The English Premier League could learn lessons from the Spanish when it comes to harnessing the power of Big Data

Who was the winner in this season’s UEFA Champions League Final? Well, obviously the answer is Chelsea. But do you know who the real winner was financially? Well, you may be surprised to learn that it was Barcelona FC, the team Chelsea surprisingly beat in the semi –finals. Why is the Catalan club likely to earn more than not just the team from the King’s Road but the rest of the English Premier League? Because Barcelona, like the majority of major US sports teams understands the importance of Big Data and knows how to monetize digital content. The Catalan giant is one of the most adept sporting clubs in Western Europe in using new media and mobile technologies to monetise its content.In spite of protestations from died-in-the-wool sports fans who will tell you that sport is all about pride and passion, we all know deep down that at the end of the day, sport is inherently just a business. Moreover, it’s a business based around content distribution and marketing. Football clubs have had to confront issues surrounding Big Data, Big Data analytics, infrastructure and the cloud for a while now, as they looked at ways of distributing their video content across new media, via mobile and the web. Unfortunately UK football clubs haven’t confronted the problem anything like as well as many of their European counterparts. Even the mighty Manchester United for all its global reach can’t compete with Barcelona.

Kevin Usher is the director of applications specialist, EMEA at Avid. The company provides the live editing software and hardware for FC Barcelona as well as a number of teams worldwide. He believes that English football at all levels needs to perform much better when utilising its content to connect with fans and open additional revenue streams. Speaking in an interview with mobility.cbronline.com he argued that he would like to see more UK sports teams using the Barca business model, which incidentally is based on US models. He wants our clubs to use the massive amount of data available, and control and exploit their own content, by effectively operating as their own virtual TV station and content distributor, tying in new technologies like mobile.

Barcelona already has a range of mobile apps built on its own program, FCB Apps. This allows other companies or individuals to develop their own ideas, and the club splits revenues with them (Avid partnered with the video distribution mechanisms).This has seen the likes of FCB’s World Tap (a game of keeping the ball in the air as long as possible) exist alongside apps such as FCB Live for iPad. FCB Live displays stats in real time for all games involving Barcelona’s first and second teams, and also the brand’s basketball team Barca Regal. FCB Watch operates like a social network, allowing Barcelona fans to find each other and also the nearest bar showing their team’s games live anywhere in the world. FCB Mobile operates similar to most football teams’ apps, with player bios, news feeds and short clips. FCB Fantasy Manager allows players to test their skills as a potential manager of the club.

The potential to collate this form of Big Data is a key advantage in the modern mobile world, and gives clubs like Barcelona unparalleled access to their fans. Although currently much of this access remains tied to second-screen viewing of stats, news and social networks, Usher believes video will be the next big step. Big Data, in the form of the terabytes of video data being produced during each game, and how to exploit this monetarily, will become a key focus.

Currently in the United States, baseball teams like the New York Yankees and Miami Heat already share fixed and cloud storage for their vast digital video libraries in order to reduce costs. In fact the entire Major League Baseball league utilises shared storage to the tune of US$600m a year, as does basketball’s equivalent the NBA. Many of the US sports leagues have also collectively bargained their TV rights and incorporated archiving rules, so all footage is stored in the same manner and is easily available for journalists and documentary producers, while the public can view classic matches. This also makes it available for new media and social media applications at the click of a mouse, and as Usher says ‘the ring of a cash register’:

“Making this digital video content accessible is particularly important for mobile and tablet applications,” claimed Usher. “Consumers may not want to watch whole matches on these small screens, but ‘goals of the day’ and highlights can be big revenue earners. A lot of this is currently lost to YouTube.”

However, the disparity between Premier League teams and other lower divisions mean that the quality of what archiving there is differs widely. The vast majority of any historical footage is trapped on analogue tape, or buried away back rooms in of clubhouses. That’s particularly the case for those clubs that haven’t seen top flight action for some time. However, it is these clubs and others who are struggling financially who could stand to gain the most from harnessing Big Data. According to Phil Ventre, Avid’s head of sports, EMEA, there is so much money to be made from sentimental fans who still reminisce about the glory years:

“The technology available right now makes it easier than ever before. If clubs utilised shared cloud storage and shared physical digital infrastructure they could reduce the costs of these endeavours drastically. Unfortunately, a lot of the clubs still have a very protective, individualist mentality when it comes to sharing data. Once you have the data organised, producing clip packages and pushing them to online video stores where it can be charged for is potentially huge.”