Sport lags behind other industries in terms of innovation, Federico Winer says halfway through our interview. And that, it seems, is the crux of the issue.
With a new project at Buenos Aires club Banfield, it is an issue that Winer and his colleagues are trying to resolve – not just for themselves, but for football as a whole. Banfield.Tech is the name of the programme and their aims are lofty.
The project, Winer says, “follows a doctrine of love and innovation for all the clubs in the world, that’s our ambition. We are creating a model, and we expect clubs to follow us. And we are happy to collaborate with them because it’s part of our open-source, agile philosophy.”
The Banfield.Tech mission to change the way football clubs interact with the vast array of technologies available to them started in November 2020 and, Winer tells me, came about in part because of the effects of the pandemic.
The club, like so many other businesses across the planet, saw their revenues drop and the majority of their workload move online, with even the players training from home via videolink.
Banfield decided to innovate. Winer is currently the CEO of a sports tracking and analytics company and a visiting lecturer and PhD researcher at Loughborough University, who are supporting the project with expertise and willing student volunteers.
First and foremost though, Winer is a Banfield supporter: “A hardcore fan, for sure. There is no day in my life that I haven’t thought a little bit about Banfield.”
Through a mutual acquaintance, Banfield’s chief financial officer approached him last year to consult on the club’s plans to found an e-sports team. What came from the consultation, though, appears to be far more wide-reaching.
The idea, he says, is to “close the digital gap in any possible way”. In the context of a mid-sized club like Banfield – who overperformed last season by reaching the final of the Argentinian Primera Division but have an income of US$15-20million a year – that can mean a number of things, from fan engagement and sporting performance to more streamlined communication practices.
The difference is that they want the entire process to be integrated across all areas of the club and open to collaboration from anyone who wants to get involved. That it is Banfield doing this before other clubs is not entirely a surprise – they have a history of progressive thinking, for example being the first club in South America to elect a female president.
Traditionally, Winer says, football clubs have not needed to innovate to keep people interested and money coming in, but with interests drifting away from football that is changing: “Football was a pretty lady in the dancing club, she never needed to make an effort to attract fans. This was true until recent times when the streaming platforms allowed people to have more entertainment one tap away.”
He says that the previous ease of attracting punters created an anti-innovation culture that has bled into football’s relationship with technology across the world and at all levels.
“I can tell you a multi-champion club in Germany that I worked with has 220 [different] systems in place. So you can imagine 220 systems, not integrated. And many times when I spoke with one manager in a department, and said, ‘What do you use this for?’, [they had] no idea.”
The idea with Banfield.Tech is to change that, not by adding another layer of new systems on top, but by creating a new culture that will look to open-source software solutions as well as, or even instead of, programmes from traditional tech giants.
At Banfield, they started simple. Before November, most staff used WhatsApp to communicate, share files and host video calls. Winer says his team recommended that the club’s staff – from the scouts and coaches to the administrators and marketing team – shift to a free, open-source software, which he estimates decreases their communication task time by 50%.
Another early initiative was the Banfield Penalty Challenge mobile game, which was developed by a member of the Banfield.Tech team – all of whom are volunteers. The game achieved 25,000 downloads in 42 countries.