Developing data and analytics capabilities must be a core commercial objective for clubs going forward, specifically the ability to track, analyse and see, in real-time, all fan interaction
Matt Swindells
Matt Swindells is Head of Data and Insight at Aston Villa, of English soccer’s second-tier Championship. He has taken a lead role in the implementation of chip and pin, and contactless technology into Aston Villa’s season and member cards.
Data the key to football’s commercial potential
18th January 2018, 09:47

Quick question: who are English football teams in competition with to get their share of the corporate marketing and branding budget?

If you answered rugby or cricket, I would argue you are on the wrong track. From my vantage point at Aston Villa, I see our competition coming from, not Warwickshire County Cricket Club, but from Facebook.

“Hang on” I hear you say, “Facebook isn’t a sport!” Well, it doesn’t have pitches, teams and stadia, but it does have an insatiable appetite for marketing budgets and it is able to give the holders of those budgets exactly what they want – namely big, targeted reach and a track record of campaigns that have hard metrics behind them.

At Aston Villa, our view is that football (and all sports for that matter) has to revolutionise its offering in order to compete with these new entrants. The days of sponsorship packages purely being of the ‘put your logo here’ variety are coming to an end. Equally, the relationship with the fanbase must be broadened out of the traditional timeframes of 3pm to 4.45pm on a Saturday afternoon.


As we broaden our understanding of the fanbase and their buying habits, it is then possible to personalise and target the offers with much greater precision

Developing data and analytics capabilities must be a core commercial objective for clubs going forward, specifically the ability to track, analyse and see, in real-time, all fan interaction. As we broaden our understanding of the fanbase and their buying habits, it is then possible to personalise and target the offers with much greater precision.

Our view is that the use of pre-paid card technology for season ticket holders and members cards is central, because it offers an abundance of data gathering opportunities.

The roll-out of this type of card, which we have just recently introduced at Aston Villa, whether in mobile wallet or of the physical variety, means that football clubs could capture data on millions of ‘home-to-home fan journeys’ every season, revealing an insight into buying habits which, to date, have been largely hidden from view.

The ability to understand pre-match and post-match habits of fans through their transactions offers an incredible ability to gather data sets that enable football clubs to offer a truly tailored and personal offer to fans.

Aston Villa's new season ticket and members' cards

What does this look like in practice? In the future, if we know that a large percentage of the fanbase drink a certain brand of beer outside the ground, we can also ensure that the same brand is available inside the venue. The same with food.

Every transaction that occurs using a fan card offers more and more information and a level of understanding down to SKU [stock keeping unit] level, including which EPOS terminal completed the transaction – all the time building a more accurate view of the individual fan and their spending habits.

As an aside, the inventory management potential for this type of technology is also hugely important, enabling clubs to deliver the appropriate amount of food and drink to each concourse and terminal at the right time.

Similarly, we can begin to understand shopping habits outside the stadium on the high street, in other words where fans shop and when. This enables clubs to select and market to its potential corporate partners, linking the spending habits of the fanbase to overall corporate marketing objectives, turning ‘propensity to purchase’ into ‘actual purchase’, the sort of hard metrics that Facebook is able to offer.

Crucially, from our experience this personalised offer is exactly what the major FMCG brands are looking for. The conversations we have had suggest strongly that brands are looking to move beyond the traditional sports sponsorship model, into the execution of complex multi-strand marketing partnerships beyond the normal classic ‘sponsorship’ alignments.


 Our ultimate goal is to know what beer Bob, in the Holte End, drinks and then surprise and delight him on the final day of the season with a free pint of his favourite beer  

Most importantly, the fans are not forgotten in this process. Our ultimate goal is to know what beer Bob, in the Holte End, drinks and then surprise and delight him on the final day of the season with a free pint of his favourite beer.

We want to know where he fills up his car, buy his trainers and does his weekly shop. Why? Because then we can work with these retailers on a joint loyalty programme to drive benefit to the fans and our corporate partners in tandem? It’s all about finding ways to engage that are mutually beneficial.

Being able to serve up the relevant rewards to fans is important and shows the we care as much about the fans as they do about the club.

In my view, this is the roadmap that can take traditional sports marketing to a higher level and enable sport to at least remain competitive in the fight with Facebook.

Sportcal