Supponor, the sports media and technology company, is increasingly confident that its products will be deployed in German soccer’s Bundesliga during the 2017-18 season, while talks will be held with rights-holders in England’s Premier League about running further trials.

Supponor chief executive James Gambrell has recently returned from a European roadshow along with the firm’s partner ADI Group, the LED screen and signage experts, to showcase its joint virtual advertising tools to leagues and clubs in Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain.

Supponor’s own DBRLive technology, which enables dedicated billboard advertising to be shown to television audiences in different countries, generating extra revenues for the home club, has been used in Spain’s LaLiga and Italy’s Serie A for the past five seasons.

Take-up of the technology has been held up in Germany and England as it could only be superimposed on static advertising boards and not on LED boards, which are used widely in the Bundesliga and Premier League.

However, the launch at the beginning of the 2016-17 season of Virtual Hybrid digiBoard in partnership with ADI means clubs can continue to use LED advertising to push their sponsors’ messages in-stadia during games, but also sell targeted advertising in markets around the world.

Supponor previously worked with the Lagardère Sports agency, which works with a number of Bundesliga clubs on sponsorship and pitchside advertising sales, on a DBRLive trial at the 2015 Telekom Cup, a pre-season exhibition soccer tournament in Germany.

Gambrell believes the roadshow, which began in Hamburg in late March and included a live trial at a Bundesliga clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg, which was attended by a number of potential clients, was “the last stepping stone” to full deployment in the league.

He told Sportcal: “The roadshow was immensely successful… It’s much easier to understand the technology when you experience it first-hand, and the feedback we got from Bundesliga clubs, from the DFL [the German league] and Lagardère was great.

“We hope that is the last stepping stone for us to deploy in the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga operate the most structured process, but we hope to have some announcements about deployment in Germany soon.

“They want repeatability, not just a one-off test. They want proof that it works again and again, and we will demonstrate that.”

Supponor’s relationship with ADI has been further strengthened, with the appointment of ADI founder Geraint Williams to the Supponor board. He was an investor in a €3.2-million ($3.6-million) Supponor funding round in January led by existing investors, including Sports Investment Partners, Conor Venture Partners and Gambrell, and has now been welcomed onto the board, Sportcal can reveal.

ADI has led the UK stadium LED market over the past 25 years, and its digiBoard systems account for more than half of the 20 LED perimeter systems in the Premier League.

Gambrell told Sportcal that Williams’ addition to the board will “increase the industry expertise” and potentially open doors to business in the Premier League.

Matthew Wheeler, Supponor’s chairman, added: “He is an established investor and commercial leader in the sports technology marketplace. He will be a valuable addition to delivering on Supponor’s continuing strategy to drive augmented reality into the heart of digital sports marketing working with key industry partners.”

Supponor and ADI tested its product on a non-commercial basis at Watford, of the Premier League, during the 2016-17 campaign, and a ramp up in promotion is expected next season.

However, any plans to commercialise the technology in the Premier League will likely have to wait until the new rights cycle kicks in, from 2019-20.

Gambrell said: “Conversations are at advanced stage with Premier League clubs. The Premier League is the highest grossing football league out there and has an incredibly successful commercial programme, so they are very focused on being pragmatic. We don’t want to try to commercialise it too quickly. We need to follow the rights cycle.

“We need some more integration from the broadcast side, so we’ll look to work more closely with one of the broadcasters in integrating it during 2017-18 and after another season of hard work, we could look to commercialise it soon after.”

Williams’ addition to the board and the on-going relationship with ADI will not impact Supponor’s ability work with rival LED companies, Gambrell insisted, saying: “We are still talking with other tech providers. In fact, we have discussions with three other companies that are in various stages…we believe in partnering with suppliers that have successful relationships with clubs and leagues rather than getting those leagues to change their suppliers.

“We are ultimately trying to bring down the cost of this technology deployment to make it more broadly adopted.”

Williams said: “Monitoring the market thoroughly and working closely with Supponor, it is clear that Supponor’s technology and extensive experience make it the only deployable solution for virtual replacement because broadcast quality and reliability is of paramount importance.

“For me, this investment represents an opportunity to participate in Supponor’s market leadership and growth – whether it is in partnership with ADI or with other partners in signage, rights management or broadcast services.”

By Jonathan Rest
Sportcal