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*By Claudio Ferreira, contributing writer

Known for its “cardinals”, leaders who have dominated inside politics for decades and take turns in power, São Paulo Futebol Clube (SPFC), a traditional and well decorated football team Brazil, wants to change its image and embrace innovation. To achieve that goal, it announced the creation of Inova.São, an Open Innovation Center located inside its home stadium, Morumbi. With the initiative, the football (please don’t call it soccer) club expects to generate around 6 million Brazilian reais ($1,2 million) in investments and create projects to transform its own businesses.

Just so you understand the paradox: the last indirect election of SPFC’s president Julio Casares was attended by only 260 people, of which 100 members were elected by the partners and 160 were members for life. But it seems the club’s leaders may no longer be antagonists to innovation. By the way, the name of the center is a not-so-clever pun combining the Brazilian Portuguese words “innovation” and São.

“The innovation area has an 85-year-old “kid” at the helm, but (pardon the expression) ‘horny’ like young people. Several clubs are talking about initiatives, but many of them are still just in the intention, while we have an action plan”, said Eduardo Alfano, innovation director at the club.

Alfano was quick to say that the SPFC – which is not doing very well financially – will not reach out for its own pockets at first. Initially, the club will make the physical space in the Morumbi stadium available for the installation of the hub and providing information, data and inputs collected in its ecosystem for the creation of projects, products and solutions for the club and the sports sector. The plan is to attract companies and startups within the so-called sportstech market.

SPFC presented three initial partners: Sportheca, which creates and co-creates solutions to attract startups in a early stage of operation; Deboo, focused on selecting, attracting and accelerating companies with some track record on the market, but still have the potential to grow; and PH3A, specialized in Big Data. The latter is developing the project of the first digital census for the club and will engage SPFC‘s fans and supporters.

“The design of the project and the definition of partners to make Inova.São viable, as well as its first deliveries, have been worked on by the São Paulo innovation board since it was created by president Julio Casares in July 2021” , said Wladimir Castro, executive of the club’s innovation department, who holds a master’s degree in Creation and Management of Innovative Companies from the University of Valencia.

The executive argued that most of the innovations adopted by football clubs in Brazil involve the adoption, with eventual optimizations, of existing products that are also worked on on a large scale by other players. In the case of Inova.São, the focus is the opposite. Instead of replicating, the project intends to develop solutions for SPFC, which can also be commercialized in the market, thus generating new sources of income for the club.

Inova.São launch event at Morumbi Stadium

Setting up the game

In its conception, Inova.São has its own framework, developed from design thinking and lean startups tools, and a set of best practices in innovation. “This is not a one-shot initiative or project, it is the articulation on three ends – coworking space, ecosystem and methodology – which allows for the establishment of an lasting innovation environment and culture. We envision the agile implementation of new solutions that will improve the club’s sports performance, increase fan engagement and also generate revenue”, said Eduardo Paraske, co-founder of Deboo.

Deboo and Sportheca are 2 important verticals in the conception and growth projection of Inova.São. “We are very proud to participate in the creation of the innovation center. This initiative, which will be a reference in the country, foresees opportunities, developing solutions for the club and scaling new businesses in sports tech area ”, said Eduardo Tega, CEO of Sportheca.

As a preview of the project, a workshop brought together supporters, partners, fans, former and current athletes, as well as potential investors, to think and co-create ideas. One special detail: the event was held on the stadium’s field.

Speaking of physical spaces, the hub will have a 3,300 square feet coworking space with a view to the Morumbi field, within the Concept Hall area, located in the lower ring of the stadium. The objective is to attract professionals from universities, companies, mentors, specialists, partners, fans, investors and startups – and it is not mandatory to support the team. “The intelligence of our market is not just a privilege of São Paulo”, Alfano said.

The School of Physical Education at USP (University of São Paulo) is the first educational institution to be part of the ecosystem, which joins the social culture organization IDBrasil, responsible for managing the Football Museum. Both organizations operate in areas in which São Paulo Futebol Clube intends to develop projects in future.

Inova.São launch event at Morumbi Stadium

Reinforcements on the field

Recently, under a partnership with Sportheca, São Paulo was the first club to join the OneFan app, which aims to engage fans and deliver exclusive content, interaction and the possibility of rewards, using data intelligence based on users’ behavior. Other projects are already underway: the Tricolor Census and the Land of Champions.

In an unprecedented initiative, in partnership with PH3A, SPFC will carry out the first Census of Brazilian Football. The project has a global reach and seeks to collect information to get to know at least 10 million fans of the sport in depth.

Started last November, the project has already gathered informartion from 1 million fans. “We are going to unify the club’s data in a single place based on three dimensions: the size of the crowd (estimated at 18 million people in Brazil), the socioeconomic profile of SPFC supporters and their engagement. We want to bring people from social networks and other forms of interaction, such as stadium fans, among others”, said Paulo César Costa, founder and CEO of the company.

The other project, dubbed Land of Champions, focuses on the environment and is run by Deboo. An area of SPFC’s training center in Cotia (a city 50 miles away from São Paulo) will be used to plant trees in honor of the club’s idols. The first honoree is forward Amoroso, who participated in their victory in Copa Libertadores in 20225, and the World Cup.

(translation by Leandro Miguel Souza, editing by Angelica Mari)

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