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Everyone can see how technology is transforming the game of football on the pitch, whether through analytics-driven player performance improvement or (sometimes controversially) VAR precision.

What’s much less understood is the power of data and technology to enhance the experience for those key stakeholders: the fans.

Most clubs don’t yet have the sophisticated data strategies to enable them to understand their fans in granular detail. This creates a disconnect. Individual supporters don’t want blanket emails and promotions; they’re hungry for news, updates and posts that interest them. On matchdays, long queues to enter grounds and for half-time drinks curb even the most diehard supporter’s enthusiasm.

By unlocking fan data and smart venue technology, teams can build engagement through hyperpersonalised content, a seamless stadium experience and in-depth, interactive insights.

Digging deep to understand fans

Clubs’ marketing teams need to acknowledge that their fans are a disparate group. When Manchester City and Manchester United meet in the Emirates FA Cup Final this weekend, they’ll be cheered on by supporters with generations of family loyalty behind them and global fans who are mostly interested in Erling Haaland (City, Norway) or Alejandro Garnacho (United, Argentina). Young fans want short clips on TikTok, other supporters extended match highlights.

Through detailed data segmentation, teams can discover an individual fan’s preferences, job, postcode and match attendance and leverage this deep understanding to deliver highly tailored content. Existing data is often patchy, but there are solutions. Cognizant’s Fan Persona Engine, for example, adds third-party data to current marketing information to build full fan profiles.

Based on their own digital strategies and priorities, clubs can then choose to target certain fans for exclusive merchandise promotions, VIP experiences, player interviews or match highlights, formatted in the way they like to watch. Fans of particular players could receive a Jack Grealish (City) or Marcus Rashford (United) highlights edit. The possibilities are huge.

Smart stadiums, seamless experiences

Football tickets are expensive and whatever the action on the pitch, supporters rightly expect a good matchday experience. Next-generation smart stadiums are harnessing technology and data to deliver this. Intelligent crowd control cuts congestion, automated restocking ensures a consistent supply of food and drinks and adaptive lighting and digital signage guarantee supporters a truly immersive experience.

Cognizant’s Smart Venue Platform on Edge integrates with clubs’ existing CCTV cameras to support most potential fan experience use cases. Leveraging motion vectors and behavioural insights, it analyses crowd flow and alert staff to pinch points. They can then take informed action to increase flow and safety, for example by opening up more entrance gates to avoid turnstile queues. This technology also monitors food and drink stock and sends restocking notifications, reducing half time refreshment waiting times. Clubs could also deploy technology similar to Amazon’s time-saving Just Walk Out, with supporters paying for food or merchandise through an automated checkout.

Fans can be reassured that privacy is preserved at all times. All imagery captured by the CCTV cameras and processed by the in-venue server is immediately deleted; anonymous telemetry is then sent to the cloud for further analysis. There’s no facial recognition and no-one is individually identified. The system monitors trends, not people.

There are multiple benefits for fans. The Smart Venue Platform identifies free parking spaces and responds to the crowd’s reaction to what’s happening on the pitch, for example changing lighting to suit the mood. Utilising 5G for optimal connectivity and lightning-fast speeds, clubs can deliver real-time insights and ChatGPT integration direct to fans’ devices.  

Live feeds and real-time stats

Cutting-edge tracking technology brings the action to supporters who can’t make the match in person. Advanced AI-powered cameras at the side of the pitch create a real-time digital version of the game to live stream on different platforms, so that supporters don’t miss a moment. They also enable augmented and virtual reality experiences.

The same cameras track players closely to provide in-game data for supporters at home, as well as in the ground. Key statistics – how many passes, how far has a certain player run – enhance fans’ appreciation of live games. Whether these appear on live TV broadcasts or in club apps, rich real-time data can turn every fan into an informed armchair pundit.

Football fans are arguably their clubs’ greatest assets. On or off the pitch, online or offline, data empowers football clubs to connect with their supporters. By delving deep into their databases and turning to smart stadium technology, clubs can take fan engagement to the next level.

Cognizant is the Digital Transformation Partner of The FA and an Official Partner of The Emirates FA Cup.

Find out more about redefining the fan experience here

Read more about Cognizant’s work with The FA

David Ingham

Head of Media,
Entertainment & Sports, UK&I, Cognizant

David Ingham

James Rowley

Director, Communications, Media & Technology, Cognizant

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