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The Champions League semi-finals – first signs that AS Roma leads football into the digital age?

Paul Rogers (@paulrogers73) is the Head of Digital Media at AS Roma. Headquartered in Boston, he is spearheading the Italian football icon’s journey into digital. I was fortunate enough to be (again) chairing the @BOSSummit, Business of Sport Summit ( in Sydney last month. This event has become Australia’s pre-eminent knowledge and network event in the world of sport business. If you want to get a good lay of the land of where sport business is heading, and what the trends, issues and challenges are that drive the industry, BOSS brings together speakers and participants at the forefront of it. And Paul Rogers, a 14 year Liverpool Football Club veteran, is one of those.

His keynote on day 1 of the conference was exciting, refreshing and insightful. And it also showcased the workings of a football club that now is contending for Champions League glory, and also has its digital fan engagement on track. And as in any good business model, where a focus on the customer often is a great predictor of organisational success, I will be watching AS Roma with renewed interest in the semi-final (@ChampionsLeague). Why was Paul’s insight into the digital strategy of AS Roma so refreshing? Because he started with 10 reasons why they got it wrong! Allow me to share them with you, because I think they are immediately transferable to other (sport) businesses. So here are ten missteps that probably are not limited to AS Roma’s digital failures:

  1. Prioritise the website, direct all traffic there, and count success by page views
  2. Create content to increase page views
  3. Force people to visit the website
  4. Controlling which content to consume when and where
  5. Make people engage on all Roma social media platforms and repeat content across
  6. Using social media platforms as one-way broadcast channels rather than engage
  7. Failing to appreciate user generated content for fear of losing control
  8. Focusing on selling but not listening to the questions and feedback
  9. Asking for personal information but then not treating respondents as individuals
  10. Taking supporters for granted and then asking: how can you help Roma?

What Rogers made clear as a key component of his presentation was the age-old marketing adage – that the customer always comes first – continues to reign supreme. Easy to say, hard to execute. In sport, more than any other business, and in football more than any other sport, it is about me, the fan, and not you, the brand! Fans, members, aficionados, and in particular the younger (new) generation of football lovers, have moved way beyond visiting websites as a source of information, or more important, as a means of engagement with their club and their heroes. They love to be on social media, they are frustrated spending too much ‘old school’ time on a website. Their time is precious and if returns are not immediate it’d better be worth the wait… because otherwise they will punish you with their razor-sharp feedback wrath, and fading engagement. You can only make a first impression once. And beyond making epic impressions, clinical brands and unique value propositions are breaking down as anchors of trust and confidence in consumer decision making. Family, friends and slick bloggers are more trustworthy than established institutions because the former treat you with attention, respect and confirmation. So really, don’t ask me what I can do for you, but what can you actually do for me, to make it worth my while to continue supporting the organisation…?

To move beyond the (common) mistakes made by Roma and others in engaging digitally and successfully reconnecting with the fan, what can be done? Again, upon reflection, much of the best advice is simple, and derives from a standard University ‘marketing 101’ course. So here are 10 insights to get digital working for you:

  1. First of all, every decision must put the fans first.
  2. Beyond that, empower fans, or at least give them the impression that they drive the conversation, and that content consumption is within their sphere of influence.
  3. A favourite credo of mine is that ‘less is more’, and this also goes for getting to the information that fans want to consume, so… make it easier for fans to consume content.
  4. A picture tells more than a 1000 words, and nobody wants to read too much content online so tell the stories in the most visual way possible.
  5. Marketing is only partly about selling stuff, the best marketing often is about making people realise they ‘need’ something without them asking for it. In regard to digital content this means that it needs to find the fans rather than them looking for content.
  6. A fundamental truth – don’t produce content because you have to produce content…. Boring!
  7. Another fundamental truth, this one specific to social media – if you are the only one talking about the issue, then there is something wrong. Stated differently… nobody cares!
  8. And the flipside of that realisation is that organisations should only produce content that fans want to share with their own followers. No sharing means, no interest.
  9. The return on investment of digital (marketing) and content production is measured in engagement, not in likes or followership
  10. There probably are numerous other insights that can be provided by sport organisations all over the world, working hard to make their digital strategies work, but take this last one as a universal suggestion – publish content that interests your customers, not what you happen to like, love, value, or advocate!

I love chairing a great conference. Being in the Chair forces you to prepare deeply and think quickly on your feet when engaging with the speakers, the panels and the audience. It exposes you to many professionals who are at the top of their game, and who are willing and able to share their insights, their experience, and at rarer occasions, their ability to make complex matters simple and entertaining. Paul Rogers offered all of that at the Business of Sport Summit. With Rogers having been at Liverpool for 14 years and now the digital guru at Roma, I wonder…, is digital capability driving Champions League success? Whoever wins the Champions League semi-final, Paul will be smiling.