Skip to content

Aki Riihilahti Blogging about Digitalization in Sports and Business – Preparing for Tomorrow

Let’s face it: match day programs are for small numbers of fossils and collectors. You use money, time and effort without getting anything in return. The return football clubs should get is data about customer behaviour so that you could serve him or her better. Unfortunately conservative sports industry is too often stuck in the ways of the past. ”We have always done it like this” is a hole that becomes very quickly too deep to get back up from.

For a young girl it starts to be almost like a punishment to go watch even great sports events if the stadium doesn’t have free wifi. The quality of the experience too often depends on the possibility to share it with others. Whether we like it or not, experience has to take into consideration customer habits and the lifestyle of having a parallel universe next to the actual experience we are providing. This has become true for sports, entertainment or any business really.

Microsoft partnership with Real Madrid football club is based on the notion that the only way to prepare for tomorrow is by knowing and understanding your customer. Unless you get them involved in your own infrastructure of knowledge you are very likely to lose them at some point. Gathering data and shaping each customer´s experience into something so unique that they start treating it as their own, is the real business of tomorrow.

Providing free wifi and customized apps for fans does not happen just like that, especially as most of the clubs have to make compromises on how to use resources. The process of finding the right affordable tools and services and understanding the data gathered are processes which can also be quite tricky and misleading. Any technology or data itself doesn’t solve any problems unless you understand it correctly and their use leads to the right actions.

”Where does this leave us?” was the question the biggest sports clubs in Helsinki kept asking themselves at Knowit’s great round table discussion. We all know we should change, but there never seems to be the right time or tools to do it. Still, reacting is the endless path of extinguishing fires and often burning your own candle from both ends at the same time. The implementation of the right tools for data collection should not wait. Otherwise the customers may already be gone. Tomorrow is very close to today, as we are all starting to be a bit like that young girl wanting the wifi.

Main picture from left to right: Aki Riihilahti, CEO of HJK (Helsinki Football Club),  Sebastián Lancestremére, General Manager of Sports Business at Microsoft Corporation and Sari Mikkonen-Mannila, Marketing Director of HJK.

About the author:

Aki Riihilahti played football in the top leagues like the Premier League, Bundesliga and Champions League for 17 years. He returned to Finland in 2009 to sign with HJK, the most popular football club in Finland. He retired after the club won a convincing double in 2011 and now works as the CEO of HJK.