World Football Summit Makes Impact With Week Long Conference

Football’s leading figures are having their say on all aspects of the game this week as World Football Summit (WFS Live) returns for a week-long virtual conference.



The opening panel of WFS LIVE on Monday (23rd Nov) saw Olympique Marseille CEO, Henri Eyraud engage with Common Goal co-founder Jürgen Griesbeck around how to embed purpose in the fabric of football.


Eyraud explained his club’s stance as a guest on the very first panel of WFS Live entitled ‘Reimagining the football industry: How to embed purpose in the fabric of football?’


The panel, moderated by Sharon Thorne, Global Chair of Deloitte, kicked off a week of industry discussion and insight and Eyraud was joined by fellow guest Jürgen Griesbeck, Co-Founder of Common Goal.


Eyraud had his say on why he believes football clubs must have objectives that go beyond the three points available each weekend and the opportunity to turn a profit, stating: “At a club like Marseille, tens of thousands of fans expect us to win on the pitch first and foremost.


“I see our responsibility outside the pitch as being as important as our desire and willingness to win on the pitch. This is something that we’re going to apply now to everything we do, above and beyond our foundation, because it is our responsibility.”


Already the club is putting those words into action. During the coronavirus lockdown, to take one example, Marseille decided to host 50 women who were domestic violence victims and their children at the club’s academy buildings, once the academy players had returned to their homes.


Griesbeck, who has been working for several years on Common Goal, a pledge-based charitable movement founded together with footballer Juan Mata, believes that now is the time for more clubs and football industry members to adopt an approach like Marseille’s.


He said: “Maybe now is actually the time for football to accept that it can play a leading role and not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a smart thing to do to move from more of a charity and giving away and giving back perspective on contribution to more of a DNA perspective of contribution and actually being part of the solution.”


He continued, highlighting the reach the world’s most popular sport has, adding: “I think it’s not too harsh to say that football has been living in a bubble, where it didn’t have to question itself too much.


“Maybe Covid-19 has allowed us all to question ourselves and get to the other end of it stronger with a better understanding of what actually is the role we can play. I think that’s just healthy. And, it’s still on time. We’re moving into a decade of action. I think it has become the responsibility of our lifetime and football can’t be an exception, football actually could be a leader.”


Day Two of the conference saw fcbusiness Editor, Aaron Gourley host a round table discussion on the growth of video and data analysis in the game.


The panel consisted of three experts from within the area that included Pixellot CEO, Alon Werber who presented the company’s integrated mobile solution for video capture, review and analysis developed in collaboration with their partners FC Barcelona who were represented by Innovation Manager, Imanol Eguskiza and was complimented by Paul Power, AI Senior Manager at STATS Perform.


Data analysis has become an integral part of the football world and whether it’s captured during matches, used for scouting purposes or rolled out in futuristic TV studios, it has an ever-growing place in the beautiful game.


However, data analysis has long been associated with the elite level of sport, particularly in football, with the grassroots game often not gaining access to the most innovative technology available. That, though, as discussed in ‘From Elite Clubs to Grassroots – The Video Analysis Revolution’, is changing.


As part of the discussion on data analysis at grassroots level, Power said: “I think people are becoming more educated. [Data analysis] is out in the press more, you hear people talking about it more.


“All the way through to youth level, I’ve seen coaches use simple apps, just to click when a shot’s taken and they can generate their own simple expected-goal model – which is amazing. Who would’ve thought that, even like a couple of years ago? It’s definitely permeating all the way through.”


Pixellot, in close collaboration with FC Barcelona, have designed a camera called the ‘Pixellot Air’ that can be used to capture data from matches at every level of the game, not just within the elite sphere. This mobile piece of technology allows coaches or analysts to capture footage of matches, watch it back, share clips and analyse the data in various different ways.


“[It’s] cheap technology,” explained Pixellot CEO Werber. “which takes a few minutes to understand how to set up and use, can suddenly be used by any soccer academies out there. This is a working product with the idea that any soccer academy can afford it.


