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Football clubs as data companies: how Cegeka is helping shape KRC Genk’s digital future

Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director KRC Genk

Industry: Retail & Leisure 


KRC Genk hardly needs an introduction. In only 33 years, the Limburg football club has become one of Belgiums most famous teams, as well as an innovator within its field. One example of this is their ambitious project to turn the Cegeka Arena into the most high-tech stadium in Belgium. In addition to a shared past both KRC Genk and Cegeka have their roots in Limburgs former mining industry both parties also want to build towards the future together. However, the partnership between Cegeka and KRC Genk is more than just a sponsorship – in fact, KRC also approached Cegeka to work out a vision for the clubs digital future.  

Make no mistake: football companies are sitting on a mountain of data. Broadly speaking, a football clubs data can be divided into four categories: technical, game-related, financial and commercial data. KRC Genk specifically wanted to upgrade its commercial operations and was looking for an external partner to help digitalise and professionalise this. Above all, they wanted to envision a roadmap for the future to answer an ambitious question: “How can we build a digital future for our fans, business partners and club, in order to make our brand bigger and stronger?"

The goal: creating added value for both the club and the fans 

'In football, using data is extremely important on a physical level, for example to measure and improve players performance, says Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director of KRC Genk. But a football club is also a business which means that data is vital in other areas as well. Its interesting that, compared to other companies, we seem to be lagging behind in this area. As the fans have such an emotional attachment to the club, they do not have the same expectations they have as customers of other companies. Nevertheless, we realized that we urgently needed to make a change.'

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Mapping the digital ecosystem 

'There was plenty of room for improvement in terms of the user-friendliness of our products and services, Davy continues. Suppose your family of four are planning to watch a KRC Genk home game. Youll need four tickets, plus a parking ticket and a Club Card which allows you to buy food and drink in the cashless stadium. Maybe youll also want to buy a jersey or scarf for the kids to add to their fan experience. Currently, we have a combination of physical and digital contact points to offer these different products and services. Plus, payment is made through different systems and you have to log in several times. Having all these separate touchpoints creates frustration. In addition to an improved fan experience, we also wanted to fulfil various internal needs and wishes in the areas of data, digitalisation and intelligent marketing.'

Thats why KRC Genk approached Cegeka to audit its digital landscape. We had three requests: map our current digital ecosystem, design a future digital ecosystem that would address all the issues, and then figure out how to get from our current position to the desired end result, Davy explains. 

'We had three requests: map our current digital ecosystem, design a future digital ecosystem that would address all the issues, and then figure out how to get from our current position to the desired end result.

- Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director of KRC Genk

Phase 1: Mapping the digital landscape 

'We soon realized that what we needed was a solid foundation that would support all four data pillars, and where GDPR, anti-hacking behaviour and privacy would be centrally managed across the different divisions and departments of our club, Davy says. Then we found that our commercial departments digital ecosystem was split up into various pigeonholes. It contained all kinds of tools that had been added in recent years and had helped us to do our thing up to now. But it was not future-proof. There was no integration, links between parts were missing, data was stored in isolated silos and on top of that we relied heavily on many external parties. So the first step into the future was to set up a central data warehouse. This has enabled us to be more independent, and to access all our own data in a single central location. In addition, we can now plug and unplug tools without impacting the entire system.'

'In the past, tools were added on a stand-alone basis, creating something of a ‘‘pigeonhole’’ system. Now we are building a coherent and interconnected ecosystem that allows us to work more independently and to implement more intelligent applications faster 

- Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director of KRC Genk

'The commercial ecosystem has many stakeholders and touchpoints, such as fans, season ticket holders, partners and sponsors. Because of this specific context, we needed to adopt a comprehensive approach, says Peter Poeck, Organisational Coach at Cegeka. The ecosystem, for example, includes a ticketing platform, an access system (managed by a third party), a CRM system linked to the ticketing and mailing tool, inventory management and a webshop for merchandising... in other words, a host of tools that all need to be connected.'

Phase 2: Strategic approach  

'Once we understood what the situation looked like, we had to decide where we wanted to go, says Davy. So Cegeka held a strategic workshop with our key staff in which they presented us with an inspiring vision of the future.'

'The strategic process started with buyer personas, Peter explains. We divided the fan community and the business community into different types. Then we looked at the customer journey. What problems and frustrations do these personas have, what do they want and need? We then used this information to create the perfect customer journey, optimising all the tools and facilities that were available to us to enhance both the fan experience and the growth of the club.'

