In 2008, on an initiative of its member clubs, the Swedish Professional Football Leagues initiated an analytical commission when the clubs highlighted their concern that Sweden would fall behind the other competitors and leagues in Europe. The project resulted in a report called “The Future Inquiry”, with a forward-looking view to 2020. The report was reworked and divided into a five-year plan called NBL17, with the aim that the Swedish league Allsvenskan would have developed into the best league in the Nordic countries by 2017, by leading in five core areas. Today, the project “the Best Nordic League” is only characterised by the concept of NBL in order for us to always strive to be a leader in the Nordic region.
Through the clubs’ initiative back in 2008, the Swedish Professional Football Leagues with its chair Bosse Johansson at the helm, appointed an inquiry to find out in what areas Swedish football could do better. This led to the consulting company JKL delivering an investigation called “The Future Inquiry” in 2010. The final report was later adapted to the reality of football when Lars-Christer Olsson became independently responsible for this project.
The inquiry pointed out a number of areas for improvement, based on the fact that Swedish football needed to have a more comprehensive “outside and inside perspective” than previously. Swedish football needed to rethink its core foundations, but not by standing in the centre looking out – but by standing outside and looking at football with an outside perspective. One of the main take-aways of the final conclusions was that it was necessary to strengthen the Swedish Professional Football Leagues both in terms of mandate and core tasks, but also in various decision forums to influence important decisions.
At the beginning of 2012, the project was handed over to the newly appointed Secretary General Mats Enquist and the new chair Lars-Christer Olsson, who were taking over what Bosse Johansson had started. It was from Bosse Johansson’s work the initiative was born to make the Swedish league “The Best Nordic League”. The aim was to achieve this was by the year 2020, but internally they the aim set for 2017, which led to the working name NBL17 for the project. Today we use NBL as a northern star to remind ourselves that we should always keep that goal, since it is a continuous work without a specific year as an end to this ambition.
Strengthening the Swedish Professional Football Leagues
One of the core conclusions for achieving the goals set in the NBL project was to strengthen the Swedish Professional Football Leagues as an organisation and make its operations clearer in relation to both the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) and its own member clubs. Among other things, a new structure was created by the Swedish Professional Football Leagues and the 32 clubs by setting a new foundation for its meetings. The original Members’ Meeting was expanded to five decisive Members’ Meetings, as well as annual meetings, marketing meetings, club director meetings and sports director meetings. In fact, the conclusions that the inquiry resulted in back in 2010 remains the basis for everything the Swedish Professional Football Leagues is doing today – accompanied by ongoing conclusions that are decided at the Members’ Meetings.
The Swedish Professional Football Leagues also agreed with SvFF to divide the rules of procedure in relation to the top leagues since they used to have a mandate from the districts and all clubs to be able to recognise the work with the development of the leagues.
In 2013, an important work began to secure the most important partner agreements for the league, the long-term agreements with C More / TV4 and Svenska Spel. These agreements were absolutely crucial in order to carry out the NBL project, by having key partners supporting the Swedish Professional Football Leagues on our journey.
The following strategic aims were at the basis of the negotiations of the new partner agreements for the period leading up to 2019, with the objective to reach a completely different partnership model than the previous:
What: Create NBL – The Best Nordic League
Why: A national investment to increase spectator attractiveness and sporting competitiveness of the clubs in Allsvenskan and Superettan – an anticipated and much-needed investment in the top leagues of our national sport.
How: Through a unique long-term partnership, the aim is to build profitability and increase revenue jointly for the leagues, for the broadcaster the TV4 Group and for Svenska Spel. The aim is to jointly collaborate in a project, to invest in elaborated joint contributions taking into consideration the different parties’ abilities and interests to:
- Create a buzz around the league, the clubs and the key profiles
- Develop the stadium experience for the spectators
- Identify key revenue streams, find new sources of revenue for the parties both individually and jointly in order to maximise the parties’ interest in the cooperation
- Strengthen the sporting development of the league
- Invest in new media to build a solid customer base
- Build the brand image and develop services
- Create additional revenue
- Develop the TV experience around the league, the clubs and its profiles
- Create the next generation of betting experience around football
“Through unique partnerships, invest to rejuvenate the national pride for the Swedish leagues and create the strongest spectator experience in the stadiums, on TV and via new media in order to increase mutual profitability and strengthen the parties’ brands and position”
NBL’s five core areas:
Five core areas were identified, and all of these are of great importance in the development of the NBL project with the ultimate aim for the Swedish league to be the best in the Nordics in every single one of them. To only reach the top in a single area is not enough to achieve the overarching aim to be the Best Nordic League.
1. The stadium experience / match event:
We want to attract new spectators, but also to create new sources of income for our clubs in connection with the match event. We want everyone to feel welcome in the stands no matter what type of supporter they are. It will benefit everyone if we can get together in the stands, from hardcore fans to families with children, groups of close friends and sponsors alike. And – above all, it will benefit our clubs. We want to ensure security, well-being and a high level of service. There should be Wi-Fi available in the stadiums, mobile apps to simplify food orders or to easily access match statistics or to follow interviews with coaches and players.
