Interview | David Fowler: Growing of the global football community

Text: Dragan Perendija | Read time: 8 min

MyCujoo is a football-dedicated online streaming platform, launched in 2015, that makes technologically advanced and user-friendly streaming accessible for everyone: from non-mainstream leagues, women’s football, futsal, beach soccer, youth tournaments to amateur football teams. Last year, the platform ‘hosted’ almost 800 competitions from more than 100 countries and helped them to connect with new audiences and also to monetise. SPORTO talked to David Fowler, Director of Marketing at MyCujoo and former FIFA Head of Brand and Head of Strategy & Intelligence. Topics of the interview include experience and vision from the awarded start-up point of view, influence of innovation and technology on the industry and organisations with a built-in fan-first approach.

SPORTO: Let us start with the innovation in the world of sport business. In your blog for Sportcal, you wrote: “Sports governing bodies tend to look at innovation as a tool to sustain their current business model, whereas start-ups, by their very nature, are often innovating to disrupt incumbent business models.” With your experience from both sides, how does one find the right balance between nurturing the brands’ DNA and embracing the new?
DAVID FOWLER: I do not think the objective of pursuing an innovation strategy should be to find the right balance between innovation that sustains and innovation that disrupts business models. At MyCujoo, we are focused on building an organisation that, irrespective of what business models we choose to pursue, will be built on a solid foundation of entrepreneurial people who will drive innovation. Our ambition is to build the best experiences for our users and that is where innovation will play a key role in our future.

The battle for attention, audience and revenues increases every year. Which sports organizations are embracing and currently evolving fan-first, mobile-first approach in the most successful way in your opinion?
There are many rights holders successfully embracing a fan-first mindset. Hashtag United (a semi-professional football club from Essex, founded in 2016 by YouTube personality Spencer Owen, who entered the league system for the 2018–19 season; A/N) are one organisation that I really admire. They are a great example of an organisation that has built a fan-first proposition. Their business model and the model of other influencer clubs is built on fan intimacy. They give fans unparalleled access to their real world and esports activities and as a result are outperforming many top professional clubs in terms of reach, engagement and monetisation. They are not constrained by history or tradition and have been able, in a short time, to build multiple revenue streams including from sponsorship, advertising and ecommerce. This inspires us to empower clubs at all levels to leverage our platform and further build features for them that will empower the next generation of influencer clubs.

Many rights holders are successfully embracing a fan-first mindset. Hashtag United are one organisation that I really admire. They are not constrained by history or tradition and in a short time have been able to build multiple revenue streams and as a result are outperforming many top professional clubs in terms of reach, engagement and monetisation.

Also, technology brands/sponsors, IBM, SAP, Microsoft and Alibaba for example, are in many ways helping rights holders build their competitive advantage. What is your view on their role and influence in the recent years?
Many of the mentioned tech brands are in a great position to help rights holders to create added value for their existing customers: ticket buyers, broadcasters and sponsors. The NBA are amongst the leaders in this field, striking partnerships with lots of great tech-driven companies who are enabling them to deliver more content and greater personalisation for NBA fans. Their appetite for tech innovation is of course heightened by the fact that many of their owners are running successful tech firms and/or are venture capitalist firms.

The bigger opportunity lies in challenging and supporting rights holders, many of whom are hamstrung by existing legacy business models, to think differently. Data-driven competitive advantage is one key way in which top sports rights holders can benefit. The most progressive are working with leading tech companies to build their own data capabilities that will ultimately enable them to transform into a direct-to-fan business.

We also look to establish partnerships with leading tech brands. For example, we benefit from a partnership with Google to drive our data eco-system and streaming technology.

FIFA, together with EA Sports, recently organised their inaugural FIFA eNations Cup with 20 national teams from 6 continents, extending the World Cup competition into the gaming world and reaching new audience. Where do you see – beside gaming/esports – further extensions of traditional sports in the future?
There is pressure on many top sports to extend their brands outside of their established core business. It is difficult to say where the next brand extensions will come, but I believe that sport recognises more and more that it needs to look increasingly at other industries, such as media and entertainment, for inspiration.

