Spielmacher Conference 2019 – Hamburg’s the Gate to Football Visions

The Spielmacher Conference 2019 welcomed over 1.300 attendees, more than 60 speakers and over 60 startups to once again unite football pioneers and greats, digital forward-thinkers, media, fans, brands and football’s leaders to create a unique football-centred atmosphere right in the heart of Hamburg.

Just like before the big games, everyone involved with this year’s Spielmacher Conference got that litte extra excitement. The stage was set, stages we should say. And not only that. For the biggest number of attendees to date, the conference offered a wide range of insights, visions, discussions and probably new contacts. Before the start of the main conference at the new Cruise Center in Hambug’s Hafencity, there were several side events like the talk “Quo Vadis Esports and Massmedia“ at the Macromedia Hochschule Hamburg, where a panel hosted by Prof. Dr. Horky (Macromedia; teaching Sports Communication) and Reza Abdolali (blackbird eSports) discussed the importance of eSports in media for the football and sports ecosystem. All of those were a prelude for the event that was to come a day later. The venue right beside the Elbe had it all to offer for the numerous visitors, speakers and fanciers of the evolving football world in a digitised landscape. Two stages, exhibitors drawing interest and great food and beverages in between. But the main focus lay on the topics discussed in the spotlight of the speakers’ hall.

A kaleidoscope of football visions

The Spielmacher Conference 2019 – #Spielmacher19 – was characterised by the focus on new ways to think about football: as a game, as a business, maybe even as a passionate or even religious power. To start it all off, the hosts Christopher and Sebastian Lemm held a keynote, looking back at 3 years of Spielmacher and giving away 3 key learnings. They were followed by some kind of Hollywood star speaker. Rich Orosco, EVP Brand & Community for LAFC, winner of the 2018 Major League Soccer Marketing Executive of the Year Award and former Vice President of Marketing at Warner Bros. Television, entered the stage and convinced the whole crowd with his simple, yet true message “A clear brand story wins“.

One highlight was then followed by another, as Georg Pangl, General Secretary of the European Leagues, EPFL, wondered where the European football was steering towards and made sure that everyone knows about the value of a balanced European football ecosystem – as far as that is possible.

Meanwhile, the Insight Stage had various other topics to offer. Especially scouting and data were prevalent, as Davide Vaccarezza and Emanuele Massucco talked about “How Big Data is changing football clubs decision“, while Alfred Nijhuis from Heracles Almelo and Giels Brouwer, Chief Innovation Officer at SciSports, took a look at scouting opportunities, by eyes and by data. The DFB’s Head of Academy, Dr. Thomas Haupt, explained innovation aspects in German football, supported by Philips’ CMO Thomas Schönen. And on another level, Michael Janek, CEO & Co-Founder of Stickerstars, described how a club like Eintracht Frankfurt can drive fan engagement and revenue with a simple asset like stickers.

The main stage saw attentions switch to the football ecosystem in Germany. First, Georg Pangl and Robert Müller von Vultejus, Managing Director Germany and Head of Business Development Europe for Lagardère Sports, discussed whether the approach of football needed to change, before a diverse panel turned to the qustion of whether investors would make the Bundesliga stronger. Trevor Watkins, previous Chairman of AFC Bournemouth and Global Head of Sport at Pinsent Masons, thinks that while the Spanish and French leagues are actively driving investors to their markets, the perception in Germany rather than the actuality is causing an issue; Germany needs parity with England, Italy, France and Spain to compete.

50+1 almost says: ‘We are not open for change‘.

At the same time Thomas Rudy, founder of WhiteRock, stated there is opposition to investors in the Bundesliga, but thinks that “investors are coming“. He also emphasised that teams with financially strong stakeholders, like Bayer 04 Leverkusen, RB Leipzig or VfL Wolfsburg are bound to be more successful than clubs without such backing. And investment could come from someone like Andrew Nestor, who now owns the Bologna Football Club 1909. He said he would invest in Germany, for the Bundesliga checks all the boxes, but hasn’t been fully globalised yet. Clubs now need to move away from being dependant on traditional revenue streams for commercial expansion – and that’s why investors could become so important, even in Germany.

Andrew Nestor would invest in the Bundesliga, © Niklas Lewanczik

A big name, a big speaker

One of the undoubted highlights of the whole conference would have to be the appearance of Oliver Kahn, the Titan, on stage. He talked to journalist Pit Gottschalk – and in a very thoughtful manner. Kahn is an entrepreneur himself, having started the company GoalPlay which focuses on goalkeepers’ or rather goalplayers’ needs. He said that a big name will always help in football business, but eventually you need a proven product. The principles of the 3-time World Goalkeeper are simple:

Being different and better.

Oliver Kahn believes that 50+1 will vanish step by step, and clubs should already be preparing. And he’s not negative towards investors, who are interested in optimising systems, for he cannot see the excitement getting lesser at clubs like Man City or PSG. They show us how football does work on a global level. But developments like that also mean that the big ones will only get bigger.

