Manchester City FC left its Maine Road home in Manchester’s Moss Side in 2003 moving to its current home at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester’s Eastlands area – originally built as part of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Since then the area has been further revitalised as Sheikh Mansour, while leasing the actual Etihad Stadium, has invested significantly into the surrounding areas creating an Etihad Campus and a footballing hub – the City Football Academy – that includes a footballing academy, a media zone and the global headquarters for the City Football Group.
With three other teams as part of the City Football Group, Manchester City FC is the flagship club of the group, and the infrastructure investment illustrates the longer term commitment to the area. As Sheikh Mansour himself said on opening the Campus (and the words are emblazoned on the entrance to the City Football HQ):
“We are building a structure for the future not just a team of all-stars.”
Although relatively recent, in stadium terms, the structure is in stark contrast to the more traditional settings of other teams that we’ve reviewed, for example, the RDS venue, home to Leinster Rugby. Having said that, Manchester City have been pioneers in awakening their digital properties from the outset, committing significant resources and effort since 2013 when their CityApp was introduced and their mobile strategy began its development in earnest.
As Diego Gigliani confirmed, “We chose to implement a multi-app offering, with several official apps aimed at solving different user needs. While CityApp is the place where fans go to view regular website news, fixtures, or CityTV videos, our CityMatchday app is the companion app for the day of the match, containing score alerts, minute-by-minute commentary, live video and more”.
While this strategy spreads focus and resources, it’s what makes Manchester City a leader in fan engagement. From their VR app, City VR, to their differentiated offerings with both CityApp and City Matchday, the emphasis is on experimentation to understand what works. In contrast to the majority of Premier League teams that have stalled at even investing in WiFi infrastructure, Manchester City has spent the last 3 seasons optimising its infrastructure. (And how well this works is discussed in the Stadium Experience section below!)
In many ways, Manchester City is in an enviable position – as Diego emphasises, “Strategically, the club recognises the importance of continually experimenting and re-inventing the fan experience to see what works. Mobile is a huge part of this and we want to ensure that we continue to lead and innovate in this respect. As long as we can continue to excite our fans, results, in terms of fan engagement and subsequently revenue, will follow”.
This appetite for innovation means that Manchester City are often first to understand what’s working for their fans – enabling them to forge ahead of the majority of their Premier League counterparts in developing a mobile strategy that caters to both fans in-stadium and its global audience. Of primary focus, in this respect, is their stadium & fan experience offering, the City MatchDay app, which is the focus of this review.
While the Etihad Stadium is a relatively new stadium, only 15 years old, the pace of change of connectivity means it was designed without the specific challenges of WiFi infrastructure in mind. In contrast, the Olympique Lyonnais app had the advantage of a stadium that was designed with mobile and connectivity at its core.
That said, the Etihad Stadium has still managed to lead the way in the UK – it remains the first and only English Premier League team to invest in comprehensive stadium Wi-Fi and it did so almost 3 years ago in the 2012/2013 season! It’s quite obvious from connecting to the WiFi on site that lessons have been learned: outside the stadium, I’m able to capture a strong connection on the O2 WiFi to gain full access – despite logging in with an international (Irish) number.
Even more impressive, the Wi-Fi performed magnificently both in the press box beside the pitch and even up in the cheap seats where this speed test was taken showing 10.16 MB/s download speed!
It’s refreshing to see Wi-Fi speed at these levels in different areas of the stadium, proving that the technology is there to allow fans to consume data as needed. Naturally, these speeds can vary – however, when these speeds were clocked on near full attendance.
However, finding your way around areas of the stadium is decidedly more old-school. Similar to the Barclays Center app, the City Matchday app has minimal dynamic mapping functionality. The emphasis is on providing an outline of the stadium, by level, and identifying useful locations in the stadium from toilets to betting facilities.
While this does tick the box of giving fans some insight into their way around the stadium, for casual or away fans who are rarely in the venue, you’ll need to source the available stewards so as to get reassurance and guidance. While we’ve yet to see any market-leading mapping functionality integrated into any stadium apps, there is a huge opportunity to improve the stadium experience by integrating dynamic way-finding functionality.
The Fan experience is where City MatchDay sets itself apart. Opening up the app provides a Lumia-esque style tile view that allows you easy access to a variety of information components and engagement opportunities.
The Live Video menu item is placed strategically to capture the attention and offers a market leading live video offering, unmatched in any other team app globally. Its value in targeting separate customer segments is made possible through the use of three channel options, including:
- CityTV Live: This is particularly impressive as it targets not only match day fans in attendance, but also the global fan-base. The emphasis is on providing a real insight into the build-up, pre-game analysis and growing excitement on match day, with a dedicated TV interviewer behind the scenes grabbing people for opinions & feedback.
