At Econsultancy we’ve been talking quite a lot recently to football clubs and their agencies (see the bottom of this article for links).
After chatting to Reading Room about their work with Swansea, Stoke and Middlesbrough, I was contacted by Other Media, who are the app developers for Swansea City FC.
In interviewing James Burke, production director, I again got the sense that Swansea City, like many top-flight clubs, are in the middle of a digital transformation and have a clear roadmap in place. When it comes to mobile apps, it won’t be long before clubs are offering truly personalised, contextual and location-aware experiences, both to fans and to players.
The role of the football club mobile app
The new Swansea City website is responsively designed, so a mobile app really has to offer something different to the website. It was Burke and Other Media’s job to look at how they might make better use of the app.
Burke told me that “football fans use apps on match days and that accounts for around 80% of visits to the app,” though “peaks of traffic during match days and troughs away from match days… is a trend reflected across all touchpoints, app or website.”
Other Media’s job with the Swansea app, says Burke, is “to try to increase the peaks on match day and to reduce the troughs on non-match days – bringing people back in and giving them appropriate content and the chance to follow that further.”
One very simple example of this is the club’s partnership with Opta, which means the app can provide match scores across the Premier League, so if Swansea aren’t playing on a particular match day, fans still have reason to engage and seek a wider view.
We’ll look at some more of the new app’s functionality designed to suck people in, but first let’s consider the grand vision for mobile apps on match day.
Location-aware and contextual mobile in the stadium
I asked Burke about some of the beacon technology with which American sports teams have experimented. The MLB added an iBeacon feature to its At The Ballpark app as far back as 2014, enabling fans at 20 baseball stadiums to check-in at games and receive exclusive offers. Despite this early use, the technology has been long-mooted in both leisure and retail but hasn’t been popular.
Burke picks up the thread, saying “There are plans to look at how we do that, whether it is beacons or whether it’s proximity based on GPS or similar. Swansea want to try to use much more targeting and location awareness, so people at the stadium attending the fixture will get a different experience to those not attending.”
Promisingly, Burke gives more concrete examples of how contextuality might work, and they don’t necessarily involve location-aware technology.
“Firstly the ticket that you purchase – if you’re a regular fan you might get one type of notification, if you’re a hospitality guest you might get another notification with different content in there. The idea is you would segment users based on their interaction with a beacon and then target them with a particular message.”
“Swansea also want to look at how they work with merchandising and ticket offerings, and try to capitalise on the euphoria the game can (hopefully) give you. So let’s say the number nine scores the winning goal in the last minute, they can send a notification to everybody in the stadium – get your Tammy Abraham shirt, 10% discount in the megastore now. The data’s not quite there yet, but the plan is, if you’re a match day ticket holder, we’ll know that when you sign in to the app. If you attend the game, maybe there’s a notification for non-season sticket holders saying ‘buy your next tickets now’.”
Clever use of notifications
Notifications are an important part of any app, and one of the key advantages for marketers using this channel. The new Swansea City FC app includes a range of notifications which the user is invited to set up on first open.
Some of the more clever uses involve new predictor games where fans can predict starting line-ups (see below) and match scores, with notifications used to prompt people to take part. These games also have a sharing functionality so fans can share the games with friends by text message.
Burke tells me that “all of the app content is linked and tagged so relevant content can be surfaced to the user – when they finish an article or video the next piece of content is pushed to them.”
“The uptake of notifications has been very positive,” says Burke, “and for Swansea it’s about getting the balance right. They’ve already started to refine their match day notifications so not every match day event is broadcast through notifications – the club is realising the beauty of notifications is in relevance rather than frequency.”
Fairly obviously, if app users get notifications for every corner or shot on target, many will be tempted to turn them off. But, get them right and notifications can quickly increase interaction and therefore sponsor value, brand awareness, and potentially digital commercial revenue.
At time of interview, Swansea hadn’t yet implemented a single sign-on solution across each of their different platforms (website, app, ticketing, shop), though this is set to launch soon.
In the meantime, with the new app, Burke tells me that Swansea “needed to get around how they might capture data, so we have an on boarding process where we offer newsletter sign-up. Swansea get an interaction there, they get a piece of data if the fan wishes to engage.”
It should be noted that fans are not forced to register (see below). And Burke adds that “we try not to bombard users straight away, we try to also do it contextually, so if they’re reading a piece of breaking news or if they’ve tapped on a notification, we will know that and then the newsletter option is presented to them at the right time.”
One of the benefits of moving from the Football League Interactive platform to this new mobile app is that Swansea can do more with their sponsors.
The match centre is presented by Bet365 and team alert notifications are presented by Low Cost Vans. Burke says “[fans are] interacting with our sponsors, but it’s not an intrusive message.”
“Sponsorship is done in sensitive way,” Burke continues, “with tonal logos, or ‘in partnership with’, not just sticking big adverts in places.” This all ties in with Swansea’s goal of getting fans to revisit the app as often as possible.
A mobile app for Swansea City’s players
There’s a final, exciting note to add. There’s also a new mobile app for Swansea City players.
Where the club used to provide a brochure as a guide to Swansea, including places to visit, schools, estate agents and the like, it now provides an app. The knowledge has been built up from previous players and can now be updated regularly without the expense of printing new brochures.
Burke says “we use a platform we developed here at Other Media – it’s effectively a CMS for apps, so we can update the apps without doing wholesale releases through the app store.”
The player app includes training schedules, has different language options through a simple flag select and, crucially, has quite a big section around emotional support for the players. This part of the app has won praise from the Premier League, and provides information about organisations players can contact, everything from charities to council support.
“It’s geared to the mental health of the player,” says Burke, “and trying to make their transition to Swansea as seamless off the field as possible.” Let’s hope more clubs follow with kind of support enabled by digital technology.
Mobile apps have been around for a while but as far as football clubs are concerned, we could be about to see them hit maturity fairly soon, with new functionality helping to make the fan and player experience more rewarding.