Last month, AZ became the first club in Holland to organize a hackathon. It follows the club’s mindset of ‘improvement through innovation’. 43 MBA-students from the Ohio University in the US, were asked to solve some of the club’s strategic challenges around data, digital and technology. The results should help the club to achieve its long-term goals around optimizing its digital assets and building its fanbase.
Within football, hackathons have become popular. Clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern München have organized similar events over the last few years.
Bas Schnater, Fan Engagement & CRM Coordinator at AZ Alkmaar and coordinator of the hackathon, said, “We became aware of the visit from the Ohio University to Holland. We got in touch with the University and proposed a hackathon-format asking them to help us think about some strategic challenges. Having a fresh pair of eyes was exactly what we are looking for at AZ. We can believe we have all the required expertise in-house, but reality is that you can always learn from others. These students offered us something unique that we can’t always provide: out-of-the-box ideas and insights”.
Predicting future general admission ticket sales
Within the limited time-frame of 48 hours, the students formed groups and were divided over the three topics.
The first topic focused on developing a model that predicts the general admission based on historical data. The students researched up to 40 different variables that were expected to correlate with general admission ticket sales, from weather predictions and temperature to the performances of the national team. The students managed to narrow the list down to a handful of variables. For example, it appeared that performance of the Dutch National Team strongly correlated with the general admission ticket sales of the club. Schnater explains. “We now want to continue to work towards variables which we can influence our fans behavior via marketing practices”.
Building a business model around the digital assets
The second topic of the hackathon was about building a business model around the digital assets of the club. This is a hot topic in the sports marketing arena and can help clubs like AZ to get more control on the organic growth of their fanbase. Schnater pointed out, “Sports clubs have so many unique stories to share, ranging from content about the club, our fans as well as partner activity. We were specifically interested in benchmarking the type of content which attracts new audiences and what works well for increasing engagement. As we will be launching our new website this fall, we’re looking for a new content distribution strategy. We need to find answers on what type content our fans expect from us and what we need to deliver to grow our fanbase. Luckily many clubs have already worked with this for a few years and therefore a benchmark can help us understand this better”.
The third and final topic was about using technology to increase fan engagement.
“The most recent results of the annual Fan Survey has told us that our supporters still want information which our cancelled Matchday Program used to provide them”, Schnater explains. “We replaced our Matchday Program with video’s and a digital magazine content, but clearly fans are having a hard time finding the right information. A Messenger chatbot could help solve most of these questions”.
Even though not all the ideas can be implemented, Schnater does think the hackathon was a huge success. “We will definitely build upon the insights gained from this experience. The level of the deliverables was very high, so we can definitely use them to solve some of our strategic challenges”. The insights gained from the hackathon will help AZ to continue to deliver on its innovation promise.