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Football clubs worldwide have been using Microsoft’s digital transformation services to power their teams. These tools can be used for everything from fan engagement to sales to player training.

The ability to manage, analyse and utilise their data enables teams to undergo incredible changes in the pursuit of their growth goals. Teams embracing this growing industry have achieved a great deal, and are paving the way for other teams across the world.

Real Madrid C.F 

Rafael De Los Santos, digital head of Real Madrid, believes sport is as much able to harness the power of new technology as any other industry. This ethos has seen the team flourish.

This year Real Madrid has three mathematicians working for them – an unusual choice for a sports club, but just one example of their choice to embrace data science and digital transformation as necessary tools as they move into the future.

Microsoft has been Real Madrid’s technology partner since 2014. The partnership has brought much to the table, from back-of-house cloud tools to Surface tablets for the staff.

De Los Santos sees the three most critical areas of focus as the club’s use of technology, staff organisation, and the creation of an entirely new business model that fully embraces the social media age.

It is the latter that has seen the most changes brought in. This new model seeks to build relationships with fans, rather than merely throw content at them.

This need for engagement is keenly felt at Real Madrid – the team has an estimated 500 million fans worldwide, only 3% of which live in their home country of Spain.

There is a growing awareness amongst football teams that they are in competition, not just with other Football clubs, but with all media and entertainment for their fans’ time.

While rights for the matches themselves are held firmly by the broadcasters, there is plenty of content a club may provide to fans online – a fact Real Madrid grasps better than any other.

Real Madrid aims to use digital transformation to engage with fans and create new ones, to ultimately increase revenue and introduce new sources of income. One of the most striking of tools Microsoft has provided to this end is the creation of a custom fan engagement platform.

The platform compiles each fan’s engagements with the team – from check-ins to mentions on social media – to enable greater individualisation.

The team also has an app, running on iOS, Android, and Windows devices, that allows fans to virtually access the stadium, research players, and explore a comprehensive range of statistics.

The data and tools at Real Madrid’s fingertips enable flexibility and efficacy of marketing that few others can match. An obvious example of this is their recent decision to engage in a competition with rival team Barcelona to be the first to reach 100 million Facebook fans.

At the beginning of the competition, Barcelona was far ahead, but Real Madrid used its data and superior knowledge of fans to reach the goal 11 pm on a Saturday, a full 11 hours before Barcelona, who trailed behind, reaching it only by 10 am on the Sunday.

This ability to analyse social media data and whip up customised marketing campaigns on the fly will serve to boost revenues for the club in new and exciting ways.

Chelsea FC

Chelsea FC is using adaptations of Microsoft Dynamics CRM to perform functions within their retail business, sales team, and their training.

They are using adaptations of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM to perform functions within the retail business, the sales team, and the first team training facilities.

Chelsea’s priority in utilising digital transformation is to revitalise fan experiences across the world and stay ahead of the curve on adoption of digital techniques.

S.L Benfica

Sport Lisboa e Benfica uses Microsoft digital transformation services for a wide variety of things, but it has been especially beneficial to help power their early training of talent.

Benfica are so good at this initial training that they make as much money from selling new players they have nurtured as they do from playing football.

For example, Benfica signed then-17-year-old Jan Oblak in 2010 for €1.7 million. After using Microsoft’s digital solutions to train him into one of the greatest goalies in the world, Atlético Madrid bought him for €16 million.

All in all, in the last six years S. L. Benfica made £270 million from player transfers.

These profits were not solely thanks to the hard work of the trainers – a good portion of the improvements are down to knowledge that comes only from cold, hard data.

S. L. Benfica has over 100 players actively training at their campus at any one time. Their lives are monitored in nearly every way imaginable, from what they eat, to how fast they become tired, to how they are sleeping.

Most of this monitoring is done automatically through sensors, though data points such as mood must be assessed manually.

The data is then pooled, and improvements to training and lifestyle are made accordingly. It’s a somewhat laborious process, but Benfica says the benefits are easily demonstrable.

Benfica’s data scientists and experienced trainers work with Microsoft Azure’s machine learning and predictive analytics to build a personalised training regime for every single player. Flaws are improved upon, strengths are harnessed, and injury risk is reduced.

Those overseeing the process say athletes are competitive enough not to mind the process and curious enough about new technology to put up with the abundance of wearable technology.

This latter point is an obvious frustration to some, though, as Benfica is working hard with many local firms to create less intrusive wearable sensors.

This is just one example of Benfica’s full embracing of digital transformation. They are proud of the improvements they have already overseen to the field and eager to encourage further developments.

Benfica gathers data points from a broad variety of sensors. These are built by several different companies, and output data in an equal number of different formats.

This is one of the problems with the industry being so new: there is little standardisation. Benfica uses a custom-built middleware layer to convert each sensor’s output to a single format.

This data is then inputted into the SQL data lake at the team’s data centre. Once that data is in the cloud, its security becomes a top priority.

For example, the team’s data scientists only have access to anonymised player data, which is all they need to identify the patterns they are looking for. Players can access their own full set of data, and compare it to either a team or position average.

Integrating the team’s custom data lake with Microsoft’s cloud-based tools such as Azure Machine Learning was one of the big challenges the team had to face while exploring the relatively new domain of machine learning and data science.

The ultimate goal of the team’s work in this area is to develop an accurate injury prediction model. This would have two big benefits to the team: enabling personalised training plans that minimise risk as much as possible, and helping coaches make decisions about who to bench or switch out in games.

Data also plays a role in helping players to recover faster if an injury does occur, as no amount of data can avert all risk.

The team’s head of human performance, Bruno Mendes, co-authored a research paper in 2016 which found that a high acute: chronic workload ratio results in a higher risk of injury.

What this means is that, if someone’s bursts of higher activity taking place over a week (the acute workload) are much higher than the rolling average over a month or so (the chronic workload) they are more at risk, but this risk can be averting by reducing the acute workload, or by increasing the chronic.

In other words, to reduce risk players can do less in the short term, or train more in the long term, so their ratio is lower.

Benfica’s trainers can use this revelation, made possible only through data analysis, to adjust a player’s chronic training level to reduce risk of injury better – or pull a player from an upcoming game if their chronic workload has recently been too low to keep the risk of injury down.

Benfica makes annual revenues of €150 million, always with a substantial net profit. While this may sound small in comparison to other global teams, compared to Portugal’s similar teams, the difference is striking.

Sporting CP last reported a revenue of €69 million, with €32 million net loss. Porto FC reported a revenue of €76 million, with a €58 million net loss. The teams have similarly large stadiums, sell a similar number of tickets, and make similar amounts from deals with broadcasters.

Benfica’s difference comes from their mastery of using data to train and trade young players. The team has been able to transform itself by understanding the role data and technology can play, through the use of Microsoft’s digital transformation tools.

Conclusion

These three teams are each going for strength to strength because they have embraced Microsoft’s digital transformation services. These are just three examples of the businesses and sports teams who have come to recognise the power and value of digital transformation.

To learn more about what digital transformation services can do for you, speak to cloudThing, a Microsoft digital transformation service partner.