Every transfer window brings with it an arms race between Premier League clubs for the world’s top talent, yet this summer teams have been scouting the geniuses of Silicon Valley alongside the goalscorers of La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.
Top European football clubs are increasingly searching for boardroom additions who are equipped to manage the opportunities and meet the challenges posed by new technologies.
Both Liverpool’s appointment of former Xbox and EA director, Peter Moore as their new chief executive officer and Manchester United’s selection of former Yahoo and Sony boss Phil Lynch as head of media highlight the areas of expertise that clubs believe are now necessary in the modern football industry.
Headhunting firm Korn Ferry, which is working with Premier League clubs having expanded its sports practice beyond the United States, says clubs are requesting candidates who are experts in digital content.
“We’re currently seeing that trend of digital-focused hires,” Korn Ferry’s sports practice head Richard Sumner told City A.M.
“Football clubs are increasingly becoming aware of their position as media owners. They’ve had the TV channel and the magazines for a while, but digital platforms allow media owners to drive much more engagement with fans globally.
“It allows you to connect directly with fans worldwide, get more information on who they are, and capture data on who they are.
“Crucially, it allows you to increase sponsorship and brand partnership revenues. Sponsors and brand partners are expecting more and more sophistication from their relationships.
“Over time you’ll start to see a greater focus on CRM [customer relationship management] and analytics as clubs start to break down their fanbase. For football clubs, that’s a new skill-set.”
Manchester United demonstrated their awareness of their position as media owners in February by launching their own Netflix-style MUTV-app which will offer live and archived content to users in more than 160 countries.
Not only does the app allow United to monetise exclusive content across the globe, it will provide them with first-hand data about who their fans are and what they can interact with – data that can help them build a richer offering to sponsors.
Digital hires will be expected to build similar platforms at other clubs, but questions posed by digital media are increasingly likely to permeate all areas of the club’s business.
Sky’s TV audience for live Premier League football declined by 12 per cent last season at the same time as tech giants such as Amazon and Twitter have started showing an interest in purchasing sports rights.
“The bigger teams will have a sporting director that deals with transfers and that side of the business,” Michael Broughton, partner at investment and advisory fund Sports Investment Partners, told City A.M.
“But the chief executive who oversees it all needs to be a bigger-picture man. If [Manchester United managing director] Richard Arnold ever decided to move on, I’d expect there to be someone senior at Instagram or Snapchat to come in.”
Tech professionals willingly trading an office in sunny San Francisco for a Premier League stadium is a realistic proposition, according to Sumner.
Peter Moore cited a lifelong love affair with Liverpool when he left arguably the most high-profile video games job in the world to move to Anfield, yet – while it undoubtedly helps – football’s pulling power doesn’t rely on gaining a hold on the heartstrings.
“There’s always a degree of passion about sport and, particularly in football, people for whom the club is their dream job,” says Sumner.
“But increasingly football is seen at the cutting edge of digital content because you will never get the level of engagement from consumers that you get from football fans.
“And this potential shift in the traditional media model appeals to people who tend to like working in an entrepreneurial, fast-moving environment with a lot of change happening. That’s football as well.”