Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC (LAFC) has become the 11th member of the Sport Innovation Alliance, a global alliance of football clubs who are joined in unison to tackle problems with clubs having limited access to innovative technologies to undertake their own digital transformations.
With LAFC’s entrance, the Alliance now has reach into North America and an advanced Alliance partner at the centre of sports technology innovation.
Founded in 2019 by Juan Iraola, Real Sociedad’s Head of Digital Innovation, along with Ryan McCumber, founder of Sportstech.ai and Roberto Schuitemaker, Senior General Manager at GlobalTMS, the goal of the Alliance is to explore the possibilities a collaborative mindset can bring to football clubs as partnerships between tech suppliers and clubs are shared across borders.
It has been designed so member clubs can pool together resources and ideas to encourage a collaboration on projects designed to drive new sponsorship strategies and technological innovation in areas such as smart stadia, ticketing and fan engagement. It is a way for clubs to equally leverage leading digital technologies, ultimately so they can keep up with the biggest resourced clubs in the game.
LAFC joins the ten inaugural clubs from across the globe in the Alliance; Real Sociedad from Spain, Italian Serie A club Cagliari, Feyenoord from the Netherlands, Legia Warsaw from Poland, Chile’s Universidad Católica, Atlético Nacional from Colombia, Brazil’s Vasco da Gama, Peru’s Sporting Cristal, Atlético Peñarol from Uruguay, Al-Ittihad Jeddah of Saudi Arabia.
With the addition of LAFC to the Alliance, how does their inclusion help shape the thinking around technology sharing and access for each Alliance member?
Juan Iraola: “Quite simply, LAFC is a tech savvy, forward-thinking organisation and their entry into the Alliance has so much potential for all members. Banc of California stadium is truly one of most advanced in the world, it’s really fan-focussed, so we will look to leverage some of their learnings.”
The Alliance is about collectively boosting access to technology and helping clubs with their digital transformation, why?
JI: “Going back to the origin of this alliance, the origin of this program. So at my club, Real Sociedad, we are undertaking a digital transformation project but we don’t have infinite resources while some clubs do make enough revenue that will allow them to make large investments into players and technology.
“I remember doing an agreement with a technology supplier and they asked, ‘okay, why not extend this to other clubs.’ So I started talking about this idea at different conferences and through this I met people from Cagliari, Universidad Catolica and the more I shared the idea about this the more clubs I found were really interested in it. This was the beginning.
“We have started talking to suppliers, we can have conversations with a supplier where their technology can be accessible to not just my club but it can be a solution to other clubs. It’s not necessarily going to be easy to implement but if certain clubs have similar requirements why not share the costs.
“One of the other great handicaps that these ‘tier two’ clubs have is sponsorship. The model of clubs at this level is they have a very strong local presence but it’s difficult to obtain international sponsors. One big value that this alliance delivers to brands is that we can help with international presence and at the same time we can offer local engagement.”
It’s an open collaboration of different clubs from different countries, even different cultures, despite how open it is it can be difficult to implement.
JI: “Different clubs all over the world have different types of needs and engagement. We consider this first year like a proof of concept.
“The execution is potentially complex so the idea is to create a program that can become international and can give value to all of the clubs in the alliance.
“This collaboration is an open one and that means every member in this Alliance is an equal owner/member. Clubs don’t have to pay any subscription fees and they don’t have to stay so there is absolute freedom. If a club feels the Alliance doesn’t meet their needs they can leave.”
What kinds of technologies are being considered?
JI: “We have some early programs we are working on. Real Sociedad is working with La Liga on a prototype about assessing children playing at clubs who may be prone to asthma attacks. For all clubs one of their most valuable assets is youngsters, young players and young fans.
“Another idea is an embedded smart tag on official football kits. The idea is that the fans who are wearing these kits, once they’re at a stadium they can be greeted, given access to a mobile app and when activated it can give them vouchers to redeem during the match day – vouchers for discounts on food and drink for instance.
“We want to look for ways to help increase revenue and deliver conversion for brands and sponsors while at the same time fans can receive benefits plus encouragement to wear the official kits and not fake ones. This is an interesting technology that can be applied to different clubs in different countries.”
Now that the Alliance is public and there are 11 clubs signed on, how does this collective begin?
JI: “The next step is to bring together each of the different clubs and understand what they need, what they want to do and their plans around technology and sponsorship.
“Not every club has to agree to everything or agree to use all technologies. If there are only two clubs that have a particular need then that’s enough, if we’re adding value to just a couple clubs on a particular technological need, then that’s fine too.
“From there, we’re trying to look for people and investors that once we identify the things to be done then we may be able to get interest from them to help us to develop the Alliance.”
Is there possibilities to bring Alliance clubs together for events or esports initiatives?
Ryan McCumber: “Yes there is but we are taking a white canvas approach to setting up a global esports initiative. We aren’t sure what it will be yet, but that is the beauty of it, we now have 11 clubs in 11 countries with many of whom don’t have the skill set or resources to run their own esports events and we couldn’t get big sponsors for a standalone event. By collaborating we can set up a global amateur tournament, leveraging the stadiums, local language marketing of each club, local sponsors and even players with a pro-am. We then overlay a global aspect with winners of each event getting a trip to finals in one of our locations.
“We can then sell advertising on top of the global event. One of the hardest parts in setting up a global event is all the leg work with dealing with each country and the Alliance eliminates all that effort. Stay tuned for some exciting announcements as we progress this concept. We are open to ideas if anyone out there such as a publisher, promotor, sponsor or anyone who wants to connect with me we are open to talking.”
This is driven by open collaboration, so let’s think big, ideally what do you hope this Alliance grows or evolves to?
JI: “In the next few years we’d love to help clubs across all continents, even bigger countries where football plays an important role and even as we mentioned new sports, that’s always possible.
“We are looking to add more clubs, our most recent club addition was Major League Soccer’s LAFC, which has extended our alliance into North America. We have a goal of adding at least one club from each league.
“There’s always a possibility of doing different things that can connect clubs, we could do esports tournaments, why not? We could do stuff like that with our network of international clubs. It’s about bringing clubs and competitions closer.
“We’d like to change the paradox in the way sponsorship is delivered and having collaboration as a common practice around football clubs in the world.”