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Phase 3: Roadmap towards the digital future 

Cegeka compiled all its conclusions in a report containing a number of clear outlines. The first step was to set up a central service for both the fans and the season ticket holders, with a single sign-on that allows access to all services, Davy explains. At the back end, we want to use the available data to develop an intelligent marketing system including personalized communication. And finally, our business management system has to be based on data in order to give us an overall view and help us spot trends. In the existing system, we were often unable to see the full picture.'

Davy and his team then presented the roadmap to the Board of Directors. The conclusion was that the current situation was preventing the clubs further commercial growth. We had two goals in mind here. On the one hand, we wanted to maximise our availability in the stadium, as well as across all match-related services and products. But we also wanted to break the "ceiling" of our stadium capacity and try to engage fans who may not attend matches regularly. This translates into a three-dimensional growth: in volume and depth, in geography (digital) and in time (from a focus on the match itself to 24/7 relevance).'

'The bottom line? The current situation was preventing the club from achieving further commercial growth. And so we need to take data and use it to drive our business forward.’

- Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director of KRC Genk

The first steps towards a digital future  

The new strategy ensures that fans and season ticket holders are always put first. ‘How can we improve the fan experience? How can we ensure that the community remains active before and after match days and even outside the football stadium? Investing in our digital journey will help us achieve these goals, and pave the way for further growth,’ Davy says.  

Meanwhile, the first stages of the digital roadmap have been completed. ‘It was clear that we had to tackle the pigeon hole structure. So we built a central data layer to solve the data silo problem. This allows us to integrate processes, create correlations, gain new insights, provide highly focused advice and ultimately make the best decisions, based on the insights gained. That’s a strong foundation in order to create added value for the club and the fans,’ says Kristel Demotte, Global VP Data Solutions at Cegeka. 

'KRC Genk is now using a data lake into which all tools can easily be plugged. If they want to implement new tools or perform an upgrade, they can do so simply, without losing historical data.’

- Kristel Demotte, Global VP Data Solutions at Cegeka  

Harnessing data  

We are currently working on step two of the journey: building an application layer with the data lake as its foundation, says Davy. We now have a better and consolidated dataset. No more silos! On top of that, we are building an application layer with single sign-on functionality. This will offer fans and season ticket holders a one-stop platform for all the club’s products and services, including integrated customer service, or “fan service as we call it. From an internal perspective, all our data is now available for intelligent marketing purposes, such as a 360° fan profile, ticketing and capacity reports, insights into consumer preferences and so on. 

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From pigeon holes to a future-proof system 

With the central data layer in place, we have paved the way for the next steps towards the future. ‘Our cooperation with Cegeka as a stadium sponsor represents a wonderful evolution in our partnership. It is a very different kind of project than our digital ecosystem, but offers great opportunities. Upgrading our current stadium to the high-tech Cegeka Arena will make new technologies such as AR and VR possible, which will enable us to create a next-level experience,’ explains Davy.   

Cegeka challenges us to innovate every step of the way, and we are sure that with them as a partner, we will be able to pull it off on a technical level as well.

- Davy Vanhaen, Commercial Director of KRC Genk

‘Cegeka is an extremely valuable partner for us. Their values and history are the same as ours, and ‘in close cooperation’ is not just another hollow catchphrase. Their in-depth expertise across a broad range of technologies is extremely important to us, as it would be impossible for us, as a club, to gather all this knowledge in house. Cegeka understands our ambitions, is able to add opportunities and solutions that we had not considered before and helps us to realise our goals. KRC Genk has been a commercial pioneer for years. We were the first club to introduce a cashless payment system, digital LED boards, jersey presentations in AR... Cegeka challenges us to keep innovating, and we are sure that with them as a partner, we will also be able to pull it off on a technical level. To sum up: we have a strategic partnership that is extremely valuable for both sides.’ 

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"Cegeka and KRC Genk are loyal partners. The partnership is more than a name on the façade, this is how Cegeka is helping to build the digital future of Blauw-Wit."


Challenges

  • Improving the fan expercience
  • Making the business side data-driven  
  • Improving the digital ecosystem to stimulate growth 

Results

  • Future-proof IT roadmap 
  • Enhanced and integrated fan experience 
  • Central data lake
  • Consolidated reporting  

Solutions