Football (or soccer for some) is the most popular sport in the world, and one country that loves it more than any other sport is Germany. The country’s professional league – Bundesliga – is followed by 500 million fans, generates close to $8 billion in revenue every year, and employs over 100,000 people. It also prides itself on being the most advanced football league in the world when it comes to digital transformation.
To achieve this, it has gone all-in on cloud infrastructure in order to optimize costs as well as develop sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI)-driven analytics capabilities. All of this is done with the aim of providing the most engaging and immersive fan experience for its massive global audience.
In order to understand how the Deutsche Fussball League (DFL) – organizers of the Bundesliga – has achieved this, I recently spoke to Alexander Altenhofen, director of product and technology. He explained that a central pillar of the digital transformation journey undertaken by the league had been the "glass to grass" strategy.
"It starts at the camera lens in the stadium and ends at the glass of the TV or smartphone," he tells me.
The sophisticated technical infrastructure required to do this necessitated partnering with experts in the field of data, analytics and cloud computing. To this end, AWS was chosen as the core technology provider for Bundesliga, and more than 80 AWS services have been leveraged in reshaping the digital Bundesliga experience for fans worldwide.
The Personalized Fan Experience
Becoming the world leader in providing digital fan experiences means creating offerings that go far beyond what’s available via a traditional TV broadcast. This means creating immersive, interactive and, perhaps most importantly, personalized experiences that build deeper connections between the audience and the game.
To manage this, DFL harnessed the analytics services offered through AWS, including Lambda, Fargate, Sagemaker, S3 and DynamoDB, to capture real-time "match facts." These are advanced statistics and KPIs that give deep insight into the game and the performance of teams and individual players.
These include “win probability” – a real-time prediction of the likely victor at any time in the match, and “expected goals” – the number of goals predicted to be scored. Other Match Facts like “average positions," "shot efficiency," and “attacking zones” track and predict individual player behavior on-pitch.
“Passing profile” assesses whether players in possession of the ball are more likely to make an offensive pass to a player in a better position to attack or open up play with a long pass.
Another statistic – “skill” – segments players into four categories – finisher, sprinter, initiator and ball-winner, that can further be used to describe and predict their activity.
The statistics used here are consistently reviewed and updated – most recently leading to the addition of two new Match Facts. These are "keeper efficiency," which assesses the skill of the goalkeeper, and "ball recovery time," which measures how quickly a team will regain possession.
All of this data is analyzed via machine learning in order to unearth stories and narratives within the data that can be delivered directly to fans. These facts can be matched to fans’ individual preferences in order to create personalized coverage. When taking into account fan activity on the official app, this focus on personalized content has led to an increase of 17 percent in the amount of time spent on the app and a 23 percent increase in the number of sessions per user.
Altenhofen tells me, "Our key cost optimization goal for this year is to maximize efficiency and reduce unnecessary spend on our AWS infrastructure, while at the same time maintaining a high level of services and performance for our digital products and customers.”
In practical terms, this involves leveraging AWS analytics tools to understand where resources are over or under-utilized. With this information, making data-driven decisions on capacity and resource planning becomes straightforward. The analytics and dashboarding tools allow the organization better visibility into costs and also enable automated responses to fluctuations in traffic and user volumes.
“For example,” Altenhofen says, “When FC Cologne scored against Bayern Munich [in a recent match], our traffic spiked massively – and all relevant services had to scale instantly as well.
“We couldn't predict that – of course, we've scaled before, but we have to make sure things scale when there are events happening that you can't predict.”
The challenge is to maintain a balance between providing a seamless audience and fan experience while also efficiently managing infrastructure costs.
“There’s always careful consideration needed that cost optimization does not compromise performance.”
It’s estimated that by working with AWS Professional Services, Bundesliga has reduced the operational costs of its IT infrastructure by 75 percent.
But it isn’t just about saving money. Importantly, an optimization strategy isn't the same as a cost-cutting strategy. It also accounts for ensuring the money is reallocated in order to hit other business targets.
Altenhofen says, "If you lower costs, it unlocks more power of innovation… it allows us to reallocate our budget to other strategic initiatives … and we could prioritize investments more effectively.”
The Future of Data-Driven Transformation at DFL
Looking to the future, DFL is planning on continuously pushing boundaries by developing more personalized and immersive strategies for engaging with fans.
“Our goal is to become the most fan-centric football league in the world, and we want to deliver truly personalized user and fan experiences for every single Bundesliga fan around the world."
Upcoming initiatives are likely to involve generative AI – as used by apps such as ChatGPT – to scale and automate content creation, as well as AI services such as AWS Personalize and Pinpoint, and custom machine learning models, to target and deliver them to specific audience segments.
Through partnering with global technology leaders like AWS, DFL has shown that it is possible to continually innovate in search of ever-improving user experience while simultaneously driving efficiency in cost and across internal operations.
You can click here to watch my conversation with Alexander Altenhofen, Director of Product and Technology at Deutsche Fussball Liga.