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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... Dugout Co-Founder & President Elliot Richardson

Launched in early December, digital publishing platform focused on football, Dugout, has brought some of the world's top clubs together to share original content with their global fanbases. Dugout counts Man City, Bayern Munich, Paris St. Germain and Barcelona among its partners, and offers fans a unique behind-the-scenes look at their favorite teams. Originally from the finance arena, Dugout co-Founder & President ELLIOT RICHARDSON used his experience analyzing data trends and found a void in the football social media world that he could fill. Working with data collected over three-and-a-half years, Richardson saw a less "tribal" fan emerging throughout global football. Fans now follow an average of 4.6 teams and Dugout's goal is to bring the global football community together to reach those multi-club fans. SBD Global spoke with Richardson about his research, Dugout's launch and what it took to get the biggest clubs to work together.

On what you saw that sparked Dugout ...
Elliot Richardson: I always had a strong relationship in the sport sector. I was very interested in the sports area and the lack of good data that appeared for the sports entities and teams. They were struggling with the explosion of fanbases around the world. They were struggling to properly understand, assess and engage with that fanbase. Obviously social media was part of it. But they were really struggling to capture that opportunity. ... And that was just because of a lack of infrastructure to capture it.

On researching trends ...
Richardson: So I really started to pay attention to it about three-and-a-half years ago. I started to see some really interesting data coming out. I commissioned some of that myself, and the three big things that were really jumping off the page were: the TV rights being sold all over the world of major soccer leagues was creating this huge fanbase that may never visit the particular stadium or visit the team in person, but were voracious in their appetite for everything about the club. The second part was, because there were people growing up in territories like Asia and even the U.S., who didn’t necessarily have a particular club or team, they were starting to follow multiple teams depending on different leagues. ... Our research gave us an answer of 4.6 teams as the average amount of teams that a digital fan follows, which was extraordinary. ... The third part was gaming. What happens is a millennial or a 15 or 16-year-old boy or girl will learn about players through a game like FIFA. And they are actually following these players throughout their careers. We speak to kids in India and all over the world at user testing and we were blown away at the level of interest across players and clubs.

On what has created the digital fan ...
Richardson: It’s opened up. When I was 16 years old, you didn’t see any live European games other than the Champions League final. ... Now because of the rights being shown, these fans are able to have far deeper understanding across the football perspective. We use the example of ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC and his career. Starting in Malmo and going to some of the biggest teams in the world, and fans have stayed attached to him and they naturally pick up an affinity to the club he goes to play for. There’s no question that the fans follow the players everywhere. And those players and clubs are benefiting from each other’s social media reach. You can see why Real Madrid and Barcelona have a bigger reach than anybody else. It’s definitely because at the time of this explosion they had two players that were good enough to win in any generation, and their reach only helps the club’s reach.

On post-launch reaction ...
Richardson: Since we launched this in early December, we’ve been absolutely astonished at the level of interest and the page views, based on the fact of fans emerging from territories we didn’t expect. In the first week, the U.S. was our No. 1 country. Launching anything new, you want to make sure you give yourself every ability to deliver it well, and give customers a good experience. Also, with the number of stakeholders we have, we probably were overly cautious in how we launched this. But the reaction has been outstanding. ... What we have with the clubs and players is exclusive content and we have access to their archive which proves to be very popular if you include infographics. The one other thing we agreed with the clubs is that we would release their social content. The stuff they already put on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, they’re also releasing on Dugout. And because of the amount of clutter on social media ... we’ve been amazed at how much of that content consumers are telling us they think is fresh because they just missed it.

On what sets Dugout apart ...
Richardson: The fact that we haven’t got user-generated content, it is away from the clutter. We’re a publishing platform with social elements. But it is actually allowing people to enjoy high-quality fun content: behind the scenes, lifestyle or nutrition. We really paid attention to our consumers when we built this and also delivering that message to the clubs. As we learn the data we can give them the insight into what type of content to produce, so that Dugout creates not only an “all in one place” concept but a tone of voice as well.

On getting top clubs to join ...
Richardson: This wasn’t easy, this was unprecedented in terms of clubs coming together to do something. Our timing was very fortunate. We had two or three clubs that I had a long-standing relationship with, and there seemed to be this feeling that they were missing out. And they also wanted to engage more with their supporters, it wasn’t just a commercial venture. They don’t always feel like they’re connecting like they should with their fanbase. So the data was as much of a driver as anything else. So what we said was, “Look, you’re helping us build this together. We’ll build this alongside you, using all the best practice you’ve had.” And once those three clubs did it, we seemed to have something that resonated. ... Once you have that core, like any deal, if you have a core group of stakeholders then others will come. It took over 18 months for the clubs to finalize and come on board. It was a long process but I’m delighted we did it. ... While every club may have a particular question that you’ve never heard before or a different approach, they're all in a similar position. So once you work through the issues of the very big clubs, we had something. We had developed and honed that proposition and made it a shorter burn in terms of attracting other clubs.

On who's on Dugout's radar ...
Richardson: We’ve got over 45 clubs we’re currently talking to about joining the platform. We have 30 live and another block coming. I’m delighted to announce our first women’s team, Manchester City, joined last week and we see that as a real area for us. Because of the tone of voice, the lifestyle, behind the scenes, understanding players and what they do in their personal lives, there is a much higher female ratio of audience than a lot of other sport platforms. We’ve already had Club América in Mexico join us, Corinthians in Brazil, Boca Juniors are about to announce in Argentina, so Latin America is very big for us. Also big clubs like [South African side] Kaizer Chiefs and others in Africa. And in Asia, without a doubt, we’ve got the opportunity to speak across leagues. We don’t just have individual clubs, but collectively some of those leagues in Asia are already speaking to us. The football community can come together under Dugout, which is what we’re trying to do.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.