Shifting the goalposts in digital design
When the English Football League (EFL) announced they were on the hunt for a long-term digital design and development partner, 175 of the world’s best agencies responded. Realise were proud to be appointed, and entered into a seven year partnership up to the 2022/23 season. And that was just the beginning.
The EFL manages and commercialises the digital rights of EFL clubs on a shared digital platform. As their existing deal came to an end in June 2017, we were ready to help them look forward. Clubs were presented with an improved commercial and digital offering and given the opportunity to re-enrol with what would be an entirely new iteration of the digital platform.
The start of a 7 year partnership
EFL chose Realise as the partner they could trust to:
- Deliver a premium fan experience
- Maximise commercial opportunities
- Develop a robust, scalable technical environment
- Ensure clubs had an intuitive CMS, delivering time-critical publishing
- Provide high-quality customer support
Based on a 9-month delivery time frame and the seven-year lifecycle of the platform, Realise decided on a product development approach. On Day One we would deliver the ‘Minimum Loveable Product’ for all clubs on the platform, continually optimising and enhancing it for the duration of the contract.
To successfully do this, everything had to link back to what would be useful and engaging for the user. We began by identifying three key audiences and their unique requirements:
The fans: These users are accessing the sites on a daily basis for club updates and news. Our aim was to drive deeper fan engagement through dynamic, relevant and targeted content.
The clubs: The clubs are looking to present themselves uniquely, and to operate as modern digital media publishers. In order to achieve this, we needed to provide an easy to use CMS with a much greater level of flexibility.
EFL: The aim of EFL is to provide a stable platform that can scale to meet future requirements while maximising all revenue opportunities for clubs and partners.
Working collaboratively with the EFL team at our Realise offices, we developed a flexible design framework that gave each club the ability to develop a website their fans could be proud of. These were websites that compelled fans to return time and time again, becoming a primary port of call on match days.
The platform was developed and measured against a set of core platform principles:
Flexibility for clubs
Understanding the importance of clubs and fans wanting a unique website to reflect their identity, we decided to focus on developing a flexible toolkit. This way, page templates and components can be configured in numerous ways to meet the goals of content authors and provide a great fan experience.
This flexible, dynamic framework consistently delivers for clubs, whether they have a team of 10 or a team of one.
Scalable for the future
We worked closely with our platform partner Episerver to develop a robust hosting solution, leveraging Episerver’s Digital Experience Cloud Managed Service Solution (DXC).
DXC has a cloud-first approach ensuring high availability & performance and easy connectivity with other cloud services and existing systems. This allowed us to manage unpredicted spikes in customer demand along with high levels of traffic on match days.
EFL were clear that the new platform should maximise commercial opportunities for both themselves and the clubs. This encompassed multiple channels including advertising, subscription/PPV service, online ticketing and the online shop.
In the first phase of the project we focused on key areas of:
Sponsored content: Integrated sponsorship opportunities allowing sponsors to play a much more active role across club websites.
Integrated betting experience: Working closely with EFL’s title sponsor Sky Bet, we provided targeted, in-game betting experiences integrating their widgets across the website.
Smarter advertising across every device: With over 60% of traffic coming from mobile we took a mobile-first approach to design, ensuring a seamless experience and tailored advertising by device.
9 months to go kick off
The project was delivered by a cross-functional team operating within an Agile Delivery Methodology. Following the definition of the Day One deliverables, we defined the core themes which would guide the experience design. Each package was worked through during a series of two sprints as end-to-end user journeys. The creative output (specifications, prototypes) of the user journeys was then broken down by our development team into detailed user stories for scheduling and implementation in the appropriate development scrum.
Over the seven month development phase of the project, we worked in close collaboration with the EFL project team. This level of communication proved highly efficient, providing regular feedback and ensuring that EFL received early visibility of the platform. Monthly meetings with representatives from 12 clubs created another constantly rewarding dialogue, allowing us to keep ahead and absolutely on track while developing the project.
As system integrator, Realise held ultimate responsibility for all third parties. Our aim was to ensure we were all working to a shared vision and to maximise the potential of each platform for Day One delivery, with a view to the future.
Our primary partner throughout the project was NeuLion, whose iFollow subscription service allows international fans to watch their club’s games live, whilst fans in the UK & Ireland can listen live to commentary of every single game their club plays in. As a new revenue stream this was imperative to incorporate within the website as seamlessly as possible to ensure we were giving the fans the best possible in game experience.
We also worked closely with OPTA (stats), Sky Bet (in game betting), Adition (advertising) and Goodform (CRM).
The result was a framework that demonstrates a fluid user design experience, driving continuous content discovery.
The match day experience was developed in harmony with ‘the pulse of the club’, providing fans with immediate and exclusive content across any device. The integration of OPTA stats, club-curated content and social media updates allows the fan to truly feel part of the game experience. A series of fan usability tests were also conducted across desktop and mobile to ensure that the sites were useful, usable and compelling to fans across a variety of clubs.
Once the core components were completed and default websites had been developed we held 18 training sessions across the country where we trained 183 people from 58 clubs. Following the training, each club built their own unique website with the support of the Realise team.
The launch of the 58 websites was co-ordinated across 4 launch days, with the involvement of all third parties and a tight plan to ensure the successful release of each one.
As we move forward into the next stage, things feel more exciting than ever. Fan feedback following the launch has been extremely positive and we are now focused on the first weekend of the season and looking forward to shaping the vision of EFL over the next six years.
And with that, the EFL and Realise digital partnership was born. Follow it into the future, here.
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