Voetbal International focuses on digital transformation

Denis Doeland
Sep 13 · 8 min read

Voetbal International, otherwise known as VI: every true football fan grew up with the weekly football magazine. The magazine now focuses on the digital transformation in order to also have a right to exist in the 21st century. A new platform, site and app will make VI futureproof (Boer, 2017).

In the spring of 2017, VI launched a new website (vi.nl) and a new (smartphone) app. This offers specific benefits, also for the editors, who can publish content easier and faster. The content management system also supports branded content. In addition, the applicability of data is simplified. The smart use of data is essential for every organisation, because it enables you to develop a relationship with (potential) fans and customers. Without these relationships, companies will no longer have a right to exist in the future.

Media getting into difficulties

Before we zoom in on Voetbal International, a brief description of the position of the majority of media brands. Firstly, we are consuming increasingly more content digitally. Traditional media such as TV, radio, the newspapers and magazines are therefore struggling more and more. This means that many advertising budgets are shifting towards Facebook and Google, putting more and more pressure on the revenue model of many traditional media. It is no wonder that new initiatives such as Blendle (‘Spotify for journalism’) are being received with open arms: a winning revenue model seems to be unique in media. Then it is great if a promising start-up appears to solve this issue.

Peter Sprenger, lecturer in Strategy at the IBO Business school in Leusden and lecturer in Digital Leadership at the AOG School of Management at the University of Groningen, describes the problem of much media as an innovator’s dilemma: “The later you innovate, the harder it becomes to make the switch to achieve a new business model. Telegraaf Media Groep (TMG) learnt this the hard way. Not that they haven’t tried, for example via the acquisition of Hyves and commencing online initiatives such as dichtbij.nl.” (Sprenger, 2014)

Tips for media

According to Sprenger, the fact that for example TMG did not succeed in its digital transformation, is due to the new initiatives not being convincing enough and “the new were primarily in place to serve the old.” How should it be, then? Sprenger provides the media with the following tips:

‘Kill your own baby’

It is one of the hardest strategic decisions there is, but it is essential. Dare to opt for digital media. Even though the revenue for digital is lower per product group and the types of subscriptions more varied. Everything in this model revolves around unbundling. Radical change is the only recipe for success: design the management culture for this. This also means saying goodbye to the printed newspaper, if necessary.

‘Culture of the editors’

The editorial culture is a handicap for the necessary changes in the business model in journalism. The majority of journalists work for a single platform in a daily (or weekly) cycle. The digital news industry revolves around speed, non-stop production and multiplatform news production. Sprenger: “A journalist has to tweet, record videos, produce in real-time, deliver short statements, update live blogs and also write background stories.” This is rather different than submitting 1,200 words every day.

‘Do not think in silos’

“Telegraaf Media Groep and other publishers made the classic mistake to consider ‘digital’ as a layer surrounding the current activities”, says Sprenger. Digital is not a separate department, not a separate activity or a separate layer surrounding certain work activities. Each department must be equipped with digital skills. Some editors have already removed the partition between the web and newspaper editors — but this is not the case for every editor. According to Sprenger this is a challenge primarily for local media.

Voetbal International is also not getting a great report card from the innovation expert. “The printed edition has been on the way out for many years. The popular VI website was a killer primarily for the own weekly magazine. The strategy was never developed from a broader digital vision: the data, the community and the brand that was developed over many years.” The new platform must change this.

VI PRO the start of the fan relationship

VI strived to design the marketing strategy — with data — in such a way that they would make the right marketing investments, for the correct target group and with the right marketing tools and marketing channels, as efficiently and effectively as possible. This should optimise the “cost per acquisition”. VI PRO was launched in this context”, says my colleague Ben Spanjaard, Managing Director at Fanalists.

Together with VI, Fanalists created insight into the data infrastructure, released the data into a data management platform, making the data more dynamic and available for analysis. Centralising data and creating a context provided insights into the marketing, communication and sales processes, making them manageable. Fanalists played (and still plays) both a strategic and an operational role in this — and is therefore involved from the compilation and design of the strategic issues to the development of these issues into operational marketing and sales processes. Spanjaard: “What is remarkable about VI is the wealth of the data: it goes back to the 1960s. That is really impressive.”

VI PRO is a digital subscription service where VI wants to commence a digital relationship with subscribers as well. It is a digital subscription form, which grants access to stories in the magazine, supplemented with exclusive content. This content can be both in written form, as well as video content. VI PRO ensures that VI can better develop a relationship with its fans and readers.

This VI PRO content is offered on the same place (vi.nl) as the ‘open’ (free) content. After registration, five VI-PRO items can be read and/or viewed each month, free of charge. This is called a metered paywall. If you register to VI, you can do this for example via a Facebook login (single sign-on). This makes it possible for VI to collect data from its readers: after all, it is clear where the readers come from, which products they like on Facebook and where they study or work.

