Regular football fans – and football industry insiders – have plenty to look forward to in Russia. In the run-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer, our colleagues of the Sports Consulting Practice at PwC Russia has joined forces with the Russian Football Premier League to survey the country’s top league. In the report they explore areas such as infrastructure, commercial deals, attendance and fan engagement – and benchmark the finances of the cream of Russian clubs against their counterparts in the leading European leagues.
In this blog post we introduce a few of the key findings by way of a taster. The authors − Oleg Malyshev, Aleksander Kardash and Anastasia Shalimova at PwC Russia – report that top Russian football is making up ground, both in sporting and business terms, on the leading leagues in Europe. The four most promising developments are as follows:
State-of-the-art infrastructure and technology boosting fan enjoyment and revenues
Currently in its sixteenth season, the Russian Football Premier league has formulated a strategy designed to maximise commercial revenue over the next few years. By providing better insights into the economics of the Russian game, the first survey of the league, conducted by PwC and entitled Russian Football Premier League: a comprehensive study of the economics of Russian football, is an important stepping stone towards this goal.
Obviously the upcoming FIFA World Cup, to be held in Russia this summer, is generating a great deal of excitement. But the league – and its member clubs – are determined to actively leverage the effects. The World Cup is giving clubs a great tool to attract people to watch the game, both regular fans and VIPs. Many of the stadiums built for the World Cup will debut this season. The new Saint Petersburg Stadium is already breaking match-day attendance records, new arenas are due to open in Ekaterinburg and Rostov-on-Don, and Dynamo Stadium in Moscow will soon reopen after a massive overhaul. The RFPL is also spearheading the adoption of new technology, with a new fan identification system about to be launched and video assistant referee systems currently being installed in stadiums.
Economic innovation also kicking off in Russian football
Technological innovation is being accompanied by the adoption of state-of-the-art business approaches. Russian football is becoming increasingly popular abroad, watched by fans in more than fifty countries and regions including Europe, Central and South America, Israel, China and the UAE. Twenty companies have purchased broadcasting rights to RFPL matches.
This growing popularity is one of the reasons sponsors are becoming more interested in top Russian football. Alongside increases in match-day revenue we’re seeing sponsors pay more attention both to the league and the clubs. The league’s title sponsor is Rosgosstrakh, and other important sponsors include Nike and Liga Stavok, a sports book.
New venues and technology-enabled means of direct-to-consumer sponsorship activation (such as social media, email, SMS and chatbots) are making it more interesting for FMSG companies to invest in advertisement in football.
Online no longer a mere sideline
Online sales are a big deal across the entire league. Most clubs now have online ticketing and merchandise stores, building up a strong presence on social media. As a result, some clubs now generate up to 80 percent of their regular ticket sales via online channels – their own website and mobile apps or third parties such as online ticketing aggregators. Even the average club already generates around 40% of total sales online.
Clubs are also pretty savvy when it comes to driving attendance by using promotions or offering free tickets or discounts. While only a third of RFPL clubs already use customer relationship management (CRM) systems to provide personalised service and boost fan loyalty, nearly half of all clubs plan on adopting CRM systems during the season.
UEFA penalties forcing more prudent financial management
Because of UEFA Financial Fair Play rules designed to help clubs achieve financial sustainability by striking a balance between their income and expenditure, clubs are required to be more prudent in terms of what they spend, and look for more and more ways to boost commercial revenues.
This vigilance is bearing fruit. Having paid UEFA penalties under the current rules, the financial activities of several clubs continue to be monitored. But there were no fines for violating financial fair play rules in 2016-17. These financial improvements are resulting in healthier competition on and off the field, and more attention paid to young local talent.
Conclusion: plenty to get excited about in Russia, both on and off the field
While there are still areas for improvement, in this World Cup year there’s plenty to get excited about in Russian football, with promising new developments both on and off the field. Clubs have increasing financial incentives to improve their sporting performance, build the loyalty and engagement of their fans, and modernise the way they go about their business. And they’re increasingly harnessing this potential by adopting smart technology and business approaches.
If you’d like to find out more, check out the report − Russian Football Premier League: a comprehensive study of the economics of Russian football – or get in touch with me to discuss the opportunities in football and other sports in Russia.