Manchester United has over one billion fans and followers around the world – more people than the entire population of Europe. Good results turn on a truly global tap of euphoria; bad ones can leave millions disconsolate. At the heart of this rollercoaster is the Old Trafford stadium – home for over a century to not just the Manchester United team, but the highest average attendance of fans in Europe’s top five national leagues.
Whilst the stadium comes thunderously alive during matches, over one billion global fans’ interactions with the club are digital: They catch games on TV, highlights and updates on the official Manchester United app, buy merchandise from the club’s online store, engage with the team on a growing range of social media platforms, and chat about results and strategy across various online forums in a plethora of timezones.
The man in charge of making sure that fans get the richest digital experience possible is Phil Lynch, Manchester United’s CEO of Digital Products and Experiences. He joined the club in 2017 after working at Sony and Yahoo! and has led a sweeping overhaul of how the club approaches digital – one which has paid off strikingly, with Manchester United found to be generating the most “digital value” of any sports team in the world in 2021.
Joining The Stack to talk about his strategy and priorities, he told us that his original focus when joining was “a shift towards prioritising our owned and operated products, where we can be a little bit more thought authoritative, a little bit more authentic, and offer our fans more experiences.
“One of the most exciting moments was the launch of our Manchester United official app, which supplements the matchday experience but also allows our global fan base to engage on a regular basis” he added.
“We’ve reached #1 in the App Store in over 180 countries worldwide. It [the official Manchester United app] now represents about 50% of the total engagement time of all the top 25 football clubs.
“In terms of the next evolution, if you think about linear networks, the average age is 52-53. Direct-to-consumer digital has an average age of 30. Those very different audiences feed into the content creation and the production [strategy] long term… We’ve now embedded MUTV into our official app, which was one of the first projects we did under a new partnership with DXC Technology. It’s now a simplified user journey for our fans, that brings content together in one place, adds curated boxsets and collections and messages.”
Manchester United and DXC Technology team up on digital transformation
A Manchester United and DXC Technology partnership signed in July 2022, meanwhile, has made the technology multinational not just a sleeve sponsor but principal digital transformation partner.
DXC, the two said at the time, will “streamline analytics data helping the club to deliver a more personalized experience for fans across the club’s digital channels” and “help Manchester United to harness the power of data to enhance fan experience and certain business operations.
“In a first step, DXC and United will deliver a new data platform that will aggregate data across the club and enable new insights to inform strategic business planning and performance”, they added.
Manchester United’s Phil Lynch told The Stack: “We’re very excited about the partnership. It’s always great to lean on partners like DXC, who are extremely innovative and can help guide us on this journey.”
“There might be 40 projects that we’re very excited about doing.
“But leveraging DXC’s expertise to help identify the top three or four that are actually going to be the biggest needle movers or have the most impact on the fan base is really important for us.
“This is not always revenue focused, it is about driving engagement.”
Breaking down digital silos for a better fan experience
He added: “Historically a lot of sports clubs were very verticalized.
“You had your ticketing business over here, you had your digital business over here, you had your CRM business over here, you had your retail business over here. What we realised, probably four or five years ago, is that it always starts with the fan: it’s one fan experience, regardless of those individual touch points.
“So our priority has been really starting to understand our fan base across product holdings: how do our matchday fans interact with our digital products? Our app? How do they interact with social platforms?
“What is the variance, for example, between what fans want in Vietnam and the US?
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“What we’re going to be doing with DXC’s support and advice is really that layer on top that pulls it all together; ultimately really understanding our fans enough so that we would know what’s the right content, or the right product to put right in front of the right fan at the right time.”
There are multiple strands to Manchester United’s ongoing digital transformation efforts, he added, noting that a lot of the leg work has been done on getting the infrastructure in place.
Data lake, CDP work built the foundations
“We’ve invested significantly over the last four or five years in building out the data lake and our Customer Data Platform to deliver the strategy” he said, emphasising that new partnership allows the club and DXC to really double down on what technology can deliver across multiple facets of the club.
“There’s four or five different working strands: a football strand… including starting to leverage data inputs at the Academy to help maximise performance there; there’s the digital products and experiences we just talked about; but then also building off our digital product and our roadmap.”
As Manchester United and DXC Technology are still building their partnership, there’s a lot of joint analysis going into digital priorities, Lynch added: “ What I’ve been impressed by and really enjoyed about DXC is that for the first several months, they’ve come in, they’ve tried to immerse themselves into the business, they’re asking questions, they’re trying to really understand how we function, how the culture works, what’s most important to us.
“They have staff based here in Manchester, they sit right with the rest of our staff, we have conversations on a daily basis, we’re working through various forecast models in terms of engagement, so it’s almost an extension of our team rather than a vendor-partner”, Manchester United’s CEO of Digital Products and Experiences added.
“There’s a lot of passion here at the club and there’s a lot of people that work extremely hard; they’re very passionate and engaged and emotional about their jobs. We have a unique culture and a unique global fan base.”
“We’re ultimately serving that culture and those fans – and we’re working to do it in a way that brings the best of this club, it’s heritage and the excitement of what happens on the pitch, in the best possible way.”
This article was sponsored by DXC Technology