In general, the direct-to-consumer movement, which is currently being empowered largely by OTT platforms, will bring with it new opportunities that we do not yet see. Rights holders and governing bodies are only starting to consider what the shift from generating revenue from intermediary agencies and broadcasters to managing the lifetime value of a fan could mean for their organisations.

Media and sports consumption have changed in general. Could we say that live streaming and OTT are the answer to these changed media habits or is it the other way around – they drive the change?
Much of the changing consumption is linked to the infamous generation Z, born between the mid-nineties and 2010. We see evidence that they crave authenticity and exist in a ‘blurred lines’ landscape between the physical and the digital. They also demand 24/7 content in multiple formats from many voices and do not just follow an elite team, they often have a second team they support, and these teams now include YouTube and esports teams. Perhaps most significantly, they are not passive fans, but active content creators.

In my view, OTT experiences and platforms certainly respond to many of these emerging consumption habits and preferences. However, while they offer 24/7 access to content, they are by definition often passive experiences.

Our ultimate ambition at MyCujoo is to continue to build a community platform and move away from providing an OTT experience. That means increasingly empowering shared experiences and organic connections between nano-communities of fans and players, as well as other actors of the game.

What would be the key learnings for the industry from your approach as a start-up?
We are still fairly young and we are still learning. Nevertheless, one thing that our experience has already reinforced is the importance of content in today’s 24/7 social media driven world. Rights holders want tools to create live and on-demand content, brands and publishers want to access content to grow their audiences, and fans want to be served with relevant content that they can consume and share. One additional group, underserved up to now, is the players themselves. Our community approach is built upon empowering players to create and share their own content and showcase their footballing stories to the world at all levels of the game.

Through our low-cost mobile phone production tools, combined with our soon-to-be-launched player community feature, we will empower a continuous and scalable supply of content and build an even more valuable destination and home for competitions, clubs and players at all levels.

Rights holders want tools to create live and on-demand content, brands and publishers want to access content to grow their audiences and fans want to be served with relevant content that they can consume and share.

AS Roma is, through their social media channels and followers, an example of a top club that tries to involve a broader football community. Other platforms, like Copa90 and Dugout, also try to connect football fans. In the Sports Geek Podcast, you mentioned that Mycujoo’s long-term wish is to create a football community platform and move from streaming/broadcasting to engagement. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for your platform in the future?
Most of us carry a smartphone in our pockets and this little tool is the key to unlocking content and communities at all levels of the sport. Our vision of building communities starts with players and clubs generating content from all over the world. Already we show content created by competition and clubs from 120 countries. There are 2 billion addressable football fans in the world, the total global football fanbase with internet access. We ultimately want to attract as many of them as possible to our platform to join our emerging nano-communities of fans and players who are already leveraging our platform to share their passion for the game at amateur and recreational levels and across all formats from futsal and beach soccer to women’s and men’s football.

Your prediction, in terms of what we can expect from the online live viewing experience in the future, is that viewers will be at the heart of the action; we will be able to add our own commentary, choose our camera angles, request stats in real-time … Where is the limit in terms of personalisation of the content for the fans and segmentation of users?
My personal opinion is that we will see more and more OTT platforms put the fan in control of her or his live viewing experience. There are of course different extremes from fans influencing tactical decisions – something Arsène Wenger has predicted will happen in the not-too-distant future – to fans co-creating the experience such as virtual viewing parties, fans commentating, producing content, creating stats, etc. to the personalisation of the fan experience.

How do you see a ‘modern’ football fan in five years?
I do not think we will see major changes to football fan consumption habits in the next five years. However, we will see technological evolutions such as 5G facilitate a more personalised OTT and live streaming experience.

The interview was first published in SPORTO Magazine No. 13 (May 2019).