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How the biggest club in the world connects with its 500 million fans

The transformation of Real Madrid

Stepping into the cavernous majesty of the Bernabéu on match day is an experience that leaves you feeling awed and inspired.

Empty, but for a few staff preparing for the evening’s game, it’s impossible to shake off the image of the Colosseum.

Thousands upon thousands of empty seats, rising to meet the sky, all focused on one green central arena, where modern-day gladiators settle their differences with finesse and style.

Hours from now, those seats will be filled with roaring Real Madrid fans, whose chants and reactions will charge the air with an electric atmosphere.

For the club, whose traditions run deep in its 115-year history, these fans are its lifeblood. But what about those outside of the arena – not just in Spain, but across the whole world?

Rafael De los Santos Navarro, Head of Digital Strategy at the club states that “We know our fans better than any other time in our history. We used to have a connection with fans only through the TV, but now, through Facebook, the website and the app, we have new channels and new opportunities. All of this information gives Real Madrid a real need to connect these channels and to gather information from them.”

Out of Real Madrid’s 106 million Facebook fans, only three percent are in Spain. With such a huge global following, the ambition to reach each supporter is a daunting one, but it’s a challenge the club has more than risen to, by working with Microsoft to implement an industry-leading solution.

A new era
The beautiful game has evolved, both on and off the pitch. As boots and balls have gotten lighter, as players have learnt new techniques, so too, have clubs found new ways to connect with their fans.

Live broadcasts connect fans to clubs from all around the world, but what happens when the match is over? They flock online, devouring content, from following social media accounts, to keeping up with the latest news, watching replays, and engaging in passionate discussion with like-minded supporters.

This new era of connectivity is only set to exponentially increase fan engagement. By 2020, more than 40 percent of the population will be considered digital natives – people who have grown up with technology, who are completely comfortable with engaging with it in all aspects of their lives.

Sebastián Lancestremère, General Manager for Microsoft Digital in Sports states that “Digital transformation is redefining the sports industry and shaping the fans’ consumption behaviour. These fans, the customers of our customers, have evolved how and where they consume content and entertain themselves.”

How do clubs such as Real Madrid keep up with this change? How do they tap into every resource possible to increase their engagement with existing fans, while gaining new ones?

It’s one thing to have a Facebook page with 106 million likes, but choosing to embrace technological transformation can offer so much more…

A deep connection with each and every fan
Real Madrid understands the importance of its followers. The club is the world’s largest sports franchise, with more than 100 championships to its name, and it has been recognised as the best football club of the 20th century by FIFA.

Despite its success however, the club was missing one key ingredient – the ability to connect more closely with its fans. With a 500 million-strong global following, this was no mean feat, but embracing technology has enabled the club to lead the way, pushing the boundaries of fan interaction and retention like never before – all while generating new revenue streams in the process.

Officially partnering with the Microsoft Sports Digital Platform, the Microsoft Services team has worked closely with the club to create a new technology solution which integrated innovative digital services across all areas of the club, based on the Microsoft Cloud and Office 365 platform.

One of the key touch points for fans was the creation of the Real Madrid app for mobile.

The app allows fans to carry around their favourite club in their pocket, with instant access to the latest news, scores, interviews and media. Users can even virtually access the stadium before, during and after each game, while exploring detailed stats from specific games.

This solution goes far beyond simple allowing supporters to consume information, however. Through the app, the club can capture and securely store personal preferences, allowing the app to prioritise and display the content most relevant to each individual user.

Ronaldo fans will, for example, be presented with relevant news about the player above other items. Fans can also use the app to check in at the stadium, allowing them to use a personal QR code generated specifically for them, increasing in-stadium loyalty offers.

“We can create a one-to-one relationship with fans around the planet with the Microsoft solution, connecting this huge community of people and making the experience of being a supporter of Real Madrid much better,” says José Ángel Sánchez, CEO, Real Madrid.

“Our goal is to profile all our supporters, to understand who they are, and to give them what they want from us, such as exclusive content, and bring them closer to the club.”

“We can create a one-to-one relationship with fans around the planet with the Microsoft solution, connecting this huge community of people and making the experience of being a supporter of Real Madrid much better” – José Ángel Sánchez: CEO, Real Madrid C.F.

Understanding the data
Recording information and people’s preferences is only one part of the solution. What a company does with the data it collects is vital to the success of its service.

All aspects of Real Madrid’s fan engagement solution are captured and stored on Microsoft Azure, and displayed in an easy to understand format using Microsoft Power BI.

These clean data dashboards allow a customised profile to be automatically created for each individual fan, showing off their interests and engagement in an easily digestible for format.

Using this data, the club can tailor relevant promotions to its followers, providing them only with information that they’ll find relevant, such as a promotion on tickets if they happen to be in Madrid on holiday, for example.

In an age of constant bombardment from irrelevant ads, this tailored connection allows Real Madrid to offer a genuinely useful service to its fans, increasing engagement and harbouring loyalty in the process.

The evolution continues
For clubs like Real Madrid, embracing technology goes beyond merely improving its services – it ensures that the club can continue to grow and evolve. As it expands its solution to add new features and engage with fans in new ways, it continues to cement its future as the largest sports brand on the planet.

Other key pillars of Microsoft’s Sports Digital Platform can also help Real Madrid and other sports organisations apply technological improvements across all aspects of their operations.

From business insights which include improved customer service and tracking business performance, to enhanced venues capable of 360-degree video content creation and advanced athlete performance tracking, Real Madrid’s future – and the future of all sports clubs and organisations – looks very successful indeed.

“It was our dream to connect with all our fans in the world, and we are doing that with our new technologies. We also understand that in the next five years, everything that is going to be transformed in this business will happen through technology,” says Sánchez.

“The Microsoft Azure platform is helping us rebuild and reinterpret our business in a way that makes it possible for us and our fans to do things that used to be impossible. It is really a complete disruption of the business model that football has had over the past 15 to 20 years.”