“We want to be more innovative, more creative and we want to be the first,” says Danny Wilson, director of operations at Manchester City. It’s a bold statement and a sentiment shared by many ambitious sports properties these days, yet few are backing it up in the fashion which Manchester City are.
The Premier League club’s growing popularity and global business model have made it one of the most attractive entities in football for sponsors, however Man City have been particularly selective when deciding which companies they partner with.
Rather than bringing on board the biggest names with the deepest pockets, City have been strategic in building their sponsorship portfolio in order to strengthen their innovation ambitions, instead partnering with a number of tech focused partnerships over the past two seasons including German software specialists SAP.
“Being innovative is absolutely core to the Man City brand,” says Wilson. “Prior to some of the most recent innovations we’ve made with the re-launch of our website, we were the first Premier League club to put a 360-degree camera in the tunnel and we’ve been doing experiments with virtual reality which we’re really trying to push the boundaries with.”
The club ran a hackathon earlier this summer in an attempt to open as many paths towards innovation as possible and recently partnered with humanoid robotics firm, Ubtech.
This follows on from similar tech drives such as last season’s partnership with LiveLike VR which have City the chance to experiment with live VR streams for its fans around the world. The trial is something which it intends to build on this season and, while the technology has some catching up to do before it offers the quality experience that TV broadcasts currently offer, it illustrates City’s efforts in ensuring its out in front of rivals in the tech space.
It’s this focus which led the club to announce SAP as its official cloud software provider in July last year. The latest product to emerge from the sponsorship was unveiled at the Etihad Stadium last week and shows how City are trying to use their relationships to enhance the fan experience.
The City Pulse Wall is an interactive digital touch screen interface located in the heart of what the club calls City Square, its social hub which hugs the stadium and offers fans pre-match entertainment in the form of live music, interviews with celebrities and appearances from former players.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) September 15, 2016
The wall offers fans a slew of customisable in-depth data, real-time stats, player profiles across all of Manchester City’s squads- first team, women’s team and development squad- and quizzes.
It’s been developed by SAP who have been providing stats for the some of the big US leagues including the NBA, MLB and NHL. Stats have long been a focal point of US sports broadcasting and are a part of the culture of how sports are consumed there.
The prominence of second and third screen viewing is something which has opened an ocean of commercial opportunity in the realm of sports broadcasting and has generated an appetite among fans for content which supplements their consumption of sport.
This, coupled with stats playing a much larger part in the entertainment around football, is why City are looking to SAP to capitalise on the potential to meet the emerging demands of sports fans through their sponsorship partners.
SAP have promised that the interactive hub is “the latest in a series of technology innovations designed to reimagine and transform the ways that data can inform and enhance the fan experience.”
Milan Cerny, technology and innovation lead at SAP, maintains that “a core piece of what we’re doing with City is around stats”. It’s more than just delivering the stats though, otherwise Opta, the official stats provider for the Premier League, would already have serviced the interest.
Cerny says that SAP is able to “take the stats from Opta, mash them up, consolidate them and remodel the data to come up with insights that give fans more insight about the players and club in a way that’s entertaining and engaging”.
While partnerships with tech-centric sponsors such as Qnet, Ubtech and Wix illustrate the club’s ambition to be seen as the most innovative name sin world football Wilson maintains that the club’s innovation “goes beyond just technology”.
The area within the stadium grounds where the City Pulse Wall is located is itself an example of how the club are trying to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. The feel is reminiscent of tailgating in the US where the American football fans prolong the spectacle of the event beyond the game itself.
The moves are perhaps best summed up in Wilson’s assertion that Manchester City are “trying to be innovative in the physical environment with things we’ve got around the stadium and in every way we work and connect with our supporters”.