Valencia CF’s Mestalla stadium was an exciting place to visit during the 2018/19 season, with the club celebrating its 100th anniversary with a cup victory, European semi-final and 4th-place finish in LaLiga Santander. But while this drama was unfolding on the pitch, Los Ches were busy behind the scenes completing one of the most innovative technology installations in the club’s history.
The digital transformation of Valencia CF, which is focused on providing direct relationship with the fan and an unmatched entertainment experience, shows the club’s ambition to stay at the forefront of the game for many years to come.
Digital is not a department
According to Keishi Matsuyama, Digital Transformation Director at Valencia CF, the secret to a successful technology project is not to focus on technology.
“Digital is not a department, it’s a way of doing things,” he said. “What we have been able to do is change the club’s whole approach to economics, processes, communications and markets, because we saw that our fans behaviour had changed.”
Matsuyama, with a background in the global finance industry, began by analysing some of the world’s most successful businesses, particularly from the media and entertainment industry, demonstrating how data was being used to build new services and drastically increase performance.
From this, it was quickly agreed that the club would update its systems to enable data capture from across all departments, from how fans shopped, when they arrived at the stadium and where they were accessing content. The results of this insight quickly changed how the club approached its communications.
“We are people managers, not engineers,” noted Matsuyama. “By using data, everyone at the club saw that we could be more relevant in how we were speaking to the customer, allowing us to be more successful. Digital is simply the medium through which we do that.”
Half of ticket sales via mobile app
For the fan, one of the key outputs from the project has been the club’s fan app, which most season ticket holders now use to consume club news, TV, radio and social media, get to know players better and purchase tickets.
They continue to use it, believes Matsuyama, because it provides the smoothest and most entertaining way to interact with the club.
“People expect every app to work the same, no matter if it is for banking, uploading pictures or for sports,” he added. “Whatever the global benchmark is, that is how your app has to perform.”
With the club having made significant investments to ensure a fast and reliable experience, the results are already paying off. Ticket sales through the new digital ecosystem (with the app as its flagship), now account for over 65% of all ticket transactions the club processes for LaLiga matches, while other digital sales are also increasing sharply.
“The app will become an even more popular resource for fans because it’s a fully connected ecosystem,” added Matsuyama. “Whatever the club offers, you will have it in your pocket.”
Food orders, personal offerings and right pricing
With so many fans already moving to digital engagement, Valencia CF is busy analysing all the resulting data to create new experiences for them to enjoy. From next season, it is likely that fans will be able to carry out 100% of their interactions with the club, from food to retail, through mobile technology.
“On the match day, we will make it possible for fans to order food remotely via the app, picking it up from their bar of choice,” said Matsuyama. “Based on data about fans arrival or shopping, we will be creating personalised offers and delivering these through the app. With all data running through the app, we will be able to make even more detailed and personal offers to fans as years go by.”
In the future, this data may influence the price of tickets, as the club plans to work with LaLiga attendance systems and its own fan data to determine exactly who is visiting the Mestalla and when.
“We have already worked out how regularly each fan is visiting, putting them into specific offerings and loyalty pricing brackets based on that, Matsuyama notes. “But as this data becomes richer the offers can become more personal, and the offering and pricing more dynamic.”
All of this will no doubt increase the link to local fans, but Matsuyama is keen to note that the strategy is designed to win international fans in equal measure, with plans to work with local tourist groups to create more relevant and timely offers.
“Tourists who visit the stadium expect the best digital experience and the app a great way to maintain communications,” he said. “Digital plays a big part of our international growth.”
Sports teams are in the entertainment business
For any club preparing its own move to digital, the advice from Valencia CF is not to delay. “Of course there is a cost to digital transformation, but there is also a cost in waiting,” Matsuyama says.
“Sports teams have to understand that they are in the entertainment business and that fan behaviour has changed. They expect more than a match ticket.”
Having adapted its systems for the future, Valencia CF will not rest on its success. Rather, it will continue with the approach that began the whole process, reviewing the global business landscape to receive best practice and improve its offers.
“We do not just compete with other sports teams, our fans have a world of options and we have to ensure we remain a relevant choice,” Matsuyama concluded. “If you don’t serve your customers better, there is somewhere else they can go.”