An in-depth analysis of Europe’s Top 30 football clubs digital solutions

Snapchat, Instagram, eSports, twitch and Co. may be the current buzzwords for big clubs, but there is still the basic digital homework to do. What do I mean by that? Well, every club needs a website, the big clubs need online fan shops as well and maybe even a dedicated online ticketing portal. Next to social media or mobile apps, this digital offering defines the basis of the seamless, continuous fan experience that we did talk about recently. So in other words:

Social media tools and chat apps might come and go every year, the good old website remains.

From conceptional point of view this digital offering needs to transport the clubs brand (it’s values) across all covered channels. Seamless means, that the fan should not even recognize whether he’s browsing the clubs website or shop – he just should enjoy it. That’s a topic of branding. On the other hand, from a technical perspective, these channels have to be set up, developed, integrated with each other, tested, operated and improved. This includes finding a proper Content Management- or a eCommerce-System, depeloping a responsive web design so that the fan can use every device he wants, selecting some marketing tools, e.g. for digital analytics and targeting until finding a proper hosting partner that can guarantee the sites performance (e.g. if traffic increases after a champions league win).

Method: How to determine the digital status quo of the top 30 european football clubs?

We did a little survey on those aspects – to check whether Europe’s top football clubs did their digital homework. Here’s how we proceeded:

  • We took the UEFA’s Top 30 list (in March 2017, from the current leader, Real Madrid until 30th, Ajax Amsterdam).
  • We used browser plugins like builtwith or weppalizer to determine the clubs technical setup (i.e. which software they use).
  • We used similarweb and alexa to determine how much traffic the clubs plattforms generate.
  • We did check whether the club’s channels have a responsive web design and in how many languages content is published by hand, plus we used Google’s page speed test as an additional source.
  • Finally, we did crosscheck with the clubs reach, i.e. followers on social media (instagram, twitter, youtube and facebook).

Results: What is the status quo?

So the question now is: Have clubs done their homework? But answering the question is not that simple, because there is no benchmark for the perfect technical solution that is valid for every club. A simple example: Bayern München has one of the biggest fanbase of the world. But even more important, their fans are widely spread around the world. Hence, for them it’s a must-do to run a strong, all-encompassing online shop. Juxtaposing clubs like Olympiakos Pyraeus, Ajax Amsterdam or Swiss champion FC Basel, their fanbase is smaller and more local. Hence, their need to have the best performing online-shop and a website that comes in 10 languages maybe is not that strong.

To make it easier to discuss a clubs choices when it comes to the technical setup, let’s stay  with Bayern – they serve as a very good example of a (digital) top club.

The basis: Official Club Websites

Bayern are currently ranked 2nd on the UEFA club list and their responsive website can be browsed at https://fcbayern.com. They focus on 9 (!) countries/ languages, where not only the site adopts to the selected language, but also the content (e.g. a story on the coach of the 2nd team withdrawing is only available in German and on the german version of the page while the same story about the last match comes in multiple languages). Therefore they need a CMS that is capable of multisite- and multi language-management (guessing multiple authors and content editors as well) – and that is to say, the Hippo CMS.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 16.48.22
Bayerns websites are responsive and come in 9 languages – so you can “turn it japanese”
Club-Name WCMS
FC Bayern MüŸnchen Hippo
FC Barcelona Liferay
Borussia Dortmund eZ Systems
Sevilla FC Drupal
Chelsea FC AEM
Manchester City FC Sitecore
FC Porto SharePoint
FC Zenit St Petersburg Bitrix
Manchester United FC Sitecore
Tottenham Hotspur FC Ektron
FC Basel 1893 Kentico
Villarreal CF Joomla
Olympiakos PirŠus Drupal

Online Shops

If you click on the fanshop logo, a new site opens, which means that shop and website are not yet integrated. Moreover, again they run multiple shops, e.g. the main-german one, which also is responsive, but also special ones, e.g. for the US market at http://www.bayernmunichstoreusa.com (which is not responsive). The basic underlying eCommerce system they use is market leader SAP hybris. Basically it allows them to promote different products for different markets, with different pricing and adopting market specifics like shipping providers. But with the shop being a stand alone platform, they won’t manage to have shopping integrated into the website.

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Bayern runs multiple shops, e.g. a special shop for the US-market.
Club-Name E-Commerce System
FC Bayern MŸnchen Hybris
Club AtlŽtico de Madrid Magento
Juventus Turin Magento
Borussia Dortmund Shopware
Sevilla FC PrestaShop
Arsenal FC Hybris
FC Schalke 04 Shopware
Bayer 04 Leverkusen Magento
SSC Napoli PrestaShop
FC Zenit St Petersburg Bitrix
Valencia CF Magento
FC Basel 1893 OXID EShop
ACF Fiorentina Magento
FC Dynamo Kyiv Magento
Villarreal CF PrestaShop
Olympique Lyonnais PrestaShop

TicketPortals

Another important platform is the club’s ticketing platform, i.e. the website to buy match tickets online. While some clubs integrate this into their online shop, Bayern runs a separate platform at https://tickets.fcbayern.de. Such ticketing portals can be built using a local ticketing portal’s whitelabel solution (e.g. ticketcorner in Switzerland) or manually, again using an eCommerce Systems (like hybris, Magento or Shopware).  With this third platform installed, we even move further away from the seamless user experience that fans wish for (a.k.a. the single place of truth).