You want to see the stars, Ronaldo, Messi Mbappé. That’s what’s fun.

And they will go where the money is. In terms of money, the Managing Directors of Transfermarkt, Lars Gantenberg and Thomas Lintz, showed us how much the rop 5 leagues are growing. The Premier League is the top spender, having paid transfer fees of over a billion every year since 2014/15. Yet, they are also close to 6 billion Euro in transfer losses as only the Ligue 1 has made transfer wins in the last ten years. But all the leagues are growing in value, with a huge increase in 2018.

The big 5 leagues’ market values are soaring, © Niklas Lewanczik

The top 3 of the most valuable teams after the latest Transfermarkt update is made up of Champions League winners FC Liverpool, Premier League champions Man City and La Liga winners FC Barcelona.

Social Media and its worth

Moving on from the Transfermarkt platform the audience at the conference could witness the importance of Social Media. Floris Weisz, Chief Commercial Officer at 433, stated the importance of user centricity.

Let’s go where the users are.

433’s team of 25 people is operating 50 different accounts, whilst having over 35 million followers in total. Graphic designs or archive highlights are very important for engagement.


Lee Walker, Managing Editor at Bleacher Report, was talking about the need vs the feed and emphasised that you need to provide content that people want to share. And not only FIFA drives engagement, but also fitting cultural adjacencies – like if you refer to Fornite or something like that. In the following panel, Jonathan Earle, Customer Director at Sportradar, confessed that the younger generation “is a FIFA first, players second and clubs far behind-generation“. That’s why “users that are not neccessarily into a special kind of sports are the audience that’s hard to engage and the real challenge“, as Britta Sölter, Managing Director at Athletia Sports, reiterated.

The following panel discussed the importance for brands to dive into eSports and Alexander Müller, Managing Director at SK Gaming, explained: “It’s about growing knowledge in marketing teams“ as they know that their audiences are in eSports environments.

From live podcast to platform potential

Since football cannot live without great commentary, reknown commentator Wolf-Chrsitoph Fuss was on stage to record a live Phrasenmäher podcast with Kai Traemann, Editor in Chief at BILD. That very part of the conference was a real show moment and Fuss confirmed that the game decides what he’ll be saying – as precast comments are going in the wrong direction. The passion needs to stay.

In the afternoon, sponsorhips became a central topic as another panel was looking to find answers to the question whether brands should only look to football or to other, rather small sports as well.

In another talk, Robert Zitzmann, Managing Director at Jung von Matt/sports, gave an example of debatable sponsoring, © Niklas Lewanczik

It is a difficult matter and even inside the football ecosystem you can see big differencens. Considering opportunities from sponsorhips, fittingly, as we have the Women’s World Cup going on in France right now, the Conference asked the question whether the German industry was missing a great chance by not yet going strong sponsoring women’s teams. There certainly are untapped potentials hidden in an environment that should gain more attention in the coming years.

Going on, Dirk Ifsen, Senior Vice President at Perform DACH and Managing Director at Perform Germany, and Eurosport moderator Jan Henkel discussed – fierily at times – how difficult it will be for media to prepare for Euro 2020. It will have 51 games, compared to 15 in 1992. Henkel called for journalism to get better and try to understand all the aspects of the game even more. While it develops, the media will have to as well.

Eventually, Alexander Graf, CEO at Spryker Systems, explained to the audience that the platform economy has the big players making money via services and customer access – like Amazon. And it could work out that way in football, too. Not selling tickets, but selling the accesss to fans and potential supporters or rather customers. Not only Amazon, but platforms like Alibaba, JD.com, Walmart or Pindouduo are important. He drew an analogy for football to the losing companies in e-commerce (Sears, JCPenny etc.) and said that clubs as brands would need to look for opportunities to grow on platforms or build their own. Is there a platform effect in football as well already?

The #ESTA19 had a worthy winner

Finally, we saw the second edition of the European Sports Tech Award on stage. This year’s Jury consisted of Robert Müller von Vultejus, Andreas Heyden (Managing Director, DFL Digital Sports), Dirk Schluenz (Head of Sales, FC St. Pauli), Benjamin Stoll (Director of Business Technology and Innovation House, FIFA), Benjamin Penkert (Founder, SportsTechX) and Matthias Seidel (Founder, Transfermarkt). There was keen competition amongst the four finalists, who pitched their very own technological solutions for the sports and football ecosystem, but ultimately it was Zone7 that took the prize. And they will be on stage next year for their very own speaker’s slot – a prize that money can’t buy. Zone7 is a startup that looks to prevent injuries by using rich AI data; and Tal Brow convinced the jury with his talk and indications consideing the costs of injuries, for instance.

Eventually, all the football and digital enthusiasts really started their networking at the aftershow party right at the Elbe. Cold beer, a view at Hamburg’s harbour scene and the best environment to talk about and develop new ideas in the modern football ecosystem. As many insights as we got – and we can certainly use them to envision the future of football –, we already cannot wait for the Spielmacher Conference in 2020.

See you there.

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