Back within the app and exclusively for fans in the stadium that are connected to the free Wi-Fi network, there are two more dedicated video feeds available:
Highlights of the action live from the field on a loop, available throughout the match. This is becoming a more vital requirement for fans who are choosing between in-stadium vs on the couch – the importance of not missing the action or being able to review the quality moments is a huge asset in a fan experience offering.
- Tactical Cam:
An overhead, drone-style view of the action to give fans a different, more strategic perspective!
While the video functionality blew us away, the City MatchDay app also includes additional fan experience elements beyond fixture and starting 11 information. The “Man of the Match”, “Guess Starting 11”, “Guess the Score” & “Be The Ref” games are neat additions as well. (Please note the 9-0 scoreline and triple hat trick by Joe Hart didn’t emerge!) The games add-on are simple and could be linked with betting providers to add in real-time betting potential – more on that is discussed in the Digital Sponsorship section below.
The key challenge with the games in the app is the limited value they have in keeping fans engaged throughout the game. In contrast to the live video functionality, these games don’t keep fans checking back and are generally one play per match.
As with any team or event app, tracking and understanding this type of usage is critical to understand behavioural trends and adoption. In this respect, global trends are extremely positive, as Diego explains:
“We view our mobile app as the portal for fans globally to step into our Match Day experience. Currently we have 10 times more users outside the stadium than in – with significant representation from countries such as the US and Indonesia, where our fan bases are large and growing.
We measure success primarily based on reach and engagement metrics – total downloads and installs, percentage of active users and active sessions are high on our list of priorities. Equally important though is proving that the apps help drive other business goals such as CRM registrations and digital sponsorship value. The more central our app becomes to the fan experience, the greater the engagement and ultimately that reflects in the value we can bring to in-app digital sponsorship.”
With one of the most advanced team apps on offer, the expectation would be that MCFC adopt a market leading strategy related to their digital sponsorship offerings. In this respect, the City MatchDay app does not disappoint.
The splash page includes the traditional static branding from its main Sponsor Etihad; however, while many team apps stop there, City MatchDay aims to innovate smartly around Sponsorship partners.
The tile view menu offers access to a range of functionality while also providing some subtle visibility for MCFC sponsor SAP, aligning their brand with key match stats tile. This type of in-app component sponsorship emphasises the brand values while also allowing differentiated sponsorship within the app.
An additional example of targeted sponsorship innovation is the Sponsored push notification that is the first location where the starting 11 is posted! Naturally the brand alignment is very clear: Hays wants to associate its brand with recruitment of talent – and the starting 11 of Manchester City is an impressive array of talent!
While Manchester City’s matchday app is definitely subtle in its Sponsorship, it is very effective and on-brand. The opportunity to include sponsorship for the gaming elements is there; however, it would appear that Manchester City is prioritising a greater strategic fit for brands seeking to be included in the app.
One area for improvement is the live gallery – the potential for Manchester City to include both fan generated content and behind the scenes footage here is significant. They contribute a substantial amount of authentic content to Snapchat to appeal to a specific target demographic; however, utilising their gallery in the same way and enabling sharing across other social networks would allow them to unveil viral content and influencers to channel real-time sponsorship understanding and reactions. (Disclaimer: We’re a little biased here though!)
It’s refreshing to see a Premier League club with such an appetite to innovate and experiment. Manchester City Football Club have a healthy appetite to trial new technologies and their attitude is focused on one of learning, as opposed to fear of failure.
For example, a Spanish language app CityHome was developed for a Champions League match vs Real Madrid, targeting away fans in particular around the stadium experience. While this has since been discontinued, the learnings related to how fans used it and what attraction information they found most valuable, can be integrated into future City MatchDay offerings.
This is one of the challenges of a multi-app strategy so it will be interesting to see how City reconcile their future offerings. While no-one at Manchester City indicated any consolidation plans, there is a growing industry consensus that requiring fans to download multiple apps can reduce focus and engagement and distract audience attention.
In particular, while Manchester City didn’t divulge details around their CRM, the app has evolved from simply informational in nature to becoming far more transactional and multi-media capable. Naturally, the data collection possibilities and understanding that can be garnered from tracking this fan behaviour is significant, particularly when matching brand values with app attributes.
Within the modern-day global football ecosystem, when Real Madrid and Manchester United are claiming 100’s of millions of fans, what Manchester City seem to grasp better than most is the need to understand their fans rather than quote large numbers. The focus on using the mobile app to build their CRM, both inside and beyond the stadium, allows them to build a better profile of fan needs and creates opportunities to segment and target their fans individually.
Harnessing the value of their fans in this way is a critical step in moving from mobile as a “nice-to-have” to an integral part of an organisation’s commercial strategy. While you can be sure Premier League teams will emulate this approach eventually, it’s likely Man City’s head start will give them a unique advantage, both commercial and in fan engagement terms, for many years to come.