“Most importantly, no one needs to operate it. It’s done automatically. To set it up takes only two or three minutes. This is something we worked [on], for a year-and-a-half together with Barcelona, to make sure it suits what an analyst or what a simple coach, which doesn’t have a large team like the elite clubs have, [so that they] can actually operate and set up and use [it].”


FC Barcelona were forwarded some of Pixellot’s new product in order to test them at the highest level, with the LaLiga Santander club offering their input, as Eguskiza outlined.


“We helped them to develop the product in a way which we each select some functionalities and properties that the product needs to have to be able to adapt to the necessities of the non-elite level or grassroots level,” he said.


“We used our academies as a test for these solutions and what we realised is that working conditions in the amateur or grassroots level have nothing to do with the elite level.”


The prime takeaway is that data analysis in football is evolving and spreading through the various levels of the game. Whether you’re a head analyst at a club in the UEFA Champions League or a coach at grassroots level, innovations are being made to make data analysis more accessible to everyone.


Bringing a close to Day Two was Leeds United owner and Aser Ventures Chairman, Andrea Radrizzani and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment CEO, Scott O’Neil who discussed the challenges facing the tradional broadcasting models in football and sport.


Focusing on the landscape of sports consumption, and its distribution, they noted how it is shifting in the modern world and how the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of sports broadcasting, pushing it further towards subscription services rather than traditional TV contracts.


In an era where Premier League matches are moving on to on-demand platforms like Amazon Prime, could the rest of the sports industry follow a similar path if they haven’t already? That was the focal point of a discussion held during the ‘Bird’s Eye View: Challenging the status quo in sports’ panel which was moderated by Pedro Pinto, CEO and Founder of Empower Sports.


O’Neil, whose Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment group is involved the ownership of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA and the New Jersey Devils in the NHL, explained how he believes sports content and the distribution of it will change in the coming years


He said: “As we think about how we build for the future, we need to focus on data and content. Those are the two keys that will lead us into the next decade or so.


“You can add on a third leg of that stool, which is what we call ‘data seen direct-to-consumer’ and the capability to actually find new consumers. We as a sports industry, in particular the team space, we need to get a lot better, a lot quicker.


“I think live sports content will still be the premium content. I think the way leagues and teams divvy up and share who controls what, at what time and for what purpose is going to change in the next decade. We, as sports organisations, have the jewels, we have the fans, we have access to them. We just have to get better at being direct marketers. And we will.”


This was a viewpoint shared by Radrizzani, whose Aser Ventures group has organisations such as Leeds United and Eleven Sports as part of its portfolio.


He added: “I really strongly believe that, on the sports side, distribution, at the moment with the traditional pay TV, is not matching the demand and the opportunity that technology gives to reach community, to reach niche, to reach a bigger audience, to reach people at different prices and different power consumptions.


“We need to redesign the distribution model that has been active and been around for 20 years, but now I think we are missing opportunities to create more various rights holders.


“I see something that’s coming and it’s more about who is ready to change the model and take a short period of potential risk and loss to build something much bigger over time. I think that, because the clubs and franchises are always scared to take the risk and never maybe get what their income [could be].


“The whole of the financial organisation per club I think could be investing in sports. It’s becoming vital in driving this transition and changing the model of distribution. I think it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen sooner than we can imagine.”


Evidently, having heard from two of the leading figures in the industry of sports and broadcasting ownership, we can draw the conclusion that we will be watching our favourite sports in a much different way in a decade’s time. Both O’Neil and Radrizzani are confident that the distribution of sports rights can be redesigned, with a model led by clubs and leagues appearing to be the most likely solution.


This panel, which brought to an end Day Two of this virtual WFS Live conference taking place from Monday November 23rd to Friday November 27th, will throw up matters that are sure to be discussed further over the course of the week. Tickets for the remainder of the event are still available, with 10% of the ticketing revenue to be donated to the Common Goal Covid-19 Response Fund.