The new era of football

Football’s evolution from a parochial pastime into a global multibillion-dollar industry was a relatively slow process, but the digital transformation of the sport has been anything but.

Football’s ability to constantly evolve and embrace new innovations has been the foundation for its success. As we see a fundamental shift in consumption habits and fan behavior, this blueprint will be needed once again if clubs, leagues and federations can remain relevant and grow revenues in this new era of football.

In partnership with SportsPro, we have examined content creation and digital innovation in the current Football landscape that will be crucial in unlocking new engagement opportunities and more diverse revenue streams.

the new era of football

Understanding your audience & the rise of Gen Z

In a digital-first world engaging audiences means navigating a fragmented media landscape, personalising the experience, and experimenting with new formats – especially when it comes to Gen Z audiences who are consuming football in a very different way to older generations.

If football is to become more like a media business, then a core principle of the wider industry also rings true – data is king. Studies show that 72% of Gen Z are watching football at least once a week, and 26% plan to follow football even more intently over the next five years.

Organizations that are able to collect, analyze and use fan data will be better placed to attract fans and increase their revenue streams. It means more optimised content, better decision making, and more targeted campaigns.


the new era of football

Going beyond the broadcast with new forms of content


Media revenues will continue to be hugely important for the football industry and traditional broadcasting will remain a vital channel for engagement. However, it forms part of a broader content mix that incorporates a far wider range of formats, subject matters, and distribution methods, as well as new technologies that enhance the viewing experience and bring fans closer to the game.

Content and technology are enhancing the matchday experience – AR and virtual reality (VR) tech experiments have been ongoing for several years, with multiple editions of the UEFA Champions League final available in 360-degree vision.

AI will transform virtually every aspect of football – becoming so embedded that most consumers won’t even know they are interacting with AI. The real benefits to fans will be better quality, more relevant content, with automated video highlights, AI cameras, and algorithmic discovery among the most common current use cases.

the new era of football

Football clubs are now content companies


Clubs are no longer content with only vying for titles in the physical world, but are also competing in the digital realm to be one of, if not the favourite club of millions of fans around the world.

Real Madrid and Barcelona, two of the fiercest rivals in world football, were among the first clubs to recognise the importance of cultivating a global fanbase and found themselves engaged in a ‘digital Clasico’ back in 2017. Both have since reached the 100 million milestone on Instagram, generating more than one billion interactions each year, and see themselves as content companies, complete with in-house television stations, content creators and OTT platforms.

The challenge is to create a compelling proposition without threatening centralised broadcast agreements. With these contracts restrict how much match action clubs can offer on their own channels?

the era of football

A league’s reach, revenue and relevance

Most major competitions sell their rights centrally on behalf of their teams to secure a better collective deal, reduce fragmentation, and ensure a fairer redistribution of licensing fees. The priority is to find a balance between reach and revenue.

Another new factor in this equation is relevancy – leagues are increasingly looking at which platforms are the most important as opposed to the most lucrative or most widely available, while also taking a much more vested interest in how their competitions are being presented around the world.

The global appeal of the Premier League has helped it become the world’s most lucrative domestic football competition. Uniquely, its overseas revenue is now greater than its domestic income meaning it must take great care to ensure its international broadcast partners and their viewers are satisfied.

Our production partnership with the league, Premier League Productions (PLP), has seen the introduction of new innovations such as Spidercam and Cinecam to enhance coverage, as well as video game and data-focused feeds that aim to satisfy Gen Z’s desire for statistical-based coverage.


 the new era of football

Growing the game at federation level


Although federations have the same commercial and engagement objectives as clubs and leagues, they are tasked with driving participation and growing the sport in their country and region.

The 2023 TotalEnergies CAF African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire was the most successful edition of the tournament in terms of media coverage, commercial revenues and television audiences to date. New markets, including India and Brazil, were unlocked and the tournament made a serious splash on social media, securing 2.2 billion video views on Instagram Reels, while the ‘AFCON’ hashtag on TikTok recorded 3.6 billion views.

The digital world of fandom is here to stay so what’s next? For CAF, they plan further AI experiments ahead of the next AFCON in 2025, by when it will also have launched a new mobile app. Other areas of focus include AR and VR, as well as blockchain-based Web 3.0 technologies.

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