Pro League to use expanded Stats Perform deal to drive innovation strategy
By Tariq Saleh
The Pro League has expanded partnerships with Stats Perform, the international sports data and technology provider, and Sorare, the blockchain platform, which represent the latest tie-ups as part of Belgian soccer's new innovation project to grow its international reach.
Both agreements were signed to support the ‘Pro League Forward’ initiative which was launched last month as part of a strategy to use innovation as a means for further growth.
The league described the project as “a platform that binds all processes and partnerships that focus on innovation and renewal.”
As part of a multi-year agreement with Stats Perform, which was announced today, the company will continue to exclusively collect and manage its Opta data from all Belgian matches in the top-flight Jupiler League and second-tier 1B Pro League.
The Pro League said in collaboration with Stats Perform and Eleven Sports, its new domestic media rights-holder, “the scope of the cooperation has been extended for the benefit of the clubs, fans and related stakeholders.”
The extended deal, which is separate from the betting streaming rights agreement Stats Perform recently signed with the league, will be centred on performance, broadcast and communications.
The performance element of the deal has been expanded with Stats Perform to serve as the Pro League's official tracking and performance data provider, providing the league and its clubs with live player tracking data through its SportVU and athlete monitoring insights which will allow for the use of real-time data during games.
The broadcast and communications aspects of the deal will involve the Pro League providing rights-holder Eleven with live data that can be used across traditional broadcast channels, digital media and socials.
Eleven, whose five-year contract with the Pro League covering domestic and international rights began with the 2020-21 season, will use Stats Perform's data within its coverage.
Stats Perform's solutions will also power the communication platforms of the Pro League and the clubs with its data.
The renewed deal with Sorare expands on a relationship first struck in 2018 when the Pro League became the first professional soccer league in the world to partner with a blockchain platform and release digital collectible cards of its players.
Under the extension, the Pro League and Sorare will jointly develop innovation and marketing initiatives as well as their own 'fantasy game'.
The Pro League Forward project itself is based on three core pillars: club servicing, knowledge centre and innovation hub.
As part of its club servicing function, the league will support its clubs in the use of the latest technological tools, while through the knowledge centre, the Pro League will create a business intelligence centre “that organises exchange of knowledge and experience between clubs, leagues and partners.” The innovation hub is a platform for the Pro League’s partners to come together to share knowledge and find ways to utilise each other’s services.
The Pro League started the project when it launched its rights tender two years ago and said it is part of “a bigger strategy” and was always keen to find a broadcast partner to push this initiative forward and ultimately decided Eleven was the perfect fit.
In an interview with Sportcal, Leander Monbaliu, Pro League chief business officer, said: “The decision to go with Eleven was a choice for innovation. It was also a very conscious choice for innovating, rethinking our product and how we wanted to make it closer to the fans.
“This was the main driver but around this we had a lot of different agreements and projects. We started with signing that deal but we have also implemented a new brand for the league and Pro League Forward bundles the whole innovation strategy and business strategy of the league.”
In recent months, the league has also teamed up with WSC Sports, the Israel-based sports video content provider, and 433, one of the leading soccer channels on social media, to support its strategic focus.
The league has created a two-tier subscription service for clubs that want to utilise the Pro League Forward services: a basic subscription where ready-made footage is provided and is available to immediately share across their platforms; and a premium subscription for more advanced clubs where they can leverage the full technology offered by WSC, which provides real-time highlights as part of its deal.
Eleven will benefit by using the technology provided by Stats Perform and WSC, with more advanced data available during games which allows it to create new graphics and fan interaction within its OTT platform and broadcasts.
Monbaliu added that Pro League Forward was created “to give the league an advantage and to be one of the most innovative leagues in Europe” and believes embracing new technologies within the digital space is crucial to attracting younger fans.
He said: “Innovation will make sure we are still relevant in the future, being relevant in the bigger football picture on the European side but also being relevant when we think about the younger fans and adapting to what their needs are.
“In European football, we have still got a lot of margin to gain both in terms of attracting new fans, keeping our fans and improving our product. It will have to be more interactive and closer to the fans.
“The way they look at football now is completely different compared to what it used to be. We need to adapt and innovation is anticipating the future in a way so this is what we want to do.”
In terms of generating additional revenue through the innovation strategy, Monbaliu believes it is a long-term play.
He added: “On the revenue side, the innovation is longer-term. The deal with Eleven is also anticipating the future and we are now in a situation with them where we have a five-year deal which is huge and we will have a lot more insights on who is watching and what fans are willing to pay for and what they want.
“We will have a lot more insight than how it used to be where it was taking the money and run and that is a very long-term strategy because after five years, probably we will be in a better position.
“Who knows how media will evolve but we will have more control for ourselves and control is important, controlling your product and we will maybe be able to say we will do our own OTT platform, maybe we will not, but at least we will have a lot more data and information available to share with future partners. So that is the longer-term adapting to the future.”
As well as engaging with fans, the Pro League is keen to use innovation to engage with sponsors on the commercial side.
The league sees an opportunity to meet the growing demands from commercial partners to have more engagement with fans through their sponsorship deals.
The sponsorship landscape in soccer is changing with brands increasingly seeking different ways to activate partnerships through direct fan engagement and the Pro League is willing to meet their needs.
Monbaliu explained: “Companies short-term are looking for a different source of interaction with the fans, they are not just about paying for commercials, it has evolved and they want interaction with the fans. Knowing your fans and being able to connect with every individual fan is very important for our sponsors so the technology will also allow ourselves and our clubs to have this closer connection.
“Both for the league and the clubs, their sponsors want to be able to measure their return on investment and see how many fans they reach and you need digital platforms for this and the newest technology to be able to deliver this.
“The deal with WSC allows us to generate huge amounts of videos and share it internationally and put a sponsor in one specific video that is linked to that fan for example.
“If we link WSC to our database and our CRM partners, we will be able to deliver the video a fan wants and not just some random video but the video of their club or favourite player and so on. This is also what the sponsors are looking for, not just some general banner on a website.”
He said league executives have spoken and shared ideas with Spain’s LaLiga in particular, which is another European competition which has embraced innovation and looked to technology to increase its global reach in rceent years.
The Pro League believes that as “one of the few leagues that strongly focuses on central coordination and distribution of the most innovative tools on the market, including data deals and fan relations management tools, the clubs have made great strides in digitisation and further professionalisation in all aspects of the football business in recent years.”
Despite being open to sharing information and working with other European leagues, the Belgian top-flight is keen to stand out from the competition and be viewed as a benchmark.
Monbaliu concluded: “We need to be ready for the future and we need to have more insights of our own products, more engagement, a good relationship with the broadcasters and definitely in terms of internationalisation we need to be more out there.
“Our international reach is something we need to develop. The goal needs to be very much ahead of other leagues that are competing with us in a way, we will share knowledge with them but we also want to be high up there and more ready for the future. We need to take control of our product.”