Laura Gabbidon, talks to fcbusiness about leaving the EFL cohort to take control of their website and app to gratify both fans and their business objectives.
The club has moved away from the Football League interactive platform – why did you choose to do that?
We’ve spent a couple of years thoroughly investigating our options and did not take the decision lightly. Ultimately launching our own digital platforms gave us greater opportunities to commercialise our digital assets through new opportunities for sponsors as well as innovating our content and product delivery for supporters.
UX was another key objective, we wanted to own our digital platforms so we could customise the user journey and experience to suit our fans and their requirements rather than have to fit a template model. The added benefit is that we can continue to freshen up the West Bromwich Albion brand and modernise where appropriate.
And last, but not least, as part of the UX objective and as part of our wider data strategy we were keen to introduce Single Sign On so supporters would only have to manage one account and one log in to access all of our platforms. SSO is only an option by leaving the EFL Digital cohort and this was a key driver for us.
Is this part of a long-term strategy?
Yes absolutely, it’s a big step but this is just phase 1 of a long term plan to improve our digital offerings, enrich our data and improve our use of it. We’ve got a blueprint of what we hope to achieve over the next five years, but of course we have to be flexible and ready to adapt as technologies advance and present new opportunities. We’re working to a plan but we expect this to change and evolve – particularly with the unsettled world we live in now, where digital opportunities are likely to become even more of a priority for clubs.
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Has the covid crisis altered how you use digital communications?
As per every other business the current situation has made digital more of a priority. Thankfully we were well underway with this project when the pandemic hit. It’s made digital even more of a priority, if that was possible, as the primary way we can engage with fans now. Digital has its place in enhancing the physical matchday experience too but for now the onus is on clubs to deliver virtual engagement to keep fans close to the action.
How crucial a role will these digital platforms play going forward?
They’re integral to the medium to long term strategy. Clubs are looking at ways to innovate as fan behaviour changes, hence rises in esports and interest in streaming content. There’s of course a balance to strike, as covid has shown us how important fans in the stadium are, but as a society our behaviours are different, our lives are busier and the traditional season ticket, as an example, may need to be modified. Digital will provide us with the opportunity to ensure we are catering to all fans and their needs over time.
What are the benefits to the club?
There are numerous benefits, the new platforms have allowed us to create new opportunities for sponsors to engage with or promote our own products and services. It’s also allowed us to diversify our inventory offering and appeal to new sponsors and partners, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can deliver.
Operationally it’s given us the opportunity to step up a level with our data project. We’re working hard to improve and enhance the data we hold and then use that to improve our offerings and communications. Our digital evolution is a key step in that ongoing strategy.
What has been the fans’ reaction to the new platforms?
They’ve been really well received, the app in particular has had some fantastic feedback. We’re delighted to have platforms that looks like Albion, websites and apps are such key properties for clubs and it’s great to finally be able to stamp our brand on these assets. I think part of the positivity from fans is that they can see that too, Other Media have brought some fantastic subtle brand touches to the platforms with the animated stripes and the vertical hamburger menu button on the mobile site to reflect our iconic stripes.
The platform you have from Other Media incorporates the website and an app and utilises their ClubCast CMS –how important was this in your decision to choose them and for the usability of the systems?
We went through a thorough tender process and reviewed a number of different solutions but Other Media’s Clubcast solution really stood out. To have the two platforms integrated means the workflows for the media team, particularly on a matchday, are streamlined and one content output will serve both channels. We had fantastic feedback from Other Media’s other clients and very much liked the look of their platforms. We’ve been delighted that even though we’re using the same infrastructure Other media have customised the tools so we can retain our own identity and I don’t think you’d necessarily look at our platforms and those of the other ClubCast clients and realise they were all using the same technology.
How important is a fully flexible digital solution for a club like West Brom?
Very much so, we’re not a huge team so we have to be flexible in our approach and the technology we use needs to match that. As mentioned before we are at the start of our digital journey and it was important that the solution we chose would futureproof us to evolve our current strategic plan, adapt to changes in technology and of course the industry which is experiencing such new challenges at the moment.
As a football Club, while always planning for the future, we have to be prepared to adapt for the impact a change in league status has. In the EFL match streaming through our platforms is a potential huge revenue generator but isn’t an option in the Premier League. The technology needs to be able to easily adapt to our requirements – in the current climate this could happen very quickly. Had we been live with Other Media for the restart at the end of last season we would have very quickly had to deliver match streaming and access for season ticket holders. Flexibility is of paramount importance to us.
Is there an expectation among fans for you to deliver a good digital experience?
Yes and rightly so. Fans expect a good experience with their club whether its digital or physical. Football was maybe a bit behind the curve with other industries as the digital revolution took place but it’s caught up now. Most of us are constantly engaging with apps and websites multiple times a day so we know what’s a good experience and what isn’t. Fans want to be proud of the Club they love, and we hope the launch of the new website and app has made them proud.
Single Sign On in particular is key to us improving this digital experience. We’ll have different web platforms for content, tickets and retail certainly for the foreseeable future but single sign on is a huge step forward in uniting these platforms, certainly from a UX perspective. It doesn’t matter to the supporter that these are different websites, to them they’re all West Bromwich Albion so it’s important that we make these journeys as seamless as possible.
Is it important that a club at your level invests in its digital infrastructure?
Yes absolutely, but that investment needs to be supported with a clear understanding of what your digital objectives are. It’s vital that the investment is not spent on areas that won’t drive the business forward, the future is digital but it’s important to invest in the right areas.
What other key business processes have you been able to integrate into the platforms?
As part of the project we’ve changed CRM provider to Sports Alliance, and they have a pre-existing integration with ClubCast so that has helped with the development of Single Sign On. It also means, as part of later phases in the project, we can look to deliver personalised messages and content based on a supporter’s profile to create a truly individual experience with the Club.
Other Media actually work with all of our providers so there are plans to further integrate our retail operation with the platform as well as explore how can we make ticketing and stadium entry more convenient for supporters using our new platforms.