The range of services must also be made available before the match – to be able to purchase tickets, organise travel and accommodation or to support in other ways in connection with games in the easiest possible way. Our match events must be Welcoming, Safe, Secure and Atmospheric.
2. Sporting development:
Talent development, certification, coaching education, format development and similar important pillars are some of the elements with the highest priority. The sport IS our core basis and to nurture our talent development and developing the sport will always be the core of our business.
3. Economic growth / Revenue streams:
We focus on identifying what different streams of revenue that are existing in football, and to secure the ones we are currently concentrating our efforts on. We have to shift our focus from primarily selling football on match days, to include solutions for all 365 days of the year.
What is the image of Allsvenskan and Superettan today? And more importantly – what will it be tomorrow? A good image is something you build and eventually earn, not something you simply can get. Otherwise, we run the risk getting an image we do not want. The issue of the image affects not only the league, but also the participating clubs and ultimately things like the experience in the stadium during the match. We have millions of football fans in our country. How do we convince them to go to our matches and support “their” club instead of watching it from home or at the pub? Additionally, what would it take to convince the ones NOT attending the matches today to be interested to go tomorrow? Some of these issues are related to factual issues, but it is also about image. It should be a fantastic experience to attend football matches, and obviously each and every one should feel welcome.
Our supporters are fantastic and the best at creating a vibrant atmosphere, but there are also behaviours and disturbances that sometimes overshadow the positive aspects. Supporting and promoting the positive aspects of Swedish supporter culture while finding ways to limit and resolve the negative incidents is our challenge.
5. New media and digital investments:
The world is evolving at an immense pace when it comes to new media and innovative technology. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said about football in this area, since we still have a lot to do. Therefore, this area has been highlighted as a priority in our future investments. Technology and new media constitute a foundation for most of the other areas within the NBL project.
The importance of the audience
A big part of the opportunity we have identified for further success is about attracting a larger number of spectators to our matches, both by retaining the current audience but also expanding by finding new target groups. The two leagues Allsvenskan and Superettan are Swedish top competitions that are highly relevant for the Swedish audience in the first place. The main ambition for us is to give the supporters a “genuine football experience” by attending the games in the stadiums.
We want to be perceived as the best in Sweden instead of “bad in Europe”. Here, the quality of our events, stadiums, clubs, matches and spectators are important components creating the overall image of the Swedish Professional Football Leagues.
In general, our main audience can be categorised into the following four different segmentations:
- The Patriot: Loves the “own” club and wants to have the sense of belonging together with like-minded people. Primarily follows the club playing in the league and the cups. On average, the patriot attends nine matches per year in the stadium and this category covers 33% of the total spectator segment.
- The Stadium Expert: Lives for football, and the “own” club. Attends and average of nine matches per year in the stadium. Covers 21% of the total spectator segment.
- The Match Consumer: Likes football but has no specific “home club” in Sweden. Follows clubs and leagues abroad rather than the Swedish league. Will typically attend four to five matches per year in a stadium. Covers 20% of the total spectator segment.
- The Experiencer: Primarily interested in the event as such for the great experience but can just as easily go to a concert, the theatre, a restaurant, or other events instead of the football match. Heavily influenced by friends and attends usually four to five matches a year. Covers 26% of the total spectator segment.
It has proven to be quite a challenge to attract different target groups than the ones mentioned above to attend football matches, which is why the focus has predominantly been to attract even more of the identified ones. First and foremost, it is important for us to maintain and strengthen our core audience, the so-called Stadium Experts and the Patriots. But to ensure growth, it is the segment Match Consumers that we have chosen to focus on. The Match Consumer segment gives us great opportunities for growth, if we can help them develop into a Stadium Expert or a Patriot, and in addition to that even bring with them an Experiencer (which could be a friend, a partner, or their children). The potential is significant.
Primarily a vision
The NBL project is primarily a vision to go from “property manager to property developer”, and to take control of our own core business. The NBL is not a makeover project and not meant to simply sharpen some contours or renegotiate a few agreements. It is fundamentally a complete reconstruction project both regarding the very foundations of Swedish football’s operations, combined with innovative ideas and new solutions. The direction of travel has always been focused steadily forward – with the objective clearly defined.
The NBL project can also provide inspiration on how we at the Swedish Professional Football Leagues and our clubs should think, and guide us on how to interact with sponsors, partners and the world outside the football bubble. A good guiding principle is that “an organisation must be adapted according to the goals of the business”. If the goals are long-term development in new areas, then there is a great need for virtues such as patience, competence and a proper allocation of resources.
The journey and the direction forward stated in the NBL project is therefore more important for us than clearly defined end goals. Consequently, the very spirit of where we want to be is the most important thing about the NBL project. Therefore, each and every part of the main project should make sense in the wider scope, with a clear reasoning why this component is important for the direction forward.
In 2021, the work with the NBL project has developed even further. New sponsors and partners such as Unibet, OBOS and Discovery have entered into cooperation, as well as the hotel brand Nordic Choice. Furthermore, the leagues and clubs are becoming even more professional every year.
