How Design Thinking will help to reshape the face of European football and sport entertainment

Original source —

Football is one of the most widely watched sports in the world, especially in Europe where it officially began. Ask any random person from England, Spain, Poland, Italy, pick whatever country you want, about their attitude towards football. You’ll find out pretty quickly, that for many of us it’s almost a religion.

We like to watch it and quite enjoy to comment on it. Besides standard jobs, all fans are also self-employed coaches, referees and players in one and always know better what should’ve been done during the match. Putting this little joke aside, football in one plain sentence makes many Europeans explode with excitement. When national or favourite professional team scores a goal or wins a match, splendid joy lasts “day-long forever”. You all know this feeling, regardless of a sport discipline you’re interested in.

It’s not a hard thing to become a supporter during the international competitions like World Cup, Copa América or European Championship, when whole countries stand united for few weeks. Suddenly literally everybody is interested in what’s going on, especially when their team is successful. Things are a bit different when it comes to supporting a common professional league. Here magic dimes a little because it’s no longer a tournament of nations, but yet another one of the countless forms of entertainment. It’s here where the mentioned, “football-as-religion phenomenon”, faces hard truths about what I call the rules of a modern entertainment.

Are you not entertained?

Let’s judge football strictly as a form of amusement. As everything else it must fight for attention of it’s clients — the supporters, who have many other things to attend to. It’s quite understandable that ordinary “experience-seekers” are more attracted to the teams that are successful. It’s not a shameful behavior, it’s just how entertainment works. If something doesn’t deliver previously assumed expectations, we look for replacement to spend our time on with hope that it will. If a team is not good enough to play not only in the national league but to qualify and compete in the continental competitions, like lower-tier Europa League or higher-tier Champions League, then it’s naturally less attractive for casual fans who don’t look on football through the lenses of higher attachment.

Original source —

We became quite picky when it comes to spending our free time. The customer’s needs to get a satisfying experience is one of the main engines of change in literally every possible field of business. In case of sport, these desired experiences are, by all possible means, not limited to a game score or team overall performance! It’s much more complex and multi- layered. We’re talking here about a general relationship on the line club and their supporters and everything that comes in between it. It’s the sum of all, even the smallest, interactions during the match day, online touch points on every social platform and available attractions affiliated with club outside the stadium. All these things result in the final verdict — is this form of an entertainment is delivering an enough satisfying experience to continue (or start) spending my time and money on it?

Rules of a modern engagement

Total number of fans is the result of a club’s customer experience strategy. It’s one of these things that’s existence you might not been fully aware of. Regardless of that, it’s alway present as an integral part of every successful business venture, including sport even when it’s not officially named that way. Solid number of supporters provides a stable income from the all range of their activities. Lack of revenues equals small resources for the overall club development and thus leads to the decreasement of the offered value. It’s up to every club, as a company, to constantly improve relationships with their clients and upgrade customer experience they’re delivering to them on all fields. It must be one of the highest priorities. Care for them and they’ll be extremely loyal. Well at least for some period of time until something else might give them a much stronger experience.

It’s a constant war for attention and attachment as long as possible. It’s quite easily observed during mentioned international championships when the whole countries lives with the event. As soon as it ends it goes back to normal. A general number of particular sport fans have grown but a majority of casuals watchers just don’t care about it anymore. Not until the next cup when they’re going to have yet another spectacular, multi-channel experience accompanying tournament and reaching far more things than just what’s going on the pitch. Every sport disciple require the regular efforts to bring interest back on board (not only during such events) especially now, when an average attention span is very short and cultivated worldwide consumptions habits will continue to prune it. What every modern sport club can do to build the best possible relationship with their supporters and offer them a show they’re looking for? That’s where the Design Thinking and rules of the Human-Centered Design comes in. What hides behind these names and why it’s worthwhile for all sport endeavours?

Supporter-Centered Design

Made by Thinkle

They’re are the semi-formal rules, directions and tools which guides teams when they’re designing products and services with the most important thing in the center during the whole creation process — a human. In case of a sport it’s a quite special customer — a club supporter. Just like in every business, their actual and future needs must be satisfied so they’ll know that they’re cared for and to lay foundation for this relationship. The only way to do it properly is to correctly identify these desires so they can be decently futhfilled. How exactly it can be done?

