Twenty-two players and a ball on a green patch of land. It’s been captivating generations all over the world. But football is more than just the game. It’s a massive industry with a huge societal impact. Especially that part leaves room for reimagining. For instance, in finding more sustainable ways in the mobility of fans around football matches. Or smart solutions for waste disposal in and around the stadiums.
Amsterdam’s stadium calls for innovation
That is why the Johan Cruijff ArenA football stadium in Amsterdam and the local football club AFC Ajax have joined forces with European football organizations and clubs to tackle joint challenges in the football industry. Startups with good ideas are encouraged to pitch their product on the Football Innovation Platform, where they will be connected to a score of experts. The best ideas can score a deal where their idea is implemented in the stadium.
For the upcoming two challenges, the Johan Cruijff ArenA is asking itself how to reduce the carbon footprint of fans travelling to and from stadiums or clubs? It is also looking for solutions that reduce litter and make waste more circular in the stadium or amateur clubs. Specific questions, looking for big solutions, says Director international at Johan Cruijff ArenA Sander van Stiphout. “Mobility is important for stadiums all around the world. A large part of the carbon footprint comes from travelling fans. That’s why we take it very seriously.”
Partners all over Europe
“These are societal issues”, van Stiphout says. “But this living lab at the stadium that we developed with like-minded organisations from across Europe can be an engine for innovation.” The open call for innovations comes not just from Amsterdam. It is a cooperation between ArenA, Ajax, as well as the Dutch football association KNVB, representing all clubs in the Netherlands, Uefa and City Football Group. The last one is the owner of dozens of football-related businesses and clubs all over the world, including Manchester City.
Startups looking to position themselves in a scoring position with any of these parties can apply online through the Football Innovation platform. Experts working for the partners, will then judge the pitches and mentor accordingly. “The goal for the innovators is to get a contract with one of the partners”. says Van Stiphout. “So we match them with the people that make decisions. The people working at one of our partners, and who have a speciality in sustainability or mobility in this case.”
Real opportunities for innovations
Getting matched with stakeholders can be valuable in itself, says Van Stiphout. “Some feedback we got from previous challenges was that even if you don’t make it all the way, it’s still educational.” Those that do make it, actually get a shot to have a large football organisation as its customer. “From the previous challenges we’re now in business with ten companies. Not just a pilot, they are fully operational.”
The last challenge to reimagine football is from 2020 when Van Stiphout and his peers asked companies to re-invent or enhance the fan experience. A pertinent question during COVID-times. One of the contestants was the developer Close, an Amsterdam-based app tailored for the live event industry.
Micro-marketing and broadcasting
“We’re actually using them now for our stadium tours”, says Van Stiphout. “It’s great to manage the customer journey. It can give tailored information on rapidly-changing rules regarding COVID measures but also mix in fun content to get people excited. And it really helps us to gather feedback from visitors, the response rate is very high.”
Another innovation from previous challenges that Van Stiphout mentions is Vogo, which developed technology that allows fans in a stadium to access broadcast feeds to check instant replays on their smartphone, right after it happened. “Sometimes the innovations are very technical, sometimes it already helps to steer people’s behaviour.”
Reimagine Football: registrations are open
Startups, scaleups or any company with a bright idea for greener mobility and smarter disposal of waste around football matches can sign up for the innovation challenge. Besides guidance, mentorship and a real chance of deploying your solution during events all over Europe, there’s also up to €20,000 in funding available for several startups. Registration closes on the 14th of December, the most promising teams to participate in the Collaboration Event on January 20th, at the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam.