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Bengaluru United-Sevilla FC deal is a step to share knowledge, technology and increase fan base

The top European club wants sponsors, more subscribers while the I-League second division side seeks help with players analysis, data.

June 12, 2022 / 11:22 AM IST
Gaurav Manchanda, owner of FC Bengaluru United. (Image: Twitter)

Gaurav Manchanda, owner of FC Bengaluru United. (Image: Twitter)

In an era of data analysis, artificial intelligence (AI) and number crunching, even in an intrinsically instinctive activity like football, technology has a part to play in a team’s development, just as a good coach or infrastructure do. While FC Bengaluru United (FCBU) signed up Khalid Jamil recently, considered one of the country’s leading coaches, an important element of their partnership with Sevilla Fútbol Club is innovation and technology.

While a lot of clubs tackle developmental programmes, marketing and branding, FCBU co-owner Gaurav Manchanda says, an interesting element to their partnership is the use of data. “Bengaluru is the IT capital of India, with its engineers, knowhow, etc. These will help us get smart about how to use data for such a young club, but Sevilla also has this treasure trove of information that helps them get better on the field.”

Manchanda, speaking over Zoom after an event with the Sevilla team leadership in Bengaluru earlier this week, uses the word ambition often. The four-year-old FCBU plays in the I-League Qualifiers or its second division but clearly wants to do better. Their partnership with Sevilla FC is about a year old. But with the pandemic in full swing last year, it has taken them till now to strengthen the collaboration or at least have a face-to-face conversation.

As part of this meeting, FCBU organised a three-day hackathon—an event in which computer programmers collaborate to create or improve software projects—for which about 4,000 people registered from across countries. “The intent is to solve certain sport tech problems, game time analysis, optimising use of players, etc.,” Manchanda says.

“Global clubs have global infrastructure—talent, engineers, servers, etc. They have had decades to figure this out. We are still in early days. There are some basics like GP monitors, heart rate monitors, but true AI is still in its early days. We want to be in the forefront of that. We understand data and tech and how to leverage it,” Manchanda adds.

FCBU is not the first Indian club to partner with a European one. Others like Hyderabad FC (with Borussia Dortmund), FC Goa (RB Leipzig), Chennai City (FC Basel) and Indian Super League (ISL) team Bengaluru FC (Rangers) have done it in the past and the objectives in most cases are clear. Manchanda adds, “We are four years old, they are 132 years old. They have the experience, tech knowledge… It’s a matching of ambition and plan.”

Sevilla is one of Europe’s premier clubs, with a prolific youth programme and a developed scouting-recruitment system that’s helped them win six UEFA Europa League titles. They finished fourth in the Spanish La Liga this season, just one point behind Atletico Madrid. They were second on the points table, behind Real Madrid, for most of the first 29 of 38 matches played, before a series of draw towards the end brought them down.

Sevilla FC president Jose Castro Carmona puts it down to the competitive nature of the La Liga, which is not just fighting for the top spots but also pushing to qualify for the Champions League and Europa League. It’s important to be consistently up there, he says, “making a base camp for the championship positions. We can then make an assault for the title,” he says, through an interpreter.

Castro points to the large gap in spending power between the teams as a reason for their superiority. Atletico Madrid’s budget is twice that of Sevilla while Real Madrid and Barcelona is about three and four times higher, he says. “It could have been this year…” he rues Sevilla’s chances of topping the La Liga. “In the first phase, Real was shaky. Then Barcelona have not been at their usual level. Atletico was for many weekends behind us…”

The La Liga finds itself in an interesting place after it struck a deal last year with private equity (PE) firm CVC Capital Partners worth $3.2 billion, becoming the first such league to take PE money. The deal will allow Spanish clubs to receive additional funding in exchange for a stake in the new company. But though 37 of 42 teams supported the agreement, some like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have gone to court against the deal. FC Barcelona has also been dealing with its own financial troubles for some time now.

Castro considers the CVC investment “hugely beneficial” in order to compete with the more popular (English) Premier League but does not see Sevilla itself going down the path of PE funds. “To be increasingly competitive, to compete head to head with the Premiership, we need investments. For clubs, it is different. In Spain, most clubs are private companies with shareholders, none are listed. It’s for each club to decide their future in governance. In Sevilla, there are by no means plans to incorporate PE, that’s not what we foresee in the future.”

One of the reasons the Sevilla FC delegation is in Bengaluru is to scout for potential sponsors. He said as part of their trip, they have several meetings with prominent Indian companies. Another reason for their FCBU collaboration, besides developing their brand in a big market like India, is television rights. A larger fan base—or subscribers—will improve La Liga’s and the clubs’ revenues.

“Broadcasting rights in Spain have three parts. One, is equal to all teams, the solidarity mechanism. Two, is relevant to competition success. The third is about audience and social media interactions. If we develop a fan base in India, that also in the long run will be beneficial for Sevilla FC,” the club president says.

In the future, it’s possible that young players from FCBU could link to the Sevilla FC youth system—both Castro and Manchanda believe that. But before that happens, both teams want to spread their footprint in the others’ territory. Manchanda’s ambition is also to build a fan base across Europe; Sevilla FC has already launched a fan club in India.

If the last two years are anything to go by, digital platforms have made marketing and connecting with communities easier. Digitisation road maps and plans have moved up by years. “It’s a wake-up call,” says Manchanda, “Sevilla or Bengaluru, the reach is global.
Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based freelance writer-editor. He can be found on Twitter @iArunJ. Views are personal.