How is football coming home? The innovative risks taken to elevate one of the oldest sports in England

England is in the midst of football fever. Never in my life-time has England come so far in a World Cup Tournament. Gone are the days of not making the Final 16, of the expectation of continuous draws or losses and the lack of euphoria as a Nation. 2018 has certainly been a year we will not forget, but why do we claim that “football is coming home”?

Until the 1800s, football had been played in a variety of forms, using an assortment of rules, but it claimed that University of Cambridge unified the rules of football in the 1820s. The game of two halves was played according to the first team’s rules in first half and then the second team’s rules in the second half. Not only has Cambridge a claim to the first unified rules, but also to the dreaded offside rule… which came out of St John’s College. Also in Cambridge, but out of another College, is where we started our legal tech company Aalbun, now based in the Barclays Eagle Labs. Like the academics at St John’s looked to re-invent the face of football, the team at Aalbun is re-inventing the IP and Legal industry, through Business Innovation.

The world’s oldest football clubs were founded in England from 1857 and, in the 1871–72 season, the FA Cup was founded as the world’s first organised competition. England is very much the definition of Football, but what does the Nation’s sport have to do with Intellectual Property? How has innovation been used to make football the biggest sport globally? You cannot patent games or rules, but by becoming the leading brand and building a strong trade mark with millions of users you can secure a powerful market position. Could England’s history of inventing sports and academic publications be a reason for us only ranking 16th in the patent filings per population?

England has been the hub of football since time began. However, it was not until The Premier League was founded in 1992, and its members negotiated a lucrative deal for live television coverage with Sky Sports, which really made things take off. Combining new revenue models with the English history of football coincided with global viewers and appeal via The Internet. Who knew that when the Premier League, and the business model introduced by the pay per view, would lead to millions and later billions of people watching the football FIFA World CupTM in Russia 2018? Broadcasting, via television, live streaming and internet, has provided the global consumption of entertainment and sport. This indicates that some industries can be successful without the need to file patents, but you have to build a strong customer loyalty and brand.

The success of the Premier League has meant that it has been easier to attract talent, invest in better facilities and build up a global brand. For us at Aalbun we are seeing the same in our area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, where Cambridge is now being seen as a global hotspot. Companies such as Micrsoft, Amazon (Alexa), Apple, Spotify and Samsung, who have all had innovative and successful business models, are now investing in setting up in Cambridge and attracting talented development teams. Will this mean that Cambridge again can give a contribution globally in a different area then football but possibly could impact millions if not billions globally? At Aalbun we hope to make it easier and more cost effective to file patents and trade marks, and talent plus technology will play a big part in our success.

Football has provided a focal point through which the many themes of intellectual property have molded the game, in particular innovation. Many people may not think of football as a creative industry, but the way football has developed throughout the centuries, it has been an endless wave of innovation.

FIFA was founded in the early 1900s, and since then has grown into the largest football association, bringing a whole world together.

Over the past 25 years football has enhanced its status as the world’s leading game, reaching into other branches of society, commerce and politics. Football, more than any other factor, has enveloped whole regions, people and nations. (FIFA)

FIFA has played an enormous part in the development of football innovation.  With the implementation of goal-line technology in 2012, with its debut at the 2014 World Cup, the first obvious technological innovation arrived in football (and let’s not forget that goal-line Hawk-eye technology was invented in England and first used for another sport close to every Englishman’s heart – cricket). Innovative ideas are the driving force of the football industry for improving many traits of the game, such as safety and performance aspects for the players and referees. The 2018 FIFA World Cup™ is the first tournament within football to offer video technology as an additional supportive tool for referees (VAR).

So, with England being the heart of football and a driving force of innovation, will they win? Well, in the quarter finals of The World Cup, the top three represented club teams (Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United) were English, and if England are luckily enough to reach the final, not only will be it a historic moment in British history, but, out of 22 players on the pitch, most likely 15 of those represent English clubs. This shows that the success of attracting talent leads to performance success.

Gareth Southgate has been the driving force to change the system. Anyone else in his shoes would have been loyal (like Georgia from Love Island), to the system that had seen England top their qualifying group, but Southgate revolutionized his team, and saw a way to play better. He swapped the known names for younger players, alongside a tactical change in play. The Nation’s man of the hour has revived English football before our very eyes, and at Aalbun, we are taking an industry which has a structural system, and re-inventing how we IP system works. Aalbun is a disruptor in what has been a very traditional, and slow-moving industry, and has taken a business model that has been adopted by Patent Attorneys who are not afraid to embrace change. Similarly, the England football team has finally woken up to reinventing its structure, its facilities and putting faith in its young players. This team is a team I have never seen in England before (and difficult to admit as a hardcore Italian supporter), but the risks we have taken have clearly benefitted. Now, will England win over Croatia today? Well, we will if the theory of our co-founder, Christian Bunke, is right, that to win the World Cup in the modern era the country needs a strong pool of talent with a population of >35M to go all the way.

So, let’s all don our Southgate waistcoat, and watch this young, new and exciting team making history.


By Julia, 2018©

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