The Information Age interview




About the company

Manchester United is more than a football club. It is a global sports brand with a merchandising business, a financial services arm, a television channel, a series of multi-million pound partnerships and sponsorship deals, and more than 50 million fans worldwide. It is also a publicly listed company, with pre-tax profits in 2002 of £32.3 million on revenue of £146.1 million.

To support the club’s desire to grow and diversify, Manchester United has embarked on a worldwide customer relationship management (CRM) programme, with the aim of turning more of its fans into ‘customers’.

Before the project began in 2002, the club had information on only 900,000 of an estimated global fan base of 53 million. The quality of this data was mixed and was held on more than a dozen different databases. With the help of Dimension Data (DiData), the South African IT services company, and technical components from E.piphany and FirstLogic, the club is creating a data warehouse to store supporter information from numerous data feeds. It hopes to have records on almost 7 million fans within five years. The club will use the information to cross-sell and up-sell its growing portfolio of products.

Business and development director Ben Hatton was put in charge of managing Manchester United’s relationship with DiData. He tells Information Age how the project will work and what it aims to achieve.



Information Age (IA): Manchester United inspires the kind of loyalty in its ‘customers’ that most businesses would die for. So what prompted the thinking that it needed a CRM package?

Ben Hatton (BH): One of the main strands of our strategy as a business is to turn more of our 53 million fans around the world into transacting customers. That 53 million figure is pretty robust – it was the conclusion of a study done for us by



Name: Ben Hatton

Job title: Director of business and development

Company: Manchester United

Key challenge: To create a vast, accurate database of the club’s millions of fans globally in order to learn more about them, to communicate with them, and ultimately, to transact with many more of them.



[independent market research house] MORI in 17 countries around the world. That’s the size of the market and that’s the size of the task ahead of us.

Our strategy is a simple one. We want to get to know more about our fans in order to allow us to take our business and our football products closer to them in some way. Over the next five years, we want to grow our customer database from less than a million names to more than seven million names. Those million names comprise less than 5% of our fans who live outside of the UK. We want to move that proportion nearer to 50%. We’ve got products and we want to get more people buying them.

Clearly, our core product is the match ticket, given the capacity crowds at matches, we can’t hope to sell any more of those. Getting to know our customers and more about what they want will help us to construct products and services that turn them into transactional customers. That makes sense for our business.

So we went looking for a full, bespoke CRM solution and we began talking to Dimension Data in 2001 and appointed them to the contract in July 2002.

IA: What was the scope of your requirements?

BH: Dimension Data [DiData] had to build a system capable of handling and mining an extraordinary volume of data. It was essential that any CRM initiative would aggregate data from across our entire business ecosystem, representing 12 data feeds, including membership, ticketing, the web site and our museum, as well as our financial service partners. For instance, we needed to know that John Smith, the season ticket holder, is the same John Smith who buys a shirt every year from our online store and is the same John Smith who buys his corporate hospitality through his organisation twice a year. Integrating those databases to allow them to talk consistently to one data warehouse was a key part of the project.

It’s about cross selling and it’s about knowing who your customer is when they’re on the telephone. It’s about the guy who comes on to renew his season ticket, with a credit card that isn’t a Manchester United credit card, and we look to sell him the Manchester United credit card.

IA: What technologies lie behind that bespoke system?

BH: First, there is our ‘Data Quality Engine’ that uses data quality management software from FirstLogic and a data integration package from Data Junction software. The engine matches information from disparate sources to create a complete individual supporter profile. This develops a database to hold the data and integrates analytic and campaign management tools, based on E.piphany’s suite of marketing software. Additionally, Dimension Data defined, sourced and implemented the required infrastructure to ensure the solution can grow to meet the club’s future requirements.

IA: How is the project changing the way people work at Manchester United?

BH: The current phase of the project is about changing our business, aligning our processes, in order to really start to get to know and understand the customer.

How do we get to know the 300,000 people who visit our museum and tour centre each year, for instance? Before, we wouldn’t have even known the names and addresses of many of them. But we need to become more customer-focused, for our customers to tell us if they think the experience of coming to Manchester United is a better experience in three years time than it is today. The next 12 months is about that phase.

IA: That ‘feelgood factor’ is pretty difficult quantify, I imagine. So how are you measuring the success of this project?

BH: In the short term, making sure our customers feel special, allowing ourselves to get to know more about them and to get closer to them, and to create that Manchester United experience that people talk about and people aspire to. We will hope to see success from two of our core business areas – one is our fledgling financial services business and the second is our new membership programme, each of which will use this database to grow.

IA: Do you know the average revenue generated per customer?

BH: No, and it’s a really difficult question to answer. Some of our revenue you could not link back directly to our customers. For example, with the sponsorship revenue, while there is a very tangible link between the number of people that we know and the amount of money that our sponsors are prepared to pay for an association with us, you can’t pull that down to pounds per customer. Similarly, the TV and media revenues we generate cannot be pulled down to a pounds per customer calculation.

IA: Will that make it difficult for you to assess whether the project has produced a return on your investment?

BH: We’ve never really looked at it in those terms. In an ideal world, it would be fantastic to be able to say that pounds per customer has grown year-on-year. The reality is that we think over the next three years we will grow the number of customers more than we will grow the revenue per customer.

A better measure of success is the percentage of people we know who have some sort of transactional relationship with us. It’s not a big percentage today – it’s probably about 35%. We want it to go significantly higher than that.

IA: There have been a lot of disaster stories associated with CRM implementations. How is this one progressing?

BH: On time, on budget. For a CRM project, that’s pretty good going, I think. Dimension Data came in, helped us understand what we needed, and committed to deliver that, along an agreed timeline. And they have done so, which for us, at the early stage of our project, is terrific.

It is early days, but we have had some big successes already. We know more people. We had records on 900,000 customers when we put the proposal together, and today we know 1.6 million people. There has been another positive aspect to the implementation of CRM. The people within our business are talking in a customer-focused way, which has never really happened before.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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