KICK OFF

659 million Manchester United fans have a new friend: India’s HCL Technologies

Obsession
Business of Sport
Quartz india
Obsession
Business of Sport
Quartz india

Old Trafford, the hallowed home ground of Manchester United, can fit in a raucous 75,635 fans on any given match day. But even one of the largest football stadiums in the UK isn’t quite enough for the English club.

After all, Manchester United—among the richest footballing establishments on the planet—has some 659 million fans (and counting) across the world. And every one of them wants a piece of the action.

In an effort to satiate its global fan base’s unending appetite for the club, Manchester United has announced a partnership with HCL Technologies—India’s fourth largest IT services company—to build digital products that’ll help supporters connect better with Old Trafford and the team.

On Sept. 02, HCL and United said they would start a “co-innovation lab” at Old Trafford, where both will work together to “explore revolutionary ways in which the club uses technology to create a unified fan experience for supporters.”

To begin with, the partnership will revamp Manchester United’s mobile app and website. The club is likely to launch a new digital media plan next year, Reuters reported, which analysts expect will include “premium subscription content, alongside an e-commerce platform and global or regional sponsorship deals.”

Given the size of the club’s fan base, Manchester United’s group managing director Richard Arnold told the Economic Times that it needed an “industrial-level solution”, which HCL would provide. An email request to HCL seeking more information on the deal went unanswered at the time of publication.

“Our partnership with HCL is a first for Manchester United,” Arnold said in a statement. “Through digital transformation we hope to change the way in which our fans experience and interact with Manchester United.”

Although ranked as the world’s most valuable football club—worth over $1.2 billion—by brand valuation consultancy Brand Finance in 2015, Manchester United’s popularity seems to have waned a little. In recent seasons, the club’s fan base fell by 19%, according to the Spanish newspaper Sport, even as their big local rivals Manchester City saw support swelling by over 500%.

The drop in support may well have been a result of the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the club’s legendary manager, which was followed by a season of uninspired football. But at a time when global support for European football clubs is becoming increasingly important—driving everything from merchandise sales to sponsorship opportunities—HCL’s digital toolkit could be a shot in the arm for Manchester United’s brand-building machine.

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