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“We’re becoming a targeted marketing powerhouse” | Drew Crisp, Liverpool’s SVP digital

Adam Nelson, Europe office SportBusiness May 4, 2022

Drew Crisp, Liverpool's senior vice president of digital, at the club's Anfield Stadium (Photo by Liverpool FC)

  • Taking first-party ownership of fan data is key to next stage of digital evolution

  • Club now boasts data about almost 40 million fans

  • Ownership of data has turned club into a “targeted marketing powerhouse”

Just as Liverpool FC’s sporting success in recent seasons has been underpinned by the club’s commitment to ensuring the right people are in place to oversee its on-pitch operations – the recent contract renewal signed by manager Jurgen Klopp a case in point – so too has its off-pitch success been down to some key operational hires.

The club’s appointment of former IBM executive Drew Crisp as senior vice president of digital in June 2019 was an important step towards this, an attempt to ensure that Liverpool was maximising its ability to engage digitally with its huge global fanbase, an area in which the club could have been at risk of falling behind.

“Three years ago, it’s fair to say we were a bit fragmented in how we thought about digital,” Crisp tells SportBusiness. “How we planned different pieces of work or activity or big transformation programmes, it wasn’t particularly joined-up. As a business, as a function, we were all a bit disparate.”

Coming from a technology and digital background rather than a sporting one, having spent over 15 years at IBM, gave Crisp a fresh perspective on the operations of a club like Liverpool. “I think I came in without an appreciation for the breadth of a Premier League club, and the fact that we’re arguably four or five P&Ls wrapped into one business,” he says. Different verticals were taking different approaches to their digital strategies, with Crisp’s initial task being to unify this and ensure any digital work being done was pointing towards the same goal.

That required, he says, “absolute clarity on what our digital transformation plans were, and what the hard objectives were. We needed a common set of ambitions, goals, KPIs, structures, people skills, the whole nine yards, across the whole business. The purpose is to get to a point where we’re really clear about the role of what we call ‘tech and transformation’ and how we can make sure they’re supporting both business operations and back office as well as the front office, fan-centric things.”

Taking first-party ownership of fan data has been a key pillar of Crisp’s digital strategy (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


The focus for Crisp and the rest of the club’s digital team, he explains, “had to be about growing audience on our owned-and-operated platforms.” Much of the attention in the digital world, particularly when it comes to measuring impact or success, is often on a club’s social media numbers and their engagement rates on external platforms such as Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. These factors are important, says Crisp, but funnelling fans on to the club’s own platforms, including its website, official app and recently-launched Match Centre, had to be the ultimate goal, so that Liverpool itself owns the fan data and could start to use it both as a direct marketing platform and to support the activations of club sponsors.

In that sense, social becomes an initial touchpoint, a tool to direct fans to the club-owned platforms, rather than an end in itself. “Of course, we need to be really clear about where we’re trying to grow eyeballs and get people engaged using short-form content and videos that we push across social,” Crisp says. “But then it becomes, what are the products we’re directing people to from there? And what are the reasons for people to come to those platforms that we own and operate? If we’re posting a short clip to social, it’s with the promise of richer and deeper content if you come to our Match Centre, or our app, or our website.

“We’re always thinking about that journey. Because if the journey doesn’t work for fans, then you’ll never continue to grow the audience at a sustainable rate and get them onto our owned and operated and that’s fundamentally about giving the right journey and the right experience to our fans and giving them reasons to come to our platform.”

A recent incident in the world of digital sponsorship highlighted the value of the groundwork Crisp has put in place. Last month it was reported that Barcelona’s wide-ranging, multi-million euro partnership with music streaming platform Spotify was worth considerably less to the club than it might have been due to the lack of fan data in the club’s database, with just one per cent of Barcelona’s claimed 350 million-strong global fanbase registered with the club, leaving it with a lack of relevant customer data it could leverage as part of the deal.

Liverpool would have been in a similar position itself not too long ago, but Crisp says that the digital journey it now guides fans through has led to an increase in user registration and retention, helping the club keep track of who is coming to its platforms and creating a single customer view.

“Nine, ten months ago, we would have a bunch of fans come to our platforms, and we wouldn’t know anything about them,” he says. “You could drop onto our website one day, and then again the next day, and we wouldn’t know who you were or what you did.”

