The Derby County model: digital transformation drives the future of sports marketing

Matt Wheatcroft, managing director of Purpose Media, tells the story of how English soccer club Derby County took an innovative approach to their digital output and secured stunning returns.

The Derby County model: digital transformation drives the future of sports marketing

The digital landscape of sport is changing.

At the top end of soccer, most clubs are fully aware that their digital real-estate is as important an asset as their players and stadia. It’s a key part of enabling them to build their club as a brand and reach an audience that’s not bound by their geographic location.

Even in the lower echelons of the soccer pyramid, or in sports which don’t attract Premier League-sized crowds, the number of paying supporters coming through the turnstiles each week doesn’t tell the full story, with thousands more are lurking at home in armchairs and on laptops and not just on a matchday.  

This ‘hidden army’ of support is the Holy Grail for professional sports clubs… a rich but untapped seam of digitally-savvy content consumers. The challenge is how to reach them as it is clearly no longer just about television.

Fans now stream soccer and other sports via a variety of platforms as well as accessing highlights via social media – often multi-screen – to take in every aspect of the game and every bit of opinion online, on-demand and in real-time.

Many are prepared to pay for ‘premium’ access to their club, its players and exclusive insight from their favourite opinion-formers.

This ‘hidden army’ of support is the Holy Grail for professional sports clubs… a rich but untapped seam of digitally-savvy content consumers 

The net effect is a major disruption of the marketplace, previously dominated by major broadcasters reliant on an outmoded subscription models.

The savviest of sports clubs are waking up to this fact and realising that as the growing number of ‘digital natives’ within their fanbase continues to expand  exponentially they need to offer a way to interact with them on a 24/7 basis, providing personalised, exclusive content and offers that are focused on their wants and needs.

Intelligent sports businesses are also innovating in the way they use their data.

They know exactly things like what each of their fans likes to eat, where they sit, what video clips they enjoy watching and which players’ shirts they like to wear.

Acting upon this insight helps them to connect with their fanbase, create additional revenue streams, drive growth and increase engagement. It enables advertisers and sponsors to identify and deliver specific messages and campaigns in a highly-targeted way and measure the impact of those campaigns with respect to their own business and marketing objectives. In short, it’s a win-win for fans, clubs and sponsors alike.

More and more clubs, across more and more sports, are waking up to the fact that their digital destiny – and the commercial gains that come with it – is in their own hands.

Digitally-savvy content consumers are an increasing target audience for sports clubs

Case study

English second-tier soccer club Derby County were among the first in the English Football League (EFL) to embrace this change, opting out of the EFL Digital agreement in 2016.

Instead the club decided to create its own digital platform, www.dcfc.co.uk, which would give it greater control over its own online channels, deliver a greater commercial return as a result and enabling it to deliver a more immersive, engaging and interactive experience to its fans.

Purpose Media worked with Derby County to create a market-leading online soccer platform that redefines sports club websites by placing fans at its very core, while generating significant new commercial opportunities for the club.

The platform offers greater scope to deliver more engaging content directly to their fans. The club was keen to create a digital platform that is engaging, immersive and totally transforms the way supporters interact with it.

Since launching, the club’s website has experienced a 165 per cent increase in visits, a 98 per cent increase in users and a 306 per cent increase in page views

The response was to create a platform that can be viewed at home or on the go, providing a fluid service that is just as responsive on mobile or tablet as it is on desktop.

It delivers an enhanced online matchday experience, with the introduction of a new Match Centre which will allow fans to follow the action in every game from the club’s pre-season friendlies to the end of season deciders and beyond.

Unified from top to bottom, supporters can find whatever they desire all in one place, and with a fully vertical single user account and login, making it easier to buy tickets, merchandise and hospitality packages.

The club’s in-house video news channel, RamsTV, is fully-integrated into the new platform, offering player and manager interviews, extended and full 90 minutes highlights of every fixture, and pre and post-match news, features and studio chat.

Since launching, the club’s website has experienced a 165 per cent increase in visits, a 98 per cent increase in users and a 306 per cent increase in page views.

On the back of its launch, Middlesex County Cricket Club and a leading rugby league team, have both adopted the same technology and their new websites have gone live recently. Again, the central aim behind each of these platforms was to put the fans at the very core, to deliver the bespoke and highly-tailored experience that the fans not only demand, but expect.

Derby County's bespoke fully integrated digital platform was created with Purpose Media

Conclusion

In today’s digital sports landscape, the match; continual opportunities to engage fans, and generate new – as well as improve current – commercial revenues never ends.

Clubs can now control and manage their own destiny, where an integrated approach to data analysis will personalise the fan experience.

This is what digital transformation means to sport. Its future belongs to the brave, bold and innovative.

This is what digital transformation means to sport. Its future belongs to the brave, bold and innovative.

Matt Wheatcroft is managing director of Purpose Media, a full-service creative and marketing agency based in Derbyshire which specialises in creating bespoke websites for professional sports clubs.