Football clubs and start-ups are like chalk and cheese but at Manchester City the two are being brought together to hasten its efforts to understand as many paths to innovation as it can.
The club believes in the “key principles of a hackathon”, according to Diego Gigliani, senior vice president of media and innovation for City Football Group, who is behind the club’s efforts to put it best foot forward for City in the technology space. Those efforts were on show at the start of the month when it launched a hackathon, the club claimed is the first of its kind in the Premier League. Over 60 start-ups flocked to the event, where they were asked to combine data from OptaPro and data visualiser ChyronHego to develop new ideas that could enhance movement, passing, running and pressure on the pitch.
The Drum caught up with Gigliani and Edward Sulley, head of research and innovation at City Football Services to discuss how and why a football club puts on a hackathon as well as the role it could play in its wider business plan.
The Drum: How does this feed into City's wider digital and commercial strategies and are there plans to turn it into a long-term part of those efforts?
Gigliani: Manchester City and the wider City Football Group firmly believe in the key principles of a hackathon – tapping into the power of open innovation, bringing together people with diverse backgrounds, working collaboratively, focusing intensely on a complex challenge and delivering an output and results. This is a strategy we implement across many of our projects, most recently our new website, which was developed via co-creation with fans. We have a desire to constantly innovate and grow and engaging our fans in that process helps ensure we are delivering products that meet their needs.
The Drum: did you go about sourcing the applicants?
Sulley: We found a highly experienced creative digital agency based in Manchester to help both deliver the event and source applicants. We created a website, announced the event on our main website and then distributed information via a variety of media channels, including those aimed at the wider sports, digital and data analytics community. We received almost 400 applicants in just two weeks from over 70 countries across the world, mainly Europe.Successful applicants were chosen based on a broad mix of skillsets, hack experience, previous work and a personal statement. In the end, we selected 63 male and female applicants who didn’t disappoint.
The Drum: How do you define the hackathon in terms of a business opportunity?
Sulley: Fundamentally, we believe that a good idea and solution can come from anywhere, not just the experts working in each area. There are a lot of benefits to experimenting with initiatives of this nature, commonly termed 'Open Innovation' or 'Crowd Sourcing'. Added to this, our industry generally has a traditional approach to data, meaning there must be a large number of very talented people outside of football that wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to understand, analyse and solve challenges we face. This was the hypothesis we were testing with HackMCFC and our objectives were to uncover new insights on how we can enhance player performance using match data, whilst engaging fans of both technology and sport in the process. This approach enabled us to work with a pool of talented young people and to also provide students and young people with educational opportunities in the tech sector. As they are the future of technology, it was important for us to include a training element to help them grow their skill sets. A key factor in the success of this event was the support of the Premier League and our two data providers, Opta and ChyronHego, all of whom share our commitment to being inclusive and forward thinking sporting and data organisations.
The Drum: Who did they work with across the business?
Sulley: Participants in the hackathon worked with a variety of departments across City Football Group, including City Football Services, who support all four of the Group’s clubs, including Manchester City, with football and player performance insights. They also had the opportunity to meet and work with professionals from Manchester City’s digital, media and wider innovation teams, as well as, representatives from both OptaPro and ChyronHego, who were here across the weekend to offer guidance and support to the participants.
The Drum: What has the initial feedback been from businesses?
Sulley: The overall feedback from all stakeholders has been extremely positive. Everyone involved has expressed an interest in increasing their involvement in this initiative and want to help the best of the ideas generated during the hack become reality. The participants were very impressive and now there is a lot of potential for them to use the contacts and projects they created during the hack to pursue further opportunities in the industry, which wasn’t previously available to them.
The Drum: What are they going to do after the pilot? How will this be rolled out?
Sulley: We are reviewing the event, listening to feedback from all parties and adjusting the initial plan we designed before the hack accordingly. What has become very clear is that our hypothesis has been proven, there is an amazing depth of talent out there and encouraging this community to thrive is something we can play our part in.
The Drum: How did the club distinguish its hackathon from others?
Sulley: We were very proactive with regards to ensuring this event was inclusive, challenging the stereotypes that can surround events of this nature. We wanted to make the event family friendly by offering childcare options if needed. We discouraged pre-formed teams to ensure a balance of skillsets, experience and opinions were at the heart of every team and that everyone had an opportunity to interact and work with new people. We created two streams to the hack to increase opportunities for all. There was the professional hack and a guided Academy hack where less experienced, young hackers were mentored using ideation methodology.