Digital Transformation

Manchester City sets the goal of being the world’s best-supported soccer club


By The Drum Team | Staff Writer

September 1, 2011 | 5 min read

Manchester City – believed to be the world’s wealthiest soccer club - is aiming to become the world’s best-supported football club in the world.

Media website paidContent: UK carries an in-depth interview with the club’s digital head, Richard Ayers, in which he outlines how he will deploy RFID chips, augmented reality season tickets, online data toys, connected TV channels, Foursquare, mobile remixes and more in his quest to reach his goal.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has spent around £1 billion on the club having acquired it in 2008. Since then it has reversed an online pay for content strategy and instead invested in free digital content for fans.

“It genuinely feels to me like a startup,” said Ayers.

“We’re running as fast as we can, but under the umbrella of a very sensible ‘VC’.”

Though Manchester City, like most English and Scottish soccer clubs, had previously charged fans a monthly subscription to watch its online video through newly-listed Perform’s service, it tore up that strategy after the Sheikh’s acquisition and instead contracted Endemol to produce behind-the-scenes and highlights videos that go out for free through its Poke-built website.

This sees the club now produce around 100 ‘City TV’ videos and 150 text stories are produced each month, by a 15-person team.

“You never forget about the football, but we are focusing on audience growth,” Ayers told paidContent: UK.

“We don’t charge for content - we were the first and may even still be the only club that gives away all our content. Arsenal has started to give away some content for free - but, for 99 percent of clubs, it’s all locked behind a paywall.

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“One of the guiding principles we have is about bringing fans closer to the club. With lots of clubs, you devote your life and give money for season tickets and get back the right to buy more shirts.”

Since the change, according to the media website, on-site dwell time has risen from two minutes to an average three minutes and 40 seconds.

Although the Premier League itself remains in a court battle with YouTube over highlights posted by users, City this month started its own YouTube channel with City TV’s behind-the-scenes videos.

One, of new striker Samuel Nasri’s arrival at the club, clocked 100,000 views in 10 hours.

Match highlights are also posted the day after the TV window with ESPN and Sky Sports expires.

The club is now recruiting for a syndication manager to sell much of its footage overseas and will begin implementing geo-IP blocking. It is also speculated that the club will launch City TV on the new range of internet-enabled TVs hitting the market.

Ayers says, however, that the budget is not as large as many outside the club would perceive.

“I worked at a number of other places where the media budget is bigger than here,” he says.

“The financial strategy is solid, it’s pretty strict - they don’t throw money away and give a massive budget and say ‘go and play with this’. But, if you come up with a good idea, there is the vision to go and back it. It’s arguably the best place I’ve ever worked - there’s a can-do, creative environment.”

Agencies are also expected to be invited to pitch ideas to develop its four tier membership scheme and for the development of content and features for its website.

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