Do you know why it is important for football clubs in Africa to have strong digital presence? We didn’t know much either. So, we spoke to Mario Leo. He is a sports digital strategy guru plus the founder of RESULT Sports and Digital Sports Africa. You may have come across a graphic of the most followed African clubs online – he is the brain behind that project.

This is your chance to learn more about what he does and what commercial opportunities lay ahead for football clubs in Africa in the online domain. Read on.

Hello Mario Leo. Please tell us more about your work with RESULT Sports and Digital Sports Africa

Mario Leo
Mario Leo on Supersport

RESULT Sports is a pioneer in Digital Sports and has solved challenges for athletes, clubs, leagues and federations for the past 10 years. Our unique value proposition is the holistic integration of relevant data and digital Key Performance Indicators into all of our activities. We work dedicated to each client by integrating our standardized, scalable digital platforms. These are based on our know-how, experience and valuable data gathered for more than 10 years across social media.

RESULT Sports was formed in Germany in 2009 and has offices in Germany, Turkey and South Africa. 

For our dedicated activities in Africa, we formed Digital Sports Africa and our campaign ‘From Africa For Africa’. Our aim is the empowerment of the African continent and its digital transformation in sports. It is an educational approach combined with strategic and pragmatic areas to enable current administrators, users and decision makers to reach another level plus train the future generation in charge to ensure holistic toolset. Through the inhouse monitoring, each individual progress is tracked and is in sync with the overall plan and objective.

You can also tell us a little bit about yourself

I was hoping for a football career but a cruciate ligament injury was a blow on my plans. I possess a communication engineering degree and have worked for over 15 years in the Telecommunication industry. More than 10 years of these have been in Executive International roles, spending time in the UK, USA, Australia and Malaysia. After returning to Germany, I was working in General Management for a Technology Company and founded RESULT Sports soon after and continue to steer the firm as chief executive today.

I hold a diploma in Football Management and I am a certified Venue Manager. I frequently speak in (digital) conferences in Europe and Africa. Since 2018, I work as UEFA mentor for Digital Evolution and Digital Engagement in the UEFA GROW Initiative. And I personally love to share knowledge and experience by lecturing about Digital Sports Media.

What are African clubs doing right online?

Africa Digital Benchmark May 2020
Top 10 biggest clubs in Africa by digital presence (May 2020)

I personally believe that most African teams have understood that digital (online) has become more important. The successful teams, who regularly play in continental competitions (CAFCL and CAFCC), recognize the necessity of a website as a central hub of information and window of opportunity for sponsorship, ticketing and merchandising. Simba SC just launched a new website – nice, clean and with a lot of insights and information about the club. We see similar initiatives in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa. A website is like the heart of information followed by a social media presence

What are African clubs doing wrong online?

It would be really harsh to state what African clubs are doing wrong. I would rather confidently state that African clubs, with some exceptions, miss out on a great opportunity and don’t unlock the overall potential of digital. Maybe the Executive and General Management has not yet identified the strategic requirement for the digital transformation – or there is the lack of understanding of it. This is the reason why we started our initiative ‘From Africa For Africa‘.

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The Social Media channels are much more than just about news and information distribution. They are the first point of contact for interested people and fans. Understanding how technology can push the club forward will be key to gain significant benefits. And the most important of all, nothing should happen by default or estimations. The Digital Objective should be following a clear Digital Strategy, including KPIs, which should be achieved!

But some important aspects are not in the hands of sport organizations. High prices for data packages prevent a huge number of fans from accessing digital content. I believe that content deals between sports organisations and operators could be a smart way to get this blocking point out of the way.

How necessary do you think it is for the big clubs of North Africa to have an English online presence?

Raja Casablanca Poster
Some North African clubs are switching to English online

The Digital Evolution has been happening for the past 10 years, therefore, it is crucial to use analytics and insights. Once you identify that a third of your visitors are coming from abroad, it is time to identify a second language. English is obviously the most commonly spoken language around the world but in some areas in Africa it could be French, Portuguese or even another local language.

It is our observation that clubs from North Africa obviously do closely follow the evolution of clubs in Europe and adjust their online presence either with individual language channels or with adding new platforms profiles to the communication and marketing mix, such as LinkedIn and TikTok.

What tactics should clubs without fans, like Pyramids FC and Zesco Utd, adopt online to help them develop fan following irl?

The advantage with newly formed clubs, such as Pyramids FC, Cape Town City FC or the Nigerian side, Vandrezzer FC is to be formed during the digital age. They can immediately know how to use social media presence to grow their fan community. Their online communities grow fast and their social media content flow is significantly higher than the traditional teams like Enyimba FC. The traditional teams believe in traditional values and the focus on digital is limited and that is what needs to change!

Let’s talk about objectives. What commercial opportunities are there for African clubs in the digital space?

I strongly believe in significant commercial opportunities in the digital space. You see, there is already a shift in the advertising industry to move from print to digital. The potential is much bigger to reach a broader specified target audience. Obviously, that will still take some time to reach all corners on the African continent but it requires a mind shift, a strategic shift and an education program for all participants and stakeholders. And that is my aim with Digital Sports Africa and RESULT Sports. 

The opportunities range from digital sponsorships on website, Apps and Social Media platforms. There is utility for specific assets, such as team line-ups, goal-gifs, score visuals and so on as well. These are the base catalogue and it evolves into OTT-Streaming platforms to stream the games online. The digital evolution is constant and the cycles of change are happening faster and faster. Therefore its crucial to plan and execute.

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Each platform has a role to play. Facebook is the highlight platform, it is mostly the platform with the strongest communities and the place where sponsors want to be visible. Instagram is the preferred platform for the younger audience. Twitter is the news channel, distributing the updates to the audience and media. YouTube is the video archive and video content is becoming more and more in demand by fan communities.

Do you know of a case study that serve as the perfect learning opportunity for football clubs in Africa?

I did mention Cape Town FC earlier. Al Ahly is also a digital innovator in Africa. Both focus heavily on digital media, from communication, but also commercial perspective.  

Covid-19 shows the need for the evolution. No games does not mean no communication or marketing. We worked with a lot of sports organisations to ‘compensate’ existing sponsors from stadium advertising to social media sponsoring.

Trends in the football digital space to keep an eye on?

Al Ahly poster
Al Ahly is already taking over TikTok

There are constant moves in digital. It is crucially important for sport clubs, leagues and federations to understand that the world is constantly becoming more digital. The younger generation is solely digital. Therefore, determining the digital strategy is a critical need. Understanding the platform roles, as described above, allows the implementation of new platforms such as LinkedIn as the B2B channel and TikTok as the latest trend for the very young fans. Al Ahly started here a few months ago and already ‘captured’ 600k followers. The opportunity is there. The owners and executives need to grab it and unlock the potential!

Lastly, we like it when people pick sides. So, which African club should football fans absolutely follow online?

Phew! This is probably the hardest question of all because I don’t want to upset by picking one over another. I like to be inspired. I like the passionate and emotions of African Football fans. The continent is so driven, motivated and fanatic about football. The atmosphere, the chats, the dance, the unlimited support. This continent is so special and I am so proud to be part of this journey of digital transformation. 

Check Out @resultsports and @DigiSportAfrica on Twitter to take a closer look at what Mario Leo and his team are doing about digital and sports!

You can also visit the Result Sports website to learn even more