Kaunas IN
2021 09 30
Digital transformation in sports: not a fashionable phrase, but a reality at BC Žalgiris

To what extent are the sports industry and sports clubs involved in innovation and technology? “As much as any other organization that wants to offer value to its customers, increase their number and provide modern services,” Chief Business Officer at BC Žalgiris Unė Marija Jurkštaitė says. Although a large part of the sports world, which was particularly affected by the pandemic, was urgently and shockingly reoriented towards digital transformation, BC Žalgiris took active steps in this direction much earlier, when traditional and conventional activities seemed quite sufficient to many.

Today, forward-looking sports clubs inevitably associate their future with technology. “Our fans do not live in a bubble. They use various modern services, so customer service or personalized services must move forward in all industries, including the sports industry,” U. M. Jurkštaitė points out.

True, the speed at which technology penetrates this industry varies across regions: say, the fusion of technology and the sports industry in the US is very intense, with not only clubs but also athletes themselves investing in technology, becoming their creators or co-owners.

“Meanwhile, in Europe, it is more prevalent for the owner to invest everything they can only in the sports part and only in the path of victory. But the reality is that there is one losing team in every match, so even the most powerful teams don’t always win. Therefore, this strategy of wins is not sustainable. There are clubs that understand this and look at it more broadly, seeing all their activities, not only the sports part. They look at how fans feel, what they are interested in, what content and what services interest them, what can be offered at the venue, how to make contact, how to maintain it, what experiences there are before/during/after the event and technology is a big part of this approach and this strategy,” U. M. Jurkštaitė says.

It is no coincidence that digital transformation has become that fashionable phrase that is now constantly heard in all sports conferences. Of course, the pandemic provided a significant impetus for this. If until then it was easy to have traditional sources of income and sell tickets instantly, then during the pandemic these sources of income were either severely affected or disappeared altogether. So many had to rack their brains and figure out what to do next.

Not victories, but experiences

It is true that the BC Žalgiris turn to technology and search for new solutions began before the pandemic, in 2019, when the Žalgiris Hackaton was organized.

“Why did we feel the need then? Because the club’s thinking has long been directed towards advanced solutions. In our mission, we do not talk about victories at all. We talk about community and the moments that remain as the best memories. Therefore, our approach was a bit broader, looking for ways we could offer even better moments and even better experiences. In addition, we were already in the phase of “breaking the ceiling.” The tickets to the Euroleague games were sold out instantly, there were waiting lists for seating, clubs, and so on, so there was simply no room left for development, we felt that we had reached and used our full potential. We decided to look for business growth opportunities not only vertically, but also horizontally; to think about new sources of income, what products could be without borders and not limited to the Lithuanian market. The answer was provided by technologies,” U. M. Jurkštaitė listed the reasons. As early as 2019, an innovation strategy was developed along with an agreement on how it would be applied to the club’s activities. After receiving the budget from the Euroleague Digital Transformation Fund, a decision was made to allocate 60 percent of funds for technological solutions that have already been tested and are operating in the market, and the remaining 40% for innovative solutions, work with startups and the hackathon.

The sports hackathon ended productively

The international Žalgiris Hackathon, which took place in 2019, included Lithuanian as well as Latvian and French participants, whose aim was to discover a common language between professional sports and technology developers. It focused on three directions: application of technologies in sports, visitor experience in Žalgiris Arena and value created for commercial partners. As the organizers of the hackathon note, the event was also useful for the technology developers themselves, who often make the mistake of creating a solution that the end user does not need or needs a different one, or of solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Thus, by involving the end user at an early stage of product development, such errors can be avoided.

At least a few solutions were created during the Žalgiris Hackathon, which proved to be interesting for the club. And a successful partnership was launched with the hackathon winners Echosport, which then turned into a specific product. Working together with the sports department and coaches, the creators have developed a technology, which is already used during training. Each player has a sensor that collects a variety of information, physiological readings, and the coach sees how that player is doing in training or recovering from an injury. It also shows the overall balance of the team, whether the decisions made bring the desired result. The new tool allows you to create a rehabilitation or pre-match program, which is based on data rather than assumptions. In addition, it improves communication between the coach and the players, as decisions are made not on the basis of subjective imagination or attitudes, but on the basis of objective data.

An app for arena visitors and a club of virtual experiences

“What does the Žalgiris Club look like in the Lithuanian context with its innovations? I would say that we are the most progressive and the most advanced not only in Lithuania, but Euroleague-wise,” U. M. Jurkštaitė smiles.

The app of Žalgiris Arena will be presented soon. It will allow to purchase food and beverage services by phone during the events, without standing in line – when the order is ready, the customer will only have to pick it up.

“We would have run this solution a long time ago, since we have been working on it for some time. Unfortunately, we were stopped by a pandemic, so we had to postpone the debut of this technology. If we can welcome people in the arena this season, we will invite them to use the app,” U. M. Jurkštaitė says.

During the implementation of innovations, the Žalgiris Insider program was also introduced. The idea was born during the pandemic, when the usual sources of income disappeared.

“We started to think that the fans and their feelings for BC Žalgiris did not go anywhere, and the players did not disappear either. And we can offer interesting content to the fans, all it takes is a digital space where fans can build a community when we can’t bring them together here, in the arena,” the creators of the project say.

The Insider project was developed together with partners: a new platform has emerged where you can choose between two plans and use different content and headings. Currently it is used by over 5 thousand basketball fans, and it is expected that the number will grow, since the Euroleague season hasn’t even begun yet.

For Žalgiris Club, this technology is also important because it is an investment in a project that is not only suitable for the pandemic. When we return to normal life, this solution will remain relevant and will help to attract those fans who live outside Lithuania or Kaunas, who cannot come or were unable to get a ticket to the desired game.

Source: Žalgiris photo.

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