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 17.10.35
Bayern separates their shops from the ticket portal.

Hosting and Content Delivery Network

Websites and online shops of football clubs can generate rather high amount of traffic. Staying with Bayern, according to similar web the club has 1.7 Mio visits during the last 6 month, an average visit duration of 3 minutes during which the fan looks at 4 pages. However nearly every second fan (47.5%) bounces, which means that an opened page is the first and last of the particular visit. This, of course, is due to the fact that technically, Bayern actively sends fans away to their online shop or ticket portal (not embedded). However, to cover such amounts of traffic (Manchester United leads this category with 5.9 Mio visits) most clubs host their sites and shops at providers like Amazon CloudFront or Microsoft Azure. Furthermore to balance the load (e.g. the increasing web traffic following the signment of a new player or the drawing of the CL playoffs) clubs use content delivery networks (CDNs).

Club-Name Hosting / CDN
FC Barcelona Amazon
Club AtlŽtico de Madrid Easynet Global
Juventus Turin Amazon
Paris Saint-Germain FC Amazon, OSS
Borussia Dortmund Amazon
Sevilla FC Amazon
Benfica Lissabon Dedicated Hosting
Chelsea FC Amazon
Manchester City FC Microsoft Azure
Bayer 04 Leverkusen Amazon
FC Zenit St Petersburg Dedicated Hosting
Manchester United FC Amazon
Tottenham Hotspur FC iomart
Valencia CF OHV
FC Dynamo Kyiv Dedicated Hosting
Olympiakos PirŠus Hetzner
Galatasaray Istanbul Microsoft Azure (CDN)

Digital Marketing Tools

With such amount of traffic, clubs need to understand what works well. Hence, an analytics solution (like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics) are used. Bayern uses Google Analytics and Google’s tag management solution on their platforms to better understand the fan behavior on this owned media channels. As it recently has become ridiculously easy to configure and use digital marketing tools, other clubs additionally use software like Hotjar (Ajax) or Webtrekk (Bayer Leverkusen) to deepen this analytics data. As analytics data triggers personalization, of course clubs tap on that issue too (e.g. with Adobe Target or Webtrends optimize). Bayern however, as far as we understand, does not yet run onsite personalization (check our article on personalization of the fan experience).

Ads, paid search and Retargeting.

Furthermore, advertisement is a major traffic generator for clubs. Hence, most clubs use  Google (DoubleClick) for paid media traffic, but also Facebook ads and more specific traffic optimization tools. Last, it has become common for clubs to set a cookie to every visitor, so that fans can get retargeted on other sites (e.g. within a traffic banner on a media page). Hence, clubs use tools like Google Remarketing, IntelliJ, AppNexus, The Trade Desk, Adobe Audience Manager, rubicon project, Rocket Fuel, and many many more. While Bayern plays it save using mostly Google, ore rival Borussia Dortmund goes all the way, integrating approximately 30-40 marketing and advertisement plugins to their webpage http://www.bvb.de.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 17.24.17
Looking up ad and marketing plugins with builtwith.com that are embedded on bvb.de

Conclusion: The perfect technical solution for a top 30 european football club?

Well, as the between headline suggests, there is no such thing as THE perfect solution for clubs. The possibilities to built up and promote platforms are sheer endless. Hence, it becomes even more crucial to choose the right software and think about the continuous, seamless fan experience. Eventually, the best solution will always include a subset of elements from the following solution architecture that we see, while analyzing Europes top 30 football clubs:

football-club-solution-architecture-example-1
Prototypical, high-level, solution architecture blueprint for top football clubs.

And what about Bayern?

Ahh yes, Bayern München. We already said that they are a good example for a (digital) top club. They try to offer a well-thought responsive design on all of those platforms and they offer content in 9 languages (offering Bavarian as a language option next to German is brilliant!). Furthermore, the software they have chosen (like Hippo CMS, hybris E-commerce or Google Analytics) are all well-known in the professional software development market, which will give them the opportunity to tap on a plurality of service providers. But they are still far from being the role model. Basically they run a lot of platforms (websites, shops and ticketing portals) which is not quite cost efficient (software licence fees, maintenance, operations, content editing, etc. – all for multiple platforms). Their traffic numbers are good, but still only at 20% of the top clubs in that category (like Man United or Real Madrid). Also, they seem to miss out on some marketing and campaigning opportunities with mainly using Google. But most importantly, the experience is not yet seamless. If you don’t believe us visit their page, switch to chinese page and back, or visit the shop and try to buy a ticket – how many browser windows are open? See what we mean?

Of course we’ll focus other aspects of our study within upcoming posts – so stay tuned.

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