Albert Mundet, director of Barça Innovation Hub and speaker in our Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona, explains his department’s contribution to innovation, not only for the benefit of FC Barcelona, but also of the global sports industry
Barça Innovation Hub was created in 2017 as part of FC Barcelona‘s strategic plan to use innovation as a key tool for the progress of the club, in particular, and the sports industry, in general. Recognized as one of the most influential entities in the sport and social fields, FC Barcelona is itself an inexhaustible source of data: the Camp Nou campus hosts more than 2,000 athletes daily and more than a hundred teams in weekend competitions; the club has five professional and 10 amateur sections; the Camp Nou stadium, with almost 100,000 seats, received an average of 3.5 million visitors a year before the mobility restrictions of the Covid pandemic; and the club has almost 300 million fans spread around the world. “Barça Innovation Hub wants to become one of the leading living labs in Southern Europe,” says its director, Albert Mundet.
We took advantage of his visit to the Johan Cruyff Institute’s facilities, as a guest speaker on the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona, to talk with him about all the activities carried out through his department and the present and future trends in the field of sports innovation.
How does Barça Innovation Hub contribute to innovation in the sports industry?
One of the key aspects of Barça Innovation Hub is the fact that we want to open our knowledge and we think that, basically, by opening our knowledge we are able not only to serve the internal needs from an innovation standpoint of the club but also to help the whole sports industry grow. We do it with three main pillars. We develop research and development projects, where we basically invest resources in generating new IPs that at some point can end up being a scientific research paper, but in the long run can also become new products and services. On the second pilar, we develop innovation projects with start-ups, products or services that are already in the market but we think that we can bring value by basically helping improve those solutions in a way that better serve FC Barcelona’s needs but also other market’s needs. And finally, our third pillar is more focused on knowledge sharing, where we organize different activities in a way that every professional in the world of sport can learn from FC Barcelona how we do things.
What are the main areas of knowledge of Barça Innovation Hub?
When we launched BIH, we needed to detect where the best areas to focus on innovation were and we decided that we have two final users: athletes and fans. So, we designed four areas of knowledge that focus on athletes, and here we have sports analytics, sports performance, everything that has to do with health and wellness, and also the methodological area of coaches. Apart from that, on the fans side, we thought that we needed to focus precisely on two areas: everything that has to do with digital, what we call the fan engagement area; and the other one, everything related to facility management and venue experience, what we call smart facilities or smart venues. Finally, we have another area which is basically working with our foundation on bringing this Barça Innovation Hub framework to also work with the foundation, and implementing innovation as well.
“When we launched BIH, we needed to detect where the best areas to focus on innovation were and we decided that we have two final users: athletes and fans”
In which areas has the most progress been made in sports innovation and in which areas is there still much room for improvement?
Innovation managers like me always like to say that innovation can be broadly three types: how you configure your business, how you manage your offerings, and how you build the experience. These are the topics you can focus on innovating. I would say that the sport industry has been focusing in the last years on how we can enhance the experience of the fans but there is still a lot of room to improve because the way people are consuming content is changing. We are seeing the new generations want much shorter content, much more focusing on stories rather than on traditional ways to consume contents. On the performance side, we are seeing that the configuration is also restructuring itself. Data analysis is coming more and more and probably sports like basketball have been at the head of that, but football is already taking a place here.
“Innovation can be broadly three types: how you configure your business, how you manage your offerings, and how you build the experience”
Can modern sport be understood without data analysis?
Good question. Sport has been around for many years and data analysis was not there. The core of the sport would be there if there were not data analysis, but it’s helping to enhance the experience of the fans. It’s helping coaches and all the staff to have other insights that can help make better decisions, never by suggesting them but helping them. I feel like, especially in football, we are seeing a lot of traction here because, traditionally, the statistical analysis of what was happening in football was too much focused on isolated events of players. The new technologies like computer vision and artificial intelligence are helping to gather quantitative analytics on contextualized situations. So, it’s not about the result of that action per se, it’s about the process to get to that action, and that is actually what the coaches are looking for and what the experience based on the analysis of coaches are always analyzing.
Are players curious about the results of the data analysis?
Players are human and humans are diverse, so it’s about how you create value for them. At the end of the day, that value can be achieved from data but it is not only about the information that you can gather but also how you present that information. This is really important, visualization. And try to always be adapted to the needs of the final users, in this case, the players. From a club perspective or from the industry perspective, we can learn a lot from them on what they want to consume from getting feedback on their performance, and how we can adapt to that in order to make relevant tools for them to, at the end of the day, improve their performance.
“We can learn a lot from the players on what they want to consume from getting feedback on their performance, and how we can adapt to that in order to make relevant tools for them to improve their performance”
Will Barça Innovation Hub provide solutions to the new ‘Espai Barça’?
Barça Innovation Hub is a department that tries to understand the club like a living lab, a place to develop research projects and innovation projects that at some point can have access to different facilities of the club, a different knowledge that the staff have, also for different athletes to develop those projects. Espai Barça, or the stadium, is one more. Of course, having a campus opened and being able to develop a lot of potential projects of urban technology, because at the end of the day it’s going to be a mini smart city, many of the things that can be implemented on a wider scale like in cities can be tested and developed there. In that case, it will help in that concept of being like a huge living lab.
Is innovation the starting point for the improvement of any entity in all areas?
Innovation is kind of a mindset. What you have to do is to have an open mindset that many different people, different stakeholders external from you, can have a lot of knowledge and expertise that you can benefit from. If you have this open mindset probably you will be able to challenge yourself on how you can improve your daily operations, and at the end of the day generate new potential opportunities that will benefit what you are doing today.
The projects are always developed and promoted in collaboration with third parties, but is Barça itself a great laboratory of the sports industry due to the number of athletes the club has?
We want to become one of the leading living labs in southern Europe. Especially the fact that we are a multisport club with five professional sports and nine amateur sports, this gives us a diversity. When you look for improving and developing innovation in research projects, we want to have diversity of potential users because you will have much more balance and a holistic solution. So, the fact that we have different sports test those solutions in different environments.
“There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of content production and distribution; as a club and as leaders in the sports industry we must be very aware of this”
What will be the next revolution? What will be the future trends in sports innovation?
There are two potential disruptions that sport clubs have which are the match day operations, the sponsorships and the TV rights. We feel that on the TV rights side, on the content side, we have to be aware that it can be a disruption there, the way that people consume content and the way this content is produced and distributed is changing. Here there is a lot of room to change in the next years and we as a club and as sport managers should be really aware of that. And another topic is the relation between clubs and sport entities with brands and sponsors. We are seeing more and more that the brand awareness approach is not as it was some years ago. Brands want to have a more innovative partnership approach where they can leverage from a business standpoint, not only from a brand standpoint, the relationship with the clubs. When I say clubs, I mean all its assets and its facilities that they have and can put in place to develop the sponsorships.