From that position, Liverpool has since built up a database of 39 million fan profiles – 10 times the number of fans registered by Barcelona at the time of its Spotify deal. It has achieved this, says Crisp, by focusing on “the underlying plumbing” of its digital set up.

A major step was the development of a single sign-on across the club’s various platforms, reducing any friction in customers’ journeys across various products, and minimising the points at which the club might lose data on a fan. Crisp describes the club’s previous set up, where a fan might log on to the ticket sales platform but then not be visible as the same user when they went to the club’s website or app, as “fundamentally broken,” and believes that achieving the ability to consolidate individuals has been crucial to building the kind of direct marketing platform modern football clubs require.

“Everyone talks about CRM,” he says, “but CRM systems are effectively old-school email capture. It’s a legacy world. With a customer data platform, we don’t necessarily need an email to understand who you and what you’re doing on our products, and for that to qualify as first-party data. So if we’re got someone signing in as John Smith, and then we’ve got a J.Smith or a John.Smith, we can try and actually consolidate that into one individual, and then we can start to think about how we curate their journeys based on what they’re interested in. We can start marketing to them directly based on their interests and actions. It’s all about serving people the personalised content they want to see, making them feel that they’re part of the LFC world, internationally and locally.”

That legacy world, “the world of the cookie and third-party marketing,” is, Crisp feels, “disappearing rapidly.” Despite the sums still being spent on such activities, they are becoming less and less impactful, making it even more incumbent on football clubs to take ownership of their fan data. “The one thing that we sit on that every other corporation in the world would probably give their right arm for, and I suspect their left as well, is information about our fans, all of the fans who love the club and want to engage with the club,” he says. “The fundamental part of our strategy is, how do we gain that insight and information for the good of the fans, the good of the club and the good of our partners in equal order.”

Commercial upshots

As a consequence of its approach to audience building and taking ownership of the fan data, Liverpool is able to engage its registered fans to a highly granular level – based on their age, location, interests and activities – across multiple touchpoints.

“We can trigger email outbound, we can trigger push notifications to devices, we can trigger events on promotion blocks on our website, we can trigger Google ads in Google Ad Manager. And we can segment that based on geo [geography], based on interest, we can even do it down to the granularity of someone looking at a Mo Salah video, so here’s a competition to win a Mo Salah shirt. And we can do a lot of that without them even having to register with an email. We’re on a journey to becoming a targeted marketing powerhouse, frankly.”

That has its uses for the club, but arguably has the biggest benefits in sponsorship negotiations, meaning fans can targeted with the most relevant partner content to them. Crisp has also focused on ensuring digitally-focused partnerships are being leveraged to help Liverpool build out its own internal technology platforms.

While not directly a part of the commercial partnerships team at Liverpool, Crisp says he is involved heavily in any sponsorship deal which has a digital component, ensuring that both the club and the potential brand partner will be able to achieve their goals. “It’s not a case of the commercial team going to have the conversation, agree a deal, and then coming back to me and figuring out what we do with them,” he says. “That doesn’t work in the technology world, in the digital world. It doesn’t work because ultimately our partners are looking for real and relevant stories to tell off the back of how we use their different capabilities, and that has to be built into the partnership from the beginning.”

Advertising hoardings at Anfield displaying Wasabi Technology’s branding (Photo by Liverpool FC)

He points to a deal announced in February with cloud services provider Wasabi Technologies which, he argues, delivered equally for both parties. “Wasabi wanted a greater global brand presence because that gives them reach and amplification, and that’s what we can deliver for them in a partnerships marketing sense,” he says. “But the second part and the mirror of that conversation is always, how do we, as LFC, make the best use of their technology for ourselves, and is there a natural fit here? Because then we’ve got a compelling story for them to tell as part of their marketing.”

As part of the partnership, Wasabi is providing Liverpool with cloud storage across all elements of its business, using the deal to demonstrate its ability to support a company with the data requirements on the scale of a Premier League club. Crisp notes a similar deal with Acronis, Liverpool’s cloud backup provider. “That’s how we look at it in the sense of, what does your company want to be known for in the market? And how can we use our fan data as well as all of our global marketing reach, to support that? If we can demonstrate that Liverpool FC functions the way it does because of Wasabi or Acronis’ products, that’s much more compelling for them than just having a logo at Anfield.”

This article first appeared in SportBusiness Magazine HERE

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