A. Define a goal

What particular aspects of the customer experience is going to be addressed and which group of fans are going to benefit from incoming solutions? Being crystal clear about the exact outcome of the project is of the utmost importance. Supporters are not an uniform mass. It’s a mix of a different ages, backgrounds, genders and needs. Solutions to please everybody will most likely please nobody. Which group will be looked upon? Is it going to be a young males to examine how to upgrade their match experience or families to find out how to extend a percentage of their attendance on the stadium? It will define all preparations for undertaking challenge, way to lead the interviews and how the observations will be carried.

B. Discovery and understanding

An entry point is to truly understand why supporters behave in a certain way during every interaction:

  • onsite — on a stadium during a match days and non-match days;
  • offsite — outside a stadium and on the internet.

Human-Centered Design concepts require an empirical way of learning. Instead of sitting in a meeting room and pointlessly debate about a challenge, go and experience it yourself. Talk with people who use, used, think about using certain service/product and ask the open questions to learn new and surprising things about aspects you want to improve. The absolutely worst thing to do is to try to guess why something happens in a certain way when there are people willing to tell about their experience or such interactions can be observed and meaningful insight gathered. It can be put into practice in the most basic things like — why people are buying much less things from a certain stand? Instead of guessing, observe it and witness visually what triggers certain behaviours. Only the data gathered from the actual users, in more or less sophisticated way, is valuable. Guessing is just a complete waste of time.

C. Interpret gathered insight and look for patterns

Gathered information and opinions must be refined to prototype possible solutions for found problems. It’s crucial to go through this search open-minded and without assumptions about it’s income. Very often when reviewing the data from a new perspective, one will discover things that no-one involved in the project even thought about before. Always look for patterns in the behaviour. They deliver the grand amount of information about the habits and needs. Together with other team members use different creative tools and methods to stimulate your work and have an opportunity to look from many angles. Beware of finishing work on the the first sight of a likely answer. Later on it will take revenge and you’ll have to go back and examine data again, instead of doing it properly from the start. After this stage, solutions with users in their mind are ready to be tested and if proved right, implemented on a broad scale.

D. Test your ideas in inexpensive way

At this phase concept is still not “market-ready”. It’s time to check it’s particular aspects through the series of tests and clarify if it’s features are something that customers truly want. To do it, let users use it first-handed on a smaller scale. I suggest three tips for quick and conscious prototyping:

  • be very clear about what exactly you want to test (size, colour, placement, intuitiveness, specific function and so on);
  • never attach to generated ideas, it’ll cloud your judgement;
  • follow good-old minimum product value rule to keep these prototypes at low costs and to afford to maneuver.

After receiving the priceless feedback from future users, it’s time to improve the primary concepts. Sometimes you might find out that your solution are not fulfilling the needs. If this happens, you should be happy that it was discovered while still in testing phase. With new knowledge team must go back to interpret gathered data and prepare next prototype. If concept was warmly received (customers loved it) then upgrade suggested features and congratulations — now it can be implemented on a large scale!

The only constant is change

Every product and service, no matter how successful at it’s beginning must be constantly checked what can be improved so relationship with it’s customers can thrive. It’s the never ending story, a loop which must be regularly executed if supporters are to stay with brand for a longer time. In an entertainment, a satisfying customer journey is everything and sport is above everything else a form of an entertainment. Old forms of engagement must be constantly evaluated to match the level of ever growing expectations. If they’ll not, then they’re waiting to be replaced by more customer-friendly activities.

Conducting our research during a football match in Wrocław

Let’s put it into practice

Together with team of 10 interdisciplinary service designers, now banded under the company focused on creating human-centered design solutions, Thinkle, we had an opportunity to lead this process first-handed together with one of the top Polish football clubs, WKS Śląsk Wrocław. Our challenge was to improve frequency and engagement of the selected target groups on the home matches. In future articles I’ll repeal the road we went while mixing Design Thinking with the world of sport. You’ll see how we contributed to the average increase in match attendance by 2,000 supporters, even though the club still has a long way to go to return to its former league glory.

Every design with customer in it’s heart is undoubtedly the most effective way to create a meaningful fan journey and make it attractive enough to ensure a great relationship with the brand. I firmly believe that in XXI century it’s the most important key to success and disruptive companies, which manifest their deep concentration on this aspect, like Netflix or Uber, only confirm this statement. I hope that these tips will help you to boost your product’s or service’s customer journey, regardless if it’s a sport endeavour or not, because remember — whether you like it or not, it’s always there.

If you liked this article, please share it and stay tuned! Soon I’ll release a case study about our partnership with another round of tips regarding creating a successful customer journey. I’m eagerly looking forward for any questions you might have about a human centered design and opinions about which stages were the most helpful during your work. Best regards!