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Real Madrid's global partnership with Microsoft helps club to 30 per cent digital revenue growth

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

  • Spanish football giants Real Madrid have grown digital revenues over 30 per cent over course of five-year partnership with Microsoft
  • Club began digital transformation project in 2017 to better engage its global fanbase
  • Digital marketing platform allows Real Madrid to create “tailor-made marketing campaigns for every single fan,” says chief executive José Ángel Sánchez

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Spanish football giants Real Madrid engaged on a digital transformation project in partnership with Microsoft to directly engage its 450 million worldwide supporters.

With 97 per cent of the club’s fanbase living outside Spain (the largest single market is Indonesia, with 11 per cent of the total fan base), the partnership utilised a multi-channel technology solution based on the Microsoft Cloud platform in order to connect the club more closely to its supporters and enhance their experience of supporting Real Madrid.

It then employed additional Microsoft solutions to analyse the interactions the club had with its global fanbase in order to customise its international marketing campaigns, helping to boost revenues through both merchandise sales and commercial partnerships.

Real Madrid star Marcelo engages with young fans at the Microsoft Store in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Microsoft)

Real Madrid “belongs to the fans”

Real Madrid’s primary brief to Microsoft was to connect the club more closely to its fans, particularly to its non-Madrid based supporters around the world, through two-way, personalised interactions across multiple platforms which enabled the club’s employees to better understand the supporters and to learn from them.

The aim for improved and customised fan relationships was to maintain and expand support, increase fan-related revenue, and thus reinforce the club’s leadership position in the worldwide sports industry.

“We wanted to connect with all the people who support Real Madrid in the world: whether they’re in Spain, the US, or Asia,” says José Ángel Sánchez, Real Madrid chief executive.

“It is critical for us to understand and learn from them, because, in the end, the club belongs to them. It’s impossible to change football club loyalty. Fans never change clubs.”

Connecting to a global fanbase

Real Madrid and Microsoft first struck up their partnership in 2014, but it was in 2017 that the two fully committed to the digital transformation initiative. Real briefed Microsoft’s Services Team, gathering the club’s principal stakeholders together in Redmond, Washington, for a ‘no holds barred’ brainstorming to discuss needs and to clarify their vision for ‘enriching fan interactions’.

“We invested the better part of our time in this meeting discussing the potential business value of raising our engagement levels with fans and then the different ways we could do that,” Sánchez recalls. “Although Microsoft Services consists of technology experts, they put the articulation and prioritization of our business goals first, not only to understand those goals themselves but also to ensure that, as their client, all of us were all on the same page about those goals.”

The next step saw the Microsoft Services team define a strategic project framework to guide the development of the Real Madrid digital sports platform.

A 50-strong Microsoft Services group formed the core team, while a further 150 Microsoft professionals contributed to the a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution, based on a range of Microsoft Cloud products (including Azure, Dynamics 365, Office 365, Power BI, .NET Framework and Visual Studio 2013).

The new technology solution provided a cohesive structure to support various different fan engagement digital services and to enable the club to collect, filter and analyse fan data. The initiatives included a new fan engagement platform, an extended video platform, and a mobile app, all of which were required to provide telemetry and data analysis.

The new fan engagement platform is a marketing back-office engine: a platform that captures, stores and segments every Real Madrid-related digital fan interaction, from club-owned properties such as mobile check-ins at the stadium, online fan profile updates on the club’s official website, online merchandise purchases and gaming interactions, video views and live streaming activity, to independent platforms such as club mentions on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

The refreshed, searchable video platform hosts old and new club video content, such as player interviews and old Real Madrid matches, including multiple camera angles and historical highlights.

The interactive mobile app, designed for iOS, Android, and Windows, accessible across smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, aims to offer fans a Real Madrid experience wherever they are. It includes news, highlights, current and past player information, game details and virtual stadium access.

All three platforms offer two-way communication, offering fan/user telemetry and data analysis to the club’s marketing and sales teams. This enables them to analyse both individual and collective supporter engagement, creating detailed user profiles based on everything from usage data and personal preferences to when and where they are using the platforms to ‘check in’.

Using this information, the club can respond through automated, low-latency marketing campaigns including personalised messaging and products, loyalty rewards and discount codes.

Through the course of the partnership, Real Madrid and Microsoft teamed up to produce a series of films, posted on both club and partner social channels, to bring the evolving new tech solution platform to life for fans, as well as potential Microsoft B2B customers.

“We can create a one-to-one relationship with fans around the planet with the Microsoft solution, connecting this huge community of people and making the experience of being a supporter of Real Madrid much better,” says Sánchez.

“Our goal is to profile all our supporters, to understand who they are, and to give them what they want from us, such as exclusive content, and bring them closer to the club. We can now find out if they want products or content, as well as whether they want to have an influence in decisions.”

In 2018-19, the project expanded on Real Madrid’s existing official technology partnership with Microsoft, which dates back to 2014 when the Real Madrid Foundation and Microsoft began working together on social projects for Latin American youth, marking the start of the strategy’s commitment to putting fans at the centre of the club’s engagement approach.

As well as fan engagement, the partnership has also focused on other areas. Microsoft has worked with Real Madrid on transforming the club’s Santiago Bernabéu home into a fully smart stadium, including offering immersive experiences, fan socialising, access to match content and player stats through the official app. It has also worked to digitise fan venue services such as retail, concessions purchases, cashless payments, digital ticketing and access validation, all of which can also be done through the app.

The two have also collaborated on the performance side. Using Microsoft Cloud technology, Real Madrid coaches use customisable dashboards to consolidate team and individual player data, gaining a 360 view of athletes and generate data-driven insights to help improve performance, health issues and prevent injury through programmes such as training management and smart gym experiences.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has been able to leverage the partnership by putting the club and it players at the heart of both its B2C and B2B marketing campaigns, appealing to consumers through association with the world’s biggest football team and to business clients through its successful application of its technologies into the club’s infrastructure.

Digital revenues up 30 per cent

Real Madrid club officials report digital revenue growth of 30 per cent since the beginning of the partnership, much of this increase provided by the club’s international fanbase. Real Madrid’s internal digital team grew from just five members of staff to 30 over the same period.

“Now we can target a communication strategy, tailor-made for every single fan, no matter who or where they are,” says Sánchez. “Our digital sports platform capabilities are impacting every single function and activity, including our digital revenues, which are growing 30 percent a year compared to what our previous digital platforms were delivering. Our payback on this investment has been huge, and we’re now well positioned for a bright future.”

Looking ahead, Real Madrid are also now beginning to use the multi-functional tech platform suite not just to improve fan engagement, learn and offer customised services to drive revenue, but also to apply elements of the platform to other areas of the club. The club intends to use Microsoft’s Azure Machine Learning technology to to predict the price of seats during the season, enabling it to react smartly to increases and decreases in the demand for tickets and ensure a steady attendance at the Bernabéu.

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