Premiership Rugby club Harlequins used the recent launch of its flash tech jersey as a platform to emphasise a long-standing commitment to innovation. Sport Industry Group spoke to Harlequins commercial director Alex Goldschmidt to find out how the club approaches innovation - and what’s next at the Stoop.
How did the idea for the flash jersey come about? Can you walk us through the ideation and development process on a project like that?
We work in collaboration with adidas on our kit. The flash jersey is the brand’s technology and we were obviously thrilled when they chose to work with us on using that technology for the first time with a club. The charity jersey lends itself to being a bit playful. Adidas took creative inspiration from our club motto, “Nunquam Dormio”, which translates to “never sleep.” They used that idea to develop their thinking around London, out of a London club and the city that never sleeps. London is a key market and city for adidas and out of that came the idea of representing London at night, using that flash technology to create the neon light effect.
‘Innovation’ is something that you’ve consistently emphasised as a core club value – and often used as a communications and marketing platform. How do you define ‘innovation’ at Harlequins?
You are right, it is one of our core values and it does run really heavily through the essence of the club. Our heritage from the playing side is a club that has always been innovative with its style of play; slightly unpredictable and attacking from all corners of the pitch. That is where our characteristic of innovation was really born, and we do try and spread that not just on the field but also off it. Essentially, we want to try to constantly move forward, make improvements and look at things differently.
The best example would probably be our “Big Game”. We are going into our 11th edition of The Big Game this year and we were the first club to really blow out, and take a game across the road to the national stadium. We led the charge in recognising that there is an opportunity to not only celebrate a Christmas fixture but take a club game to a larger audience and obviously make Harlequins as accessible as possible over the Christmas period.
How does your innovation agenda impact your sponsorship programme?
The way that I look at it is us being a club that is constantly trying new things and trying to take a leadership position. I think that this enables us to speak in a slightly different way to others. This resonates well with brands that we have entered into partnership with. It obviously helps when we are breaking new ground to capture the attention of potential new partners.
How does innovation translate into your fan and community engagement activities?
We are probably not unique in this, but this season, for example, we are now a cashless stadium, so that is certainly a step forward for us in terms of the game-day experience.
From a community perspective, it’s about constantly trying to reach new audiences. Our Switch programme is probably the best example, which is about getting young girls into rugby. We have about a thousand new young girls pass through our Switch programme every season. We actually run a Switch festival.
We saw another example this week when Project Rugby did disability rugby at The Stoop. So I think that is probably a great example of how we are continuing to take new platforms to our community and reach audiences that we have not necessarily reached in the past.
What new technology or disruptive idea has had the biggest impact on the club so far?
In terms of a disruptive idea, The Big Game is certainly one that was disruptive at the time and continues to be so. In terms of technology, it is not necessarily a new thing but obviously all the clubs in the Premiership have started to use Hawk-Eye technology to help with the concussion challenges that rugby is having. I think that demonstrates that rugby is not shying away from the use of technologies to improve the sport and to improve the health and wellbeing and protection of the players. That’s probably the best example of that.
Well, the next big opportunity, the next big project that Harlequins has on its horizon is the redevelopment of The Stoop. We are an ambitious club and we do have aspirations to grow our ground and make it fit for purpose for the future. It’s very exciting. We are going through the consultation period and there is still a lot of work to do but it’s testament to the fact that we are not resting on our laurels and not just looking at the here and now, but looking towards the future and where we want Harlequins to be in five, 10, 15, 20 years time.
Outside of rugby, who do you see as leading the charge in other sports, in terms of harnessing the power of innovation and disruptive tech?
The best example that I have seen recently is the Intel TrueView technology. I think that is just phenomenal in the NFL. La Liga are also using it and it’s only a matter of time before that technology is rolled out across many other sports.
I think it will have a huge impact, significantly changing the in-home experience for those watching on TV. I think the ability to essentially see a play roll-out in front of you on the TV, and to see it from the perspective of the players themselves, is an amazing opportunity – for the sports that are currently using the tech and the ones that will in the future.
Is there a risk that this kind of tech might ultimately take fans away from the stadiums?
I think that is an ongoing balance that every sport has to address. I think the reality is you can never get away from the passion and the emotion of the live event.
I attend every game at The Stoop, and I can tell you that you can’t recreate the atmosphere here at home watching on TV!
But not everyone has that opportunity so I am all for constantly improving the TV experience as that is where you are going to reach an audience that can’t necessarily get to you on a game day. I think it is a good challenge for every club and event organiser to be constantly improving that fan experience, and we are very mindful of that.