Innovative partnerships key to Milan increasing reach and diversifying audience
By Tariq Saleh
AC Milan, the Italian soccer giants, have developed an innovative partnership strategy where technology will play a key role in increasing the global appeal of the club and engaging a younger audience, chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig has told Sportcal.
As part of this commercial strategy, the Serie A club have partnered with internet giant Google, music streaming platforms Tidal and Apple Music, and US entertainment company Roc Nation in recent months in an effort to diversify their fan base.
This is in addition to deals with Headspace, the meditation app, and e-learning platform Masterclass.
Stylsvig (pictured) outlined how these partnerships are a key part of the club’s focus on innovation, something which has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with Sportcal, he said: “Like any organisation, company, or football club, they always like to talk about being innovative. But there is a challenge with actually communicating it and being able to ‘walk the talk’ and we really try to walk the talk to the extent we can being a football club.
“We are not a Silicon Valley company but with the assets we have, we need to see how we can be innovative and attract other companies who need this to market their products and Tidal, Google, and Apple Music are just small examples of it. It just shows, within a very short period of time, how much we can expand when we focus on putting innovation at the forefront and Covid-19 forced us to be much more innovative.”
He continued: “You can freeze, which a lot of organisations are doing, not knowing what to do, or you can try to work it through with your partners and we chose the latter approach. We were very quick to refocus as soon as the lockdown came and we knew immediately that we had to, in order to not be in breach of contracts with our commercial partners.
“We needed to reschool and be much more innovative, and especially on the digital forum and that's where we then can go out to brands like Google, Apple Music and Tidal and it's not only a nice word on a presentation, but actually there's a case study behind it.”
Each agreement is part of the club’s plan to increase fan engagement and Milan have strategically identified opportunities in crossing over into the technology and entertainment sectors to do this.
Stylsvig added: “We saw opportunities with Google and Apple and this is just the beginning of it. As well as our deals with Headspace and Masterclass, all these things just show that it's not only about football all the time.
“Of course, we want our partners to benefit from the atmosphere at San Siro and to live and breathe what AC Milan really stands for because we are a living brand. But as we have these challenges, we simply need to think much more creatively.”
As part of their aim to target a younger and more diverse audience, Milan recently teamed up with Roc Nation to launch several virtual live events, with the latest taking place last Friday.
The ‘From Milan with Love: Next Gen’ virtual event, which was developed to support young musicians, built on the previous virtual concert created by the two parties in May which raised funds for key workers in Italy and around the world during the pandemic.
Milan and Roc Nation then announced an official partnership in July to work together on philanthropic initiatives focused on “innovation, community, integrity and inclusiveness.”
Stylsvig said: “We have to cater to a younger audience. We were extremely successful in the 80s and the 90s and in the beginning of this century, but we also need to know that for the last few years we haven't been as successful as we used to be. So, our fan base has slowly become older, which is natural, and this has happened to a lot of other clubs previously.
“We very quickly identified that we need to create a more modern brand and cater to the younger audience and be about more than just football, let’s also cater to other things so you can merge these things and we see when we speak to the brands that they really enjoy that school of thought.
“But some brands don't want to be pigeonholed into us being just a football brand and all of us are not only football people, we have other interests so it comes naturally to us to do this. Last year, we launched our digital transformation which was much more focused and we started investing, from an analytical point of view, in our digital capabilities.”
With the pandemic forcing matches to be played behind closed doors, Milan have identified creative fan engagement initiatives as a way to target new fans, as well as giving their existing supporters new ways to engage with the club.
Unable to welcome any spectators inside their iconic 80,000-seater San Siro home, the club believe technology is the key to engaging with what they claim to be a fan base of 450 million, but are keen to get more support from within the industry.
Stylsvig, who was appointed CRO in March 2019, explained: “If we have a fan in Brazil, how do we engage with that fan who might never ever come to Milan? Or a fan in China? That's the reason why we had the China pre-season digital tour this summer. We couldn't bring the team so we had to find another way to engage.
“This is the future and there's a huge opportunity. As clubs, we need a little bit of help from the big technology companies in order to understand how you engage and how you leverage the fan, but also, more importantly, how you monetise it.
“We have such a big fan base, a big loyal fan base which we can still grow, but we should be able to monetise that and we should do that through technology and also by bringing them closer to the club and feeling a part of the club.”
With plans to move into a new €300 million ($356 million), 60,000-seater stadium in the San Siro area with local rivals Inter, the Milan CRO also expects technology to play a major role in enhancing the fan experience.
Stylsvig, who had previous stints at England’s Manchester United and Spain’s Barcelona, added: “We are embracing technology as much as we can, but I think the whole sports industry, in general, are way behind other industries when it comes to technology in terms of data, knowing your fans and so on.
“But we are definitely heading in the right direction and we have a new and exciting stadium coming up in a few years so technology will be absolutely the pinnacle of that stadium in terms of everything we do going forward, both in order to deliver to our partners, but also to deliver to our fans.
“In a new stadium, it is almost expected that in order to increase the fan experience, technology is a huge part of that. So that is something we'll be looking very carefully at and trying to learn what will be the right steps going forward.”
Milan also looked to technology in their most recent partnership deal with AIM Sport, the sports marketing and digital perimeter advertising firm last week, where its digital overlay technology will be used at the San Siro for home games.
They joined Inter in teaming up with AIM, after their rivals partnered with the company in September.
Similar technology offered by Supponor, the sports media and technology company, has previously been deployed in Serie A and Stylsvig expects it to be a key asset for the club in attracting global sponsors.
He said: “From a global sponsor perspective, we can now tailor ads and we’re the first club in Italy to have geo-targeted messaging. We now have a signal into Asia where we can have messages in Chinese or Japanese for instance, and this is tailored for that market during our matches.
“Lots of brands always talk about ‘be global, act locally’, we actually give that opportunity to brands now, which is the first of its kind here in Italy and it's something we'll be pushing hard to do.”
Milan are enjoying a renaissance on the pitch this season and are currently top of Serie A and unbeaten after the first eight games.
The collaboration follows the Yorkshire club’s return to England’s top-flight for the first time in 16 years this season.
A feature on the growing importance of fan engagement during the coronavirus pandemic will appear in the next issue of the Sportcal Insight magazine, out at the beginning of December.