Connecting with 500 million passionate fans worldwide

With 500 million fans worldwide, the Real Madrid Football Club is among the world’s top sports franchises. But with just a small fraction of those fans in Spain, it needed a way to connect with them—wherever they are in the world—and support their club passion. To accomplish that goal, Real Madrid engaged a Microsoft Services team for help in envisioning, developing, and deploying a global digital sports platform that was built using a wide range of Microsoft cloud services. It takes advantage of the global footprint of Microsoft cloud services to consistently deliver the very best fan experience anywhere in the world. Real Madrid can now engage one-on-one with fans, implement targeted promotional campaigns, and use data to track and analyze fan behaviors, among many other capabilities. Today, club officials report digital revenue growth of 30 percent and could not be more positive about the club’s digital future.

Few can dispute that Real Madrid Football Club is the world’s top sports franchise. Certainly there are millions of fans around the world that make it possible. Founded in 1902, it has won more than 100 championships, including 12 European Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and three Intercontinental Cups. In fact, FIFA recognized Real Madrid as the best football club of the 20th century. Around the world, its fans share a fierce passion for and unshakeable loyalty to the team, faithfully following its performance and players closely. But, until recently, the club’s ability to interact with its huge fan base was limited to fans attending games in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, visiting its website, or taking part in its social media channels. Club management knew that accomplishing a digital transformation could dramatically boost fan engagement. With that goal in mind, Real Madrid had to look for a leader in technology that help the club in this digital transformation journey and decided to partner with Microsoft.


Envisioning the value of a digital transformation

In keeping with a proven Microsoft Services approach, the first step was to convene the club’s principal stakeholders, discuss their needs, and, critically, clarify their vision for enriching fan interactions. “We wanted to connect with all the people who support Real Madrid in the world,” says Real Madrid CEO José Ángel Sánchez, noting that about 97 percent of fans reside outside of Spain. “It is critical for us to understand and learn from them, because, in the end, the club belongs to them.”

To kick this phase off, the Real Madrid group met at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft Services facilitated the brainstorming discussion, which left technology topics off the table. The meeting objective was a no-holds-barred envisioning of what the club’s digital transformation could look like and the goals it could achieve.

“We invested the better part of our time in this meeting discussing the potential business value of raising our engagement levels with fans and then the different ways we could do that,” Sánchez says. “Although Microsoft Services consists of technology experts, they put the articulation and prioritization of our business goals first, not only to understand those goals themselves but also to ensure that, as their client, all of us were all on the same page about those goals.”

With Real Madrid’s business aims in mind, the next step for the Microsoft Services team was to define a strategic project framework that would guide the development of a Real Madrid digital sports platform with a global reach. The latter capability was crucial. After all, most fans live outside Spain. And the largest market with just 11 percent of the fan base is in Indonesia, a third of the way around the world. With such a fragmented fan base, Real Madrid could not define a “typical” fan, so data capture and analytics of fan behaviors would be keys to success, as well.


Bringing technology into play

Microsoft Services worked closely with Real Madrid to build a comprehensive platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution, based on a wide range of Microsoft cloud services. Many of those were drawn from Microsoft Azure, while others included Microsoft Dynamics 365, Office 365, and Power BI. DevOps used the .NET Framework with Visual Studio 2013 and Visual Studio Team Services. For a sense of the project scope, approximately 50 Microsoft Services team members were involved as the core team, with 150 other Microsoft professionals in various contributing roles, including data science and application development.

“Our core business is football, so having Microsoft as our technology partner to manage the technology infrastructure is important,” says Enrique Uriel, CIO, Real Madrid. “The Azure platform will help us provide the services we want to offer because it gives us the global scalability we need whenever we need it.”

Deploying a PaaS based on Microsoft Azure and other Microsoft cloud applications provided Real Madrid with the needed global scale. The platform also relieved the club’s IT staff of the burden of managing a sophisticated infrastructure that its digital sports platform would require. So, instead of having to add IT staff to manage the technology, the club grew its digital services team.

“Just 12 months ago, our digital team had only five of us, and now we have more than 30 people, including data scientists.” says Rafael de Los Santos, who heads the club’s digital operations. “With the Microsoft cloud platform for service delivery, we can focus less on infrastructure and more on enhancing the fan experience and business outcomes.”


Connecting with fans around the world

Today, Real Madrid’s digital sports platform built by Microsoft Services is fully operational, delivering rich content and drawing deep insights on fan behaviors via advanced analytics. It consists of four components:

  • Fan Engagement Platform. This is Real Madrid’s back-office marketing engine. It captures every fan interaction, whether a mobile check-in at the stadium, a profile update on the website, or a merchandise purchase online. It integrates capabilities drawn from Microsoft Office 365, Dynamics 365 for Customer Service, Dynamics 365 for Marketing, and Power BI. The solution also uses Microsoft Social Engagement to collect club mentions and other data from all major social media. The highest volumes of data reside in Azure Table Storage, and Azure Cosmos DB enables high-performance queries for analysis.
  • Extended Video Platform. Using Azure Media Services integrated with Azure App Service and Azure Media Player, Real Madrid can deliver both new and historical video content, including past club matches. Azure Search enables fans to search for specific games using various criteria. With live matches, they can choose specific cameras to review key plays and player moves.
  • Consumer Application. Real Madrid’s mobile interactive app for iOS, Android, and Windows platforms has been a top-rated hit on each one’s app stores. It gives fans access to Real Madrid content anywhere in the world. They can use it to gain virtual access to the stadium before, during, or after each game; to search data on all the club’s players, past and present; and to explore club statistics. The Azure Active Directory B2C identity service provides user authentication and profile storage. Fans can register and log in via social media accounts like Facebook, or they can use traditional username/passwords for a seamless experience across all devices. Either way alleviates club concerns about security, data breaches, and scalability.

Of course, Real Madrid’s digital transformation is data-driven and these core components have accelerated that transformation significantly, according to Begoña Sanz, the club’s commercial general manager.

“We’re trying to get as much data as possible about our fans, so we can personalize what we offer them at all our touchpoints,” he says. “We used to pull data from just five sources before, but now we pull from more than 70 sources using our Microsoft cloud platform. This has enabled us to grow our number of fan profiles by about 400 percent in the past two years—it’s now in the millions.”


Growing digital revenues by 30 percent

Sánchez is extremely pleased with the outcome of the club’s collaboration with Microsoft Services and in how the club’s the digital transformation has better connected it with fans. He notes that the expertise, project management, communications, and responsiveness of Microsoft Services were critical factors in the project’s success. He was also impressed that Microsoft Services put the full force of the company’s vast resources behind the Real Madrid project.

Real Madrid’s digital sports platform has opened valuable new links with its fans and new revenue streams for its owners, according to Sánchez. “Using the Microsoft Cloud, we have built a way of knowing who our fans are, where they are, and what they want from us,” he says.

“Now we can target a communication strategy, tailor-made for every single fan, no matter who or where they are. Our digital sports platform capabilities are impacting every single function and activity, including our digital revenues, which are growing 30 percent a year compared to what our previous digital platforms were delivering. Our payback on this investment has been huge, and we’re now well positioned for a bright future.”

Just 12 months ago, our digital team had only five of us, and now we have more than 30 people, including data scientists. With the Microsoft cloud platform for service delivery, we can focus less on infrastructure and more on enhancing the fan experience and business outcomes.

-Rafael de Los Santos: Head of Digital Operations, Real Madrid