A relationship with a fan is a process of give and take

VI can use this data for other (commercial) objectives. Consider offering other products. You register with VI, to be able to read 5 free VI PRO items. VI then sees in the data that you are not only a fan of VI, but also that you live in Amsterdam and are a fan of FC Barcelona. This makes targeted offers possible such as organised football trips to the Camp Nou from Schiphol.

This clearly shows the benefit of VI PRO for VI. But developing a relationship is more than only collecting data and using that data for targeted offers. All readers can set up a so-called ‘My VI’ for personal preferences and interests. For example, as an Ajax fan you will get news about Ajax faster — and you will receive less (or less quickly) news about how a club such as Roda JC is doing. This increases your loyalty to VI: you have a pleasant (read: personalised) experience, and return to VI more frequently.

New platform required

VI is looking for a relationship with fans, but relies on the website traffic. How does the football site get its visitors? VI’s Product Owner Mathijs Kraai: “An exaggeration would be that the publisher who gets the news first creates all the traffic.” That is why the site needed a new CMS, to make the work of the editors as easy as possible, so they can upload articles, videos and other content as quickly as possible. The site must also be able to handle peak times: when a push message is sent out, tens of thousands of people visit the site. They must have a pleasant, simple and fast user experience.

It is commendable that VI matches the technology to the wishes of the target group. A new site or CMS is not an objective, but a means to develop the relationship with the fan. Too often we ‘want to do something with social media or an app’, without asking ourselves what the customer actually wants from us. VI is conscious of this. The technical solution is also sustainable, we learnt at Emerce.

The decision was made to opt for a “Magnolia CMS: an expandable integration platform, a so-called headless system, which can be connected to various distribution channels by way of APIs. The simultaneously developed VI apps are therefore directly connected to the CMS. And if new channels should come then the CMS is prepared for this.”

Example for others

Spanjaard believes that media in general should ask themselves whether they are already a data-driven organisation. “Within VI, increasingly more processes are managed in a data-driven manner and increasingly more business-related decisions are supported by data. This ensures better informed decisions and increased scope among colleagues. VI now applies this principle quite radically: even the question which editors contribute to the business objectives with which content is answered using data.”

Despite this, VI can also not rest on its laurels. Spanjaard continues: “In a digital transition process, in which (marketing) technology also develops very quickly, an organisation such as VI can still always learn more. This actually applies to every company that decides to glean more from data. Why every company should take this step? Organisations that do not do this, know their (desired) target group less. While knowledge about your current and future customers is undeniably the only resource for business growth.”

Conclusion: keep thinking as a start-up

The platform now makes personalised content suggestions on the basis of data insights from previous browsing behaviour. This makes the experience for visitors to VI far more pleasant: they get to see content that matches their preference. That is the first, specific result from VI.

In addition, the platform has enjoyed the following successes:

  • Of all the news sites, VI was able to publish the report of the Ajax-Lyon game the quickest and push it to the app;
  • The platform endures various peak times;
  • The PRO content receives 1.5 as many users which read more content, for a longer period of time, or view other content.
  • VI experienced success with the article ‘Why Henk ten Cate was a national football team manager and then he wasn’t’, for example. The article behind the VI PRO paywall was read approximately 130,000 times (partly thanks to social media). Due to the ‘metered’ paywall, there were 2,600 new people subscribed to VI PRO (only through that publication).

Product Owner Kraai said the first figures were promising. What explains VI’s success are the abovementioned radical choices for innovation. But it is also a mindset. By continually testing new possibilities, new insights exist. For example, the black-white paywall (seeing all content or none at all) has been swapped for VI PRO and new types of subscriptions have been introduced. These choices are based on data insights every time, which is the only way for Voetbal International to optimise its relationship with the readers.

Another rather funny story about data insights on VI: VI had an online store and decided to segment the target groups. What happened? It was predominantly women who purchased products from the VI store. Therefore, VI offered a happiness weekend, once the shopping cart was empty (and therefore ordered and paid for). Suspicions are not always right: keep backing up every choice with data.

The technical foundation for speed, performance and data has now been laid. This foundation must now allow VI to grow further. The combination of (in-depth) content, statistics and live events, make it possible to create new sources of income. This creates a nice one-two between content and data. Which makes VI as prolific as a top striker and knows how to reach as many fans as possible.

>>> Go to the next chapter

Digital Assets by Denis Doeland

In order to get started with digital change, it is important to realize that this change consists of three fundamental core elements. Force, Power and Potential. Learn through this publication to make optimal use of of the digital capacity of your organization.

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