Business of Football: Where will the innovation take Manchester City?

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Manchester City

Innovation is difficult. A lot of us will claim to be innovators, to try new things and in a personal sense that might be true, but in a business sense, I have rarely come across real innovators (though plenty like me talk about it a lot).

As a Chelsea fan, it, therefore, pains me to say that over the past couple of years I have been impressed by Manchester City and their embracing of innovation. Whilst I have often marveled at how intransigent some organisations can be in sport and how many opportunities have passed the sector by, I have watched as more and more try to embrace the modern world.

It’s not easy to be an innovator.  It comes with inherent risks:

– You will fail/make mistakes

– Growth will not happen overnight

– In my mind it started with the appointment of Richard Ayers, now of Seven League, but it has been continued ever since and it has certainly come from the top.

The creation of ‘City’ as a brand and the opening of other franchises under the brand is a clear innovation. In addition, they have consistently utilized technology to take a step forward – be that the testing of augmented reality apps, the link up with Facebook Messenger Bots.

They have even expected that many of their 21m followers on Facebook have also liked rival clubs – accepting and understanding the modern fan, and the fact they are not as ‘fanatical’ about a single club may ultimately be their biggest innovation.

Without this constant innovation, the embracing of technology and coming to understand that the global fan is much more a consumer than a fanatic combined with the building of a bigger ‘City’ brand suggests that this is a club that is on the march.

They are fortunate to have the budget that can support this innovation but the great thing about the digital world is many of the things they are looking to do don’t require a lot of cash – more a willingness to try a new way of working.

There is plenty of what Man City are doing I take issue with – their blatant abuse of FFP for one – but when you combine their on-field performance with their off-field business approach, I think you are looking at a future super club. Whilst selling sponsorships might still be in vogue today, the exponential models of the future necessitate a different way forward.

They have, perhaps consciously but perhaps not, accepted that not every venture into the unknown will be profitable. They have also certainly noticed that some of the successes have been slow to take hold of and very often appealed to different segments of their fanbase.

Failure, however, is key to learning and generating new insights and striking a new path.  At a recent conference, one message we talked about in detail was the need to fail fast and fail often – i.e. failure needn’t be expensive or time-consuming. By willing to take the risk you will learn the right direction and the faster you fail the quicker you can point yourself in the right direction.

They are on a journey of business transformation that few in their space have kept up with. The biggest question I have is will the other major clubs (or smaller) take notice and react in time?

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