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‘The new playing field is the world’

Fans of the Real Madrid futbol club are some of the most passionate and loyal in all of sport. Soon, they’ll have even more ways to connect with their beloved team on and off the pitch.

Microsoft and Real Madrid C.F. are working together to revolutionize the club, and the futbol experience, through technology. This four-year vision will change the way people engage with the game, while enabling fans to have a unique two-way conversation with the team.

A digital platform, built on Microsoft Azure, will give supporters of Real Madrid access to content and exclusive digital services at the stadium, at home or on the go. The app, available later this month for IOS, Android and Windows, will provide access to these experiences on phones, tablets and wearable devices, while connecting the Real Madrid faithful to the virtual pitch before, during and after the game.

Monday, Jose Angel Sanchez, the club’s CEO, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took the stage together at Ignite, Microsoft’s premiere technology event, to discuss this exciting partnership.

Sanchez has created a new business culture for the club in his 15 years as CEO. He sees the team’s digital transformation as the next step to embracing the fans of the future.

“The new playing field is the world,” he says. “And the Microsoft cloud is giving us the opportunity to build this virtual structure.”

Sanchez recently spoke about Real Madrid’s digital revolution, his love for futbol and the importance of the club’s die-hard fans.

Real Madrid is one of the most storied teams in sports. What’s your approach to the future?

Over 113 years, the club has won 116 official trophies. It is by far the most successful club in history.  FIFA has recognized Real Madrid as the best futbol club of the 20th century. And since that moment, we have won the Champions League 10 times and the European Cup, which is something unique. We have won the league 32 times. Just last season we won the Champions League in Lisbon.

So the club has always had a trend of success on the pitch. Now we’ve evolved and transformed our business model to be very competitive. Real Madrid is not a private company, it’s a members club. The owners are the 90,000 people sitting in the stadium. And the club doesn’t pay dividends. It invests all the money it’s able to generate in creating better futbol, to create a better team and make the fans happy.

Real Madrid is one of the winningest clubs in the history of futbol.
Real Madrid is one of the winningest clubs in the history of futbol. Credit: Carles Carabí

Why are your fans so important — and so passionate?

We like to say that futbol is the most important thing apart from health and family. Futbol is passion for the people. And futbol is also about building a story of solidarity between players, of prestige, of talent, of effort. So it’s a kind of a representation of a small society. That’s why people are so emotionally linked to their club.

Talking in business terms the relationship with the brand and the fans is a passionate relationship. The essence is passion, so it’s a kind of love brand, which is materialized by the behavior of consumers. When a fan comes into the club and you have a new supporter, you have a supporter for your whole life. The chances of this person changing his futbol club are less than changing his religion.

Because our customers are customers forever, the only way of gaining market share is by adding people, new people, globally. Young people and those in new markets for futbol such as Asia, Middle East, and Africa, and North America, are especially important as we extend beyond Europe and Latin America where we’ve historically had a strong fan base.

Who is your fan base?

The club has around 450 million supporters worldwide. Of these 450 million, more than 120 million are connected through the digital ecosystem, following us in social networks, or on our website, but only 3 percent of them are in Spain. That gives you an idea of how international the audience is. How global it is. For example we have more fans in Indonesia or in the United States than in Spain.

Real Madrid’s loyal fans hail from around the world.
Real Madrid’s loyal fans hail from around the world. Credit: Carles Carabí

How important is it to have a two-way conversation with these fans?

It is critical to understand what are the needs and wants of our fans, so this relationship is not a one-way relationship anymore. And we have to learn from them. Because in the end the club belongs to the people. The cloud gives us the opportunity to put all these people in contact and makes it possible for us to interact with them, in a very personalized way.

In this sense the Microsoft cloud is very important. We are building a way of understanding who these people are, where they are and what they want from us. This business transformation is happening in every single sector of activity, in every single market. Now, the Microsoft cloud is helping us to rebuild and reinterpret our business in a completely new dimension. It is really a complete disruption of the business model that futbol used to have 15 or 20 years ago.

Can you remember when you were a young boy and first fell in love with futbol and this club?

I have always been a very big fan of futbol and Real Madrid since I was a child of maybe, I don’t know, 8 years old or 9. Futbol is incorporated into our life in Europe, in parts of America and Asia, as something that is always with you.

Futbol teaches and shows things about people. Each match is a representation of a small piece of society. You identify yourself with certain values. That’s why the team which plays better collectively is usually the team with more success. That’s a very important lesson. That’s why, apart from being a sport, which is good itself, futbol also has a very big social value for people.

Futbol is something that is “always with you,” says Sanchez.
Futbol is something that is “always with you,” says Sanchez. Credit: Carles Carabí

Where do you see the business 5 years from now?

Our goal is to know the 450 million people who are Real Madrid supporters, to understand who they are and to give them what they want. They want content, the best exclusive content. If they want emotions, we want to bring them emotions. And we just want to make the club available and close to them.

This club decided to build a big stadium in the 1950s, when the only money coming to futbol clubs was coming from ticketing. Television rights didn’t exist at that time. But the club created in that moment a huge stadium, which is the current Bernabeu, with capacity for more than 80,000 people.

Now, 60 years later, the new playing field is the world. The new Bernabeu, the new structure, which is going to hold our supporters and give us a difference, is the world itself. And the Microsoft cloud is giving us the opportunity to build this virtual structure.

Lead photo credit: Carles Carabí