Infront's Director of Digital Services Christophe Heimes recently sat down with the SPONSORs podcast to discuss the company's ambitions in the digital space. Here are some of the highlights from a discussion which covered digital content, targeted marketing and everything in between.
You can read an original article on the interview here.
It has been almost seven months since Christoph Heimes stepped through the doors at Infront to begin his role as Director of Digital Services.
With 15 years in the digital sector at Microsoft, Google and YouTube, he carried with him a wealth of knowledge. He also brought a new perspective on digital culture, in both daily work and business philosophy, making it a productive start to his life at Infront.
"Open communication and a better team spirit starts with open doors. Or even better: No doors."
Moving away from Google and towards shaping the sports business was a logical step for Heimes.
"I wanted to get closer to the actual value creation in sports, rights holders,brands and the fans.," he explained.
"YouTube and Google do a lot of great things in many areas but they are not necessarily geared to become native sports businesses. "If you want to drill deeper, you have to engage with a true industry player."
With over half a year under his belt, Heimes is moving away from the newcomer tag at Infront.
There is already a new dimension to the organisation's digital offering, with further expansion into the ever-shifting sector central to the company's strategy for the foreseeable future.
This has been reflected with a heavy investment in digital over the last few months.
Currently there are around 250 employees working in digital across Infront and its subsidiaries that report to Heimes.
A further 10 new hires are due to join the 39-year-old's team across Europe and the US.
But this is just the start.
When the digital team move to their new space at Infront HQ in Zug, the "walls are being pulled out", both figuratively and literally.
Integrating digital topics into the core business and fostering innovation is one of his key aims. By living and breathing digital innovation every day, the organisation can create digital success stories for its clients.
The opportunity to grow and leverage the company's partner's digital capabilities is huge.
"But that's not enough, we need to keep innovating and develop new capabilities", says Heimes.
"Fish where the fish are"
Heimes himself uses a range of digital offerings both professionally and privately.
"For me, Instagram is the platform of the moment, both for consumers and brands," he says.
Engaging fans is a core aim of any stakeholder in sports – be it a club, a league, an international federation or a sponsor – and that has to happen on a daily basis to reach new and existing target groups.
As simple as it sounds, that approach continues to be neglected.
"For some online offers - not just in sports - I'm not sure if they are designed with the user in mind," explains Heimes.
Amazon is a pioneer in this targeted approach, putting the customer's needs and convenience first.
That is how Infront hope to adapt their products and services accordingly.
Fans will increasingly receive targeted messages in every aspect of their lives. As a result, they are less likely to hunt for new offerings, even if they are for sports they watch or play.
The Dugout platform, launched by top European football clubs at the end of 2016, is a good example of this, says Heimes.
Follower growth in direct competition with Facebook is very difficult to generate, and as it is a duplication, it is not adding any real differentiation or value from a fans perspective.
The necessity to "fish where the fish are" (a motto he does not take personal credit for) means providers need to find new and existing target groups where they are already talking and engaging.
For example, clubs need to target their fans on different platforms. The interaction with fans no longer starts and ends on match day at the stadium.
It is vital to include digital offerings through websites, apps or social media channels that provide an individual approach, tailored to fans expectations of what they usually see on each specific platform.
It is an approach the NBA is proving works.
They publish near-live highlight clips on Instagram and Twitter in order to direct followers to switch on live games.
"They distribute over 300,000 short clips on social media a year – targeted to every market, to every of their publishers and partners. That's incredibly powerful and gets them and their brand in front of millions of potential fans abroad."
This model is currently almost unthinkable for many European rights holders, partly because the technology to create a variety of clips almost automatically is not being fully utilised.
"This is where we see a lot of potential for us as we are able to empower rights holders in this space.
"We can scale down those capabilities to any client."
Being asked about the German market and the Bundesliga and what it`ll take to keep up, "it needs more than lip service." he stated.
The foundations are not yet in place to create that kind of a digital best practice in the Bundesliga he believes.
But he acknowledges that the German clubs have "recognized that you have to invest in digital transformation."
And what about the future? Are AR and VR true game changers?
"I do not believe in the hype cycle around virtual and augmented reality," he says. According to Heimes, the impact of technology is always overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. Rather than believing in VR, Heimes underpinned the potential of blockchain technology and its long-term impact on the industry, i.e. for rights trading and licensing in sports.
If you are interested in joining the digital team at Infront, why not take a look at our Careers page and see the latest opportunities around the world