The most recent working name for the project is NBL25 and is based on the following pillars:
- Revenues: The Swedish Professional Football Leagues should aim to reach revenues of one billion Swedish krona (SEK) before 2025
- New media: A data-driven business will need to support the reorganisation of the businesses, by integrating more data-driven solutions. With a focus on conversion, the Swedish Professional Football Leagues has built a customer base to enable new business models and identifying new licensing opportunities and further media content rights sales.
- Image: At the Swedish Professional Football Leagues, match-fixing should not be accepted. Our sustainability work shall lay the foundation for a sound business model and attract new partners, both commercial partners as well as public interests. We are perceived as being popular, and known for being an important part in the everyday lives of people.
- Stadium / event: the Swedish Professional Football Leagues will bounce back and exceed the former, pre-pandemic spectator numbers. We will have more returning spectators and even more supporters of all kinds in our stadiums, wanting to take part in our match events. Our events will be safe, secure, atmospheric, and welcoming.
- Sports: The Swedish Professional Football Leagues should have clubs participating in each of the UEFA club competitions; the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Europa Conference League. We will aim to increase the revenue generated from player transfers to 500 million SEK. We will have top-class youth academies with clear strategies for player development.
- Organisation: The Swedish Professional Football Leagues should aim to have a long-term sustainable organisation, adapted to the conditions of each individual actor. Through jointly agreed initiatives, we will facilitate the transition and implement new business models for a continued development.
In 2015, the top league Allsvenskan was already ranked by UEFA as by far the best in the Nordic countries. In 2017, the Danish Superliga managed to overtake this position, and in 2021 the Norwegian Eliteserien also passed Sweden on the European country ranking. But with good efforts and a continuity in the participation in European club competitions, the Swedish league can surpass its Nordic counterparts once more. Regardless of the European country ranking, in many other regards, the status and the image of Allsvenskan have been raised significantly. From the 2015 season onwards, Allsvenskan is predominantly mentioned in positive terms in the media, Swedish clubs have qualified for European club competitions on a regular basis and several spectator records have been broken. According to the police authorities, violent incidents inside of the stadiums are steadily decreasing and, with the exception of the COVID-19 interruptions, the increase in spectator numbers have perhaps never been greater. We are constantly working to improve issues related to security, police costs, and supporter misbehaviours. In 2016, we also started the work with spectator and event development as a next step in the NBL project, and in 2019 an action plan was launched to establish the best supporter collaboration in Europe.
Regarding sports, we have widened our scope and sharpened our focus on player development through our work with the youth academies, and by developing the certification model. The Swedish talent development system constantly receives a lot of positive attention. The gold medal won by the Swedish team in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in 2015, and the regular participation in championships at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level is an excellent proof that the system is working. The clubs are the ones carrying out the major part of the job.
In terms of revenue streams, we are constantly looking at new partnership opportunities and actors, and a lot has happened since 2016. In addition to the new main partnership with Unibet that commenced in 2020 and the broadcast rights-holder Discovery, also OBOS, Company Line, Volkswagen and SELECT have been added to the portfolio in recent years.
Under the sponsorship category Technology & Media, we are entering into new media agreements with the aim to build a common customer base.
We have started the work on EFIT – Elite Football’s IT system. Together, we use our broad experience to link technical solutions with the needs of football and the collaboration with our existing media partners. This in order to contribute to a further commercial development and increased sporting competitiveness.
Regarding the image, we carry out projects such as Allsvenskan Fantasy, eAllsvenskan and Allsvenskan’s grand prize, which brings our supporters and the general public closer to the clubs and players. We continue working with the concept “as the best in Sweden instead of bad in Europe”.
The image of Allsvenskan and Superettan has overall improved. The sporting results have improved. We have proven that we can handle major events with a high level of security. The journey continues, but our image has changed from riots, turmoil, and violence to festivities – even if the risks of backlashes are high. Football is embracing diversity and the clubs work actively and tirelessly to take great social responsibility, which is something completely embedded within our guidelines. We have worked purposefully to increase the collegiality in football and amongst the clubs. We have meetings with representatives from our clubs for them to learn from each other, but we also want to learn from external actors. We develop the partnerships we currently have in place to help increase the interest in Allsvenskan.
The Swedish Professional Football Leagues has built a small but strong organisation, with both permanent positions and temporary project-based positions to deliver services to the member clubs and we have found a way to steadily finance it all. This is just the beginning, since we continue to look ahead with an ambition to continuously get better at everything. The NBL project requires patience for us all to move to a stronger position in the long-term, not through randomly selected activities, but by following the direction of the travel that we have set out.
The biggest challenge is to prioritise and know how to make the best use of limited resources.
The work with the NBL project continues every single day. If the goal for various reasons is not being reached in the near future, the journey will continue for us to keep improving and pursuing our long-term ambition. Currently, we are just in the middle of this important piece of work. The direction of travel is the important thing, not where we stand right now or the pace we are moving ahead, but that we all understand what stars we are aiming to reach.
Welcome to join the journey!