When FC Barcelona board member and New Technologies Dir DIDAC LEE began his tenure with the club in July '10, Barcelona’s online presence consisted of little more than a team website with a basic design and a single mobile app. The La Liga side was ranked No. 5 in the world on social media at that time and its website featured a “very old design,” Lee told SBD Global. Lee, who is also the CEO of Inspirit, a technology group that integrates various companies operating in different sectors including online marketing and software engineering, said that he initially viewed his position as Barcelona’s technology director as “a challenge and a huge opportunity.” Under Lee’s direction, Barcelona has become “the No. 1 club in the world on social networks,” Lee said. Barcelona now offers fans 12 mobile apps and a website that is available in nine different languages. FCB is also very active in social media, with involvement in numerous social channels ranging from Facebook and Twitter to Google+ and Pinterest.
Lee discussed the role of new technology in reaching Barcelona’s global fan base, the club’s plans for the future and how it defines its success in comparison with other top football clubs.
Q: How does FC Barcelona’s website and online presence aim to stand out from the competition?
Didac Lee: I think FCB is a global brand. We developed nine websites in nine languages. Some of these languages are local versions. We create local content for local markets. That is the most important thing here. For example, our site in China, it is not the same as the traditional Catalan website. It is on a Chinese website designed for our Chinese audience, with Chinese content and content specific for the fans in China. For example, if it is the Chinese new year, we talk about the Chinese new year.
Q: How would you describe the club’s overall goal in terms of new technology?
Lee: Normally when you talk about technology, the technology is not a goal by itself. It is a tool to reach a goal. My goal is how can we reach our global fan base and how can we be a more global club. This is the key to everything that I’m doing in the technological area.
Q: How does Barcelona measure its web presence, determine success and compare to competitors?
Lee: We do benchmark with the rest of the clubs of the European leagues, especially the Champions League. What we try to do is to increase our traffic month by month. We compare with the four months of last season. We don’t really use benchmarks with other clubs in terms of numbers. We try to compare ourselves with ourselves, but from one year ago. The reason is FCB as a club is a little bit different from other clubs, in terms of the number of sports sections we have, in terms of the kind of club that belongs to its members. There are a lot of things that make it a little bit different from if you compare it with an English club. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. This is why it is very hard to compare the amount of traffic we are having with an English club. This is why we try to compare ourselves with last season’s website, to see how we are increasing, decreasing, etc.
Q: How has the club’s online presence grown since you joined?
Lee: Three and a half years ago, all the technology of the club was the website with a very old design. It was the same website from 10 years ago, it was not very new. FCB was the No. 5 team with social media. We just had one mobile app. I thought this was a challenge and a huge opportunity because from my point of view, the technology is a tool to reach our global fan base. Everybody thought that FCB is a global club, a global brand, but this makes it very hard to reach your fan base. The only way to reach your fan base is using your technology. My commitment with the club is to use the technology to be more global.
Q: How did Barcelona go about achieving this growth?
Lee: What we did: The first thing we did was to put the technology into the strategic plan of the club. Today, this is very easy to see, but almost four years ago, the technology was only a tool for fixes and leaks. One of the first things was to bring technology into our strategic plan. The second thing was to build a very strong online team for our strategy. The strategy is very easy. The first step of the strategy is to create and generate a global audience. The way to do this is to focus on social networks. What we do is to look for our fans, wherever they are. If an FCB fan is on Facebook, we should go and do it very well on Facebook. If our fans are on Twitter, we go to Twitter and try to do the best we can. This is the first step: we generate the audience. The second step is to engage our audience. How do we engage our global audience? We engage our audience by providing them local content for every market. This is why we created nine local websites for each market, etc. The third step of our strategy is to monetize. How we monetize is to engage the audience. We monetize by selling our goods like ticketing and merchandising, or digital goods like mobile apps, etc. Or [we monetize] by providing this audience to our sponsors, and we can generate value through the sponsorships.
Q: How would you describe the results from this process?
Lee: In these three years, what we’ve achieved: Currently, FCB is the No. 1 sports club in the world on social networks. I believe it is leading 14 social channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc. With our nine local websites, we are very proud of these. And currently we are working on our Turkish website. We are leading the sports mobile apps industry. We have a catalog of 12 mobile apps. These are the main highlights.
Q: What are Barcelona’s plans for the immediate future in the field of new technology?
Lee: We are working on the [Camp Nou] stadium, how the technology can embrace the matchday experience. And we are working on our social CRM [Customer Relationship Management] project. Social CRM, what we are doing is we try to create our CRM based on all our fans on social media.
Q: Is there one particular area of new technology where FCB is seeking growth and improvement?
Lee: It is a good question because we’ve been talking a lot about it in our building. I really love the concept of the CRM [Customer Relationship Management – a model for managing company-customer interaction], the social CRM, or a CRM based on Facebook. I think this can be a very important asset to activate sponsorship. In the near future, the way brands sponsor clubs will change a little bit. This is why we are working on it, to be prepared for how we can face this challenge.
Q: What changes do you anticipate in this regard?
Lee: The change will be how a brand can cement compartments in the market. How can we reach the potential customer or partner? It’s more about marketing. Another project where I think we can become more global is for everything to be integrated with video content.
Q: Where does Barcelona look for inspiration for new ideas?
Lee: I like to benchmark with entertainment companies like Disney. Although we are playing football as well as other sports, and these are our main businesses, in my opinion, from the digital business management perspective, we are closer to the entertainment industry than to a sports business. One example is our agreement with the video game brand EA Sports.
Q: How does Barcelona’s technology department work alongside other divisions of the club?
Lee: Actually the whole technology area is pretty transversal. All the areas of the club use technology. There is technology in the communications department; it is used in the economic area, the marketing area, etc. So it’s not a specific area, because this area has a transversal role into our organization. My role is to be the board member in charge of the technological area.
Q: Are there particular countries or regions where Barcelona is seeking more growth?
Lee: The Asian markets, especially China.
Q: What makes this area attractive?
Lee: The growth, how football is growing in China, the fact that there’s not a strong domestic league, this is why Chinese fans are adopting European teams. And, of course, for my roots; my parents are Chinese. I think that we can promote growth with my origins. Those are the reasons: the size of the market, the growth of the club, the growth of football and, of course, because I am Chinese.