"We're sharing everything we do in-house and sharing outside with other clubs and people who are interested because we believe that will make it possible for us to be the Silicon Valley of sports."
That's how Marta Plana i Dropez, the head of FC Barcelona's Innovation Hub, describes the club's ambitious embracing of the tech world.
The Barcelona Innovation Hub, an incubator for start-ups, started two years ago under the presidency of Josep Maria Bartomeu. "He decided we needed to foster technology, innovation and research to allow sports to increase its performance, but also the club itself and society in general."
It's grown dramatically. "We have 70 start-ups " seven zero. Two years ago we had none.
"We have a line of start-ups focused on health, nutrition and sports."
That means products like Wimu, wearable tech that can track athletes' data indoors and outdoors. It is being used to predict injuries before they happen so it is no longer just the "gut feeling of the coach".
The club's coaches have embraced what the hub has to offer and Plana believes that what is being tested on the players will filter out and that it offers an "opportunity to become a better city and a better society".
One example of that is where the club is now using one of its partners to track the sleep of the athletes. "If you sleep better you're going to have better emotions and you're going to have a better performance," Plana said.
"It's not only about winning titles, which it is too, but it's about health. We're saying the more technology we endorse, the more research we do, the better we will perform as a club and the better our athletes will be."
"We're going to change some of the things we've been doing until now because we believe technology is going to make us better as a club."
It is more than helping Lionel Messi, she said. "We have over 2,000 athletes in nine different disciplines and nine amateur teams. We're trying to make technology part of the club."
That also means connecting with supporters.
"We're a local team but we are global. We have fans everywhere," said Plana. "We have 300 million followers, almost 40 per cent are based in Asia."
Technology, she said, is one of the key ways to engage with them, pointing out that the Camp Nou is a 5G stadium, so overseas fans can virtually visit it and the museum " and add to the five million who visit in person every year.
"We opened an office in Hong Kong and we have another in New York. We know we're a local club, but we're acting globally." Plana was in Hong Kong for the recent Rise conference, where she explained the hub to the start-up community.
More remarkable than the club embracing technology is that they are sharing their findings. "The more you share, the more critical, the more transparent you are, the better you need to be," Plana said.
Are they not tempted to keep it all to themselves, like AC Milan did with their innovative Milan Lab in the 1990s? "What's the point?", Plana said."I think it's very brave, it's very challenging and it's very 21st century.
"I lived for many years in Silicon Valley and what I say is the more that you share, the better you become. For me, sharing is a must. It's the only way you'll have to be able to improve what you do and to have start-ups that are looking at you."
Despite leaving for Silicon Valley, where she graduated as a lawyer and then worked in the tech sector, Plana has since become a member of the Barcelona board, following in the footsteps of her mother, Carme Dropez, a Catalan politician who was the first woman on the board in the 1990s.
Football is not too different to the world of start-ups, Plana has found.
"It's very competitive. I think football clubs are very competitive as well, it's about winning titles." The equivalent in the start-up world is becoming a "unicorn", a privately held start-up valued at more than US$1 billion.
"You don't know if it's going to be unicorn but I believe that we have all the ingredients to be a very good lab for all those start-ups to embrace and do something that's going to translate into our club and into being better as a society. I think that our values match very well with technology and innovation. I think the club is always embracing change.
As for success of the hub itself, Plana is clear.
"Success is to be able to improve and challenge our everyday performance. Success and improvement is to be able to get revenue out of it and to be able to have services and products that translate into something else." She talks of "translating this into the next 10 years ahead".
The hub is already monetising from the various courses it offers and she is confident that there will be more to come from the start-ups in the future.
"We're the first club to do it so it's hard. People say 'you're a football club, why would you go into technology?' Well, technology is everywhere and you need to be there."
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