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A Journey into Football Innovation: KNVB Football Innovation Festival and Soccerex Conference

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Recently, I had the pleasure of representing the Football Association of Wales (FAW) through my role as the Digital Innovation Manager at M-SParc. We attended the KNVB Football Innovation Festival and the Soccerex conference in the Netherlands. I was accompanied by representatives from Pelly, Talent Pathway, 42able, and Rondo. This trip, almost wholly funded by the Welsh Government and M-SParc, was an incredible opportunity to explore the latest advancements in football innovation and foster new connections.

Our journey began on May 29th with the KNVB Football Innovation Festival, followed by the Soccerex conference on May 30th. We returned on May 31st, loaded with new knowledge and connections. Our delegation included representatives from five companies, each bringing their unique perspective and goals: 

  • Pelly: Focused on potential collaborations and competitor research. 
  • Talent Pathway: Aimed to learn about the latest advancements in football innovation and establish meaningful connections. 
  • Creadigol Design: Creative studio based specialising in motion design and branding, working with some of Wales’ and the UK’s largest agencies.
  • 42able: Specialized in artificial intelligence and shared valuable expertise with fellow delegates. 
  • Rondo: Sought to gain insights into industry-leading innovations and network with key players in football. 

One of the standout moments of the trip was connecting with the head of innovation at FIFA. This introduction provided a platform to showcase the capabilities of Pelly and Talent Pathway. Throughout the event, we encountered some remarkable technology, including audio cameras and eye tracking systems, which have significant potential for enhancing football analytics and training. 

The innovation centre in the Netherlands impressed us with its flexible and accessible approach to working with businesses of all sizes. They have a very open policy that encourages collaboration and innovation, making it easier for both small startups and large corporations to engage with their facilities and resources. Their full esports centre was another highlight, showcasing the growing importance of esports in the football industry. 

Purple Quotation Mark 66
The primary objective of our visit was to explore and understand the latest advancements in football innovation. We aimed to learn about cutting-edge technologies, systems, and strategies employed by leading innovation teams. The trip was highly successful, providing invaluable opportunities for networking and learning. The funding allowed us to engage in face-to-face conversations, proving far more effective than virtual meetings. These direct interactions are crucial for fostering collaborations that can drive our initiatives forward.
Dr. Gavin Lawrence

Talent Pathway

Purple Quotation Mark 99
Purple Quotation Mark 66
I went on the visit to learn more about innovation at the cutting edge in football, as well as hearing from leaders in the industry. I found many of the sessions at SoccerEx Europe useful, particularly those with leaders at clubs like Bayern Munich, Brentford, and Borussia Dortmund. It was also interesting to hear from former international footballers like Ronald de Boer and Daphne Koster. It was valuable to get to know other delegates on the trip to hear about projects being developed through M-SParc. The trip was a great opportunity to take a step back from the day-to-day activities at work to hear about the bigger picture of innovation in football and the wider football business.
Seiriol Dawes-Hughes

Rondo Media

Purple Quotation Mark 99

A key discussion was with Giel Kirkels, Captain of Innovation at KNVB, about linking FAW to the larger UEFA innovation network, initiated by KNVB. Giel promised to introduce our FAW innovation team to this network, which convenes biannually and includes various clubs and country innovation teams. This connection holds significant potential for future collaborations and knowledge exchange. Giel also plans to connect us with the KNVB esports manager to explore collaboration opportunities with Streams+, an esports streaming platform developed by Haia. 

We also forged a meaningful connection with the innovation lead for the Polish FA, opening doors for potential future collaborations given our similar innovation goals. This could pave the way for a two-way visit, enhancing our mutual understanding and collaborative efforts. 

Purple Quotation Mark 66
Our main aim for the trip was to make new connections and see how our services could assist both external businesses and internal (M-SParc) companies. The experience was thoroughly enjoyable and highly productive. I had the chance to spend two days with companies and founders I might not have met otherwise. We discussed potential projects and even revisited some previously shelved projects that we, at Creadigol Design, should consider bringing back to life. During the trip, I made valuable connections with Dr. Gavin Lawrence from Talent Pathway, representatives from Pelly, Epic (Michael Stanford), and James Finney. The time spent connecting with tenants, whom I might never have had the opportunity to engage with so deeply before, was particularly useful. It was an invaluable experience that fostered new relationships and opened up exciting possibilities for future collaborations.
Dan Evans

Creadigol Design

Purple Quotation Mark 99

The adoption of new technologies has been key to the success of KNVB, a lesson we can apply at FAW. Their approach to integrating innovative solutions into their operations has set a benchmark for us. Additionally, the importance of low-cost prototyping and early user testing cannot be overstated. Finding faults and iterating quickly is crucial to the development of effective solutions. This approach minimizes risks and accelerates the development process, ensuring that the final product meets the users’ needs effectively. 

We also discussed potential shared research on eye tracking for referees with Bangor University, FAW, and Amsterdam University. This collaboration could lead to significant advancements in officiating, improving decision-making accuracy and overall match quality. 

Purple Quotation Mark 66
We were looking for connections to potential collaborations. The trip exceeded our expectations. We connected with several potential collaborators and gathered valuable research on competitors. Notably, we met Lee Jamison, the founder of Scout7, and representatives from Bundeling, a commercial football network. Additionally, we shared valuable expertise with James Finney from 42able on artificial intelligence. These connections are invaluable for Pelly's growth.
Stephen Hickingbotham

Pelly

Purple Quotation Mark 99

The trip to the Netherlands was a resounding success. We made valuable connections, learned from industry leaders, and identified opportunities for collaboration and innovation. Moving forward, we are excited about the prospects of working with our new partners and applying the insights gained from this trip to enhance football innovation at FAW. 

This journey underscored the importance of staying at the forefront of technology and innovation in football. The lessons learned and connections made will undoubtedly pave the way for future success and growth. 

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Tom Burke

Digital Innovation Manager

tom@m-sparc.com

Tom used to work at the KFC in his hometown of Colwyn Bay before it mysteriously burned down. He then spent several years “on the lam” in East Germany, where he worked as an animator in Berlin. When the wall fell, Tom came home.

He enjoys climbing and hates ice-skating.