Sports Innovation

Rugby Football Union, IBM Move on AI, Cloud for Fan Engagement

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Nowhere is the virtuous circle of business more prevalent than in the world of sport. An athlete or team attracts fans, which drives a following, which attracts business partners and sponsors and enables the sports organization to invest in its business to drive success. In doing so, the athlete or club extends its fan base and loyalty even further. And on it goes.

I have grossly over simplified what are in fact complex business models, so let me approach it from a different angle. In any other business we don’t openly applaud our customers or supporters, physically or digitally, yet in sport it’s a weekly occurrence.

So whether you are a sporting union or a major-league baseball team, a lower-league football team or a globally-recognised basketball brand, the most probable route to sustainable revenue growth is through fan loyalty and engagement.

Technology is, of course, key to this. It’s the way in which sporting organisations are trying to integrate their business strategies with their fans, players and sponsors.

The application of technology to increase competitive edge and fan experience isn’t new. Look no further than basketball, where Nike Rise 2.0 was created back in 2014 / 15 by AKQA in collaboration with Artisan and dandelion + burdock for Nike. This was the creation of the first digital court that provided real-time and interactive player insights and analytics that were used to assist with coaching decisions and training patterns and provided fans with a completely new form of engagement with the sport they love.

We live in a world where structured and unstructured data and the use of AI technologies are helping to identify new business models, create new consumer experiences and drive different forms of engagement. The sporting industry is no different, and, in fact, all fans, coaches and professional sports people are data junkies even if they don’t realise it. Understanding data and deriving wisdom from it with the use of AI is critical for any sporting organisation to improve the performance of its teams, implement new types of fan engagement and ultimately drive revenue growth.

Fans outside the England vs. Ireland match at Twickenham Stadium, March 17, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images.)

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is no exception: transformation is at the heart of its strategy. Off the back of major success over the last four years, IBM is delighted to announce it has renewed its partnership with the RFU with a new four-year deal.

The RFU challenged IBM to help it deliver their key strategic initiatives: to grow the game; help it better engage with their fans, coaches and players; and help the England team drive to the next level of performance with data, fan engagement and AI.

IBM will be working with the RFU as its Digital Experience, Data Analytics, AI and Cloud platform partner. Through the unique combination of IBM software and IBM services, not least its digital agency iX, IBM and the RFU will be working together to deliver a world class, personalized and relevant digital experience for its global rugby fans.

But it doesn’t stop there. IBM and the RFU will implement a consolidated and trusted data capability through a Master Data Management (MDM) platform, advanced analytics and AI through Watson Data Platform (WDP) and scalability through the IBM Cloud.

Combined, this will provide player, fan, performance and match insights to support the RFU in its transition to a data-driven and fan experience-led business.

By integrating this suite of capabilities the RFU will be able to further address essential issues around brand building, improving fan experiences and growing the business. It’s a lesson other businesses can learn from.

Executive Partner, Comms Sector Europe, IBM Global Business Services

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