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Interview

Liverpool seeks to employ gaming tech to lure new Asian fans

'Football fans nowadays want more than just TV broadcasts,' club's CEO says

Liverpool's Divock Origi, center, celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game during the Champions League Semi Final, second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield, Liverpool, England on Tuesday.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Divock Origi's late winner for Liverpool in the Champions League semifinal against Barcelona on Tuesday sent the home crowd into raptures, and the storied English team into its eighth final of Europe's premier club competition.

The 126-year-old club's chief executive wants to harness this heritage and on-field success with new developments in gaming technology to further boost its growing base of young fans in Asia.

"Asia is the most important growth market for us," Peter Moore told Nikkei Asia Review in a recent interview in Hong Kong.

"Our fans in Asia are generally much younger, whereas in the U.K. we have generations of 'Reds'," the Liverpool-born CEO said, pointing to the average age of 25 for Liverpool fans in China. "We have to engage these young people in a way that entices them."

One way to boost growth, he said, was the use of 360-degree match viewing and virtual-reality experiences.

"Football fans nowadays want more than just TV broadcasts," Moore said. "They want to have control and want to know exactly what happens in the game."

The club last year launched a technology that allows visitors on tours of Liverpool's Anfield stadium to virtually experience scoring goals at the ground. This was adapted from a training tool to measure and develop player performance, cognitive responses and decision-making capabilities.

Liverpool FC CEO Peter Moore (photo by Takeshi Kihara)

"Technology can bridge the geographical gap between Liverpool FC and our fans in other parts of the world," said Moore, who worked for video game developers such as Xbox, Sega and EA Sports before joining the club in 2017.

In partnership with Intel, Liverpool launched a project earlier this year known as "True View" to offer a 360-degree view of its home stadium that allows viewers to replay scenes from matches from any angle, including from individual players' perspectives. The technology would also include graphic overlays for post-match analysis, just as in the FIFA soccer video game series.

Liverpool announced a club record pretax profit of £125 million ($163 million) in the fiscal year ended May 31, 2018, with significant increases in the three main revenue streams of media, commercial and match-day earnings. This has helped push the club up two places to seventh in the Deloitte Football Money League, but it still trails peers such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.

Sponsors such as Shanghai-based SAIC Motor Corporation "love the legacy and British-ness of Liverpool that can complement the heritage of their products," Moore said. "Brands can use the power of football clubs and make their products relevant to the customers."

To further grow its fan base, whose loyalty to the club can help generate revenue over people's lifetimes, Liverpool is working with IBM on a digital outreach program to gain a deeper understanding of its supporters. The club therefore needs to increase its social media followers -- it currently has more than 60 million followers across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter -- to generate more relevant content.

"We have 771 million fans around the world, and my job is to figure out who they are and add values to their fandom," Moore said. Yet, winning matches is still fundamental to achieving sustainable growth of the top line for the club. "Success breeds success. The more we win, the bigger deals we can command."

Liverpool next test will be on Sunday, when they play their final match of the English Premier League season against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Victory, combined with an unlikely draw or defeat for rivals Manchester City, would bring England's biggest domestic prize to Anfield for the first time since 1990.

The club will play England's Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the Champions League in Madrid on June 1.

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