When Adrian Docea, CEO of Nordensa, first started his career in the football business, he expected the world’s most popular sport to be hot on the pulse of technology and data usage – but he discovered that this was not entirely the case.

Both Docea and Nordensa are relative newcomers to football, with the company having been founded around one and half years ago. However, it recently secured one of its biggest partners in Burnley FC.

A new approach to the world’s biggest market

Following the Burnley deal, Docea explains Nordensa’s vision for football fan engagement. Put simply, the company wants to see football fans be given a greater voice in club decision making, specifically around players.

Adrian Docea, Nordensa – Source: Nordensa

Docea begins: “We started one and a half years ago and we noticed that there is not a single app out there that allows football fans to be part of the game – not in a fantasy way, not with crypto or blockchain, but for real, owning something in the game.”

Fan engagement is an ever shifting discipline in the football world, with some emerging technologies playing a visible role in how it is conducted. Blockchain, for example, has made its impact through the rise of fan tokens.

Nordnesa is taking a different approach by aiming to give fans a role in scouting and player transfers. The company uses its tech and data platforms to identify up-and-coming players, and fans are then given the choice whether to support this player’s future.

“This is the largest market in the world, and we wanted people to commit to something they love,” Docea elaborates.

“We also wanted to help out young players to get noticed by European clubs, but a lot of clubs are conservative in how they do scouting, so there is a lot of talent that will not get discovered. 

“Lots of clubs do it in the old way, with in-person scouts. If you look at Africa, there is a lot of talent that will not get discovered this way – you need data, algorithms.”

For the fans, Nordensa offers users the chance to share up to 8% of an athlete’s income over the five years following their support, derived from salary, bonuses and commercial deals.

The firm itself does not monetize this income, he says. Fans’ returns will of course depend on how the player they have backed performs, but Docea informs that “the breakeven pound is €3,000 in five years”.

“If the player makes more than that then you are making money. If they end up in the top five leagues you will be making a good profit,” he says.

A step-by-step process

The Premier League’s value is hardly a secret – the league is one of the most highly valued in the world, contending only with the major leagues of the US and domestic leagues of Spain, France, Italy and Germany.

Clubs’ financial power comes from a range of factors, like TV and media rights, sponsorship, ticket and commercial sales. Many clubs are also fortunate to be owned by some big budget holding companies based in the US and the Middle East.

In many cases, however, this financial power is not always fully leveraged from a technological standpoint, Docea believes. In fact, for such a dynamic sport, football has some surprising conservative tendencies, in his view.

“I’m an outsider, I was expecting so much from this industry,” he continues. “I was expecting it to be really advanced and full of innovation, but really it was not as innovative as something like the mining industry. It is surprisingly conservative.”

Docea does not generalise with this assessment, however. As noted above, many clubs have American owners, and Docea observes that some have implemented data scouting techniques common in US leagues.

Although now owned by an American firm – the club’s owner is ALK Capital LLC which is led by club Chairman Alan Pace – Burnley is, in Docea’s view, “pretty advanced in how they do scouting”.

“I’m an outsider, I was expecting so much from this industry.”

The firm’s CEO elaborates on how clubs interact with its platform, explaining: “Basically they plug into our resources, we have great scouting capabilities – people who work for Arsenal and Bayern. They can get this help for free because we don’t monetize with clubs at all, so why would they not? 

“On top of data scouting we have our own algorithms, event data, positioning data and we have established a data scouting hub in Porto. We’re doing a lot of work in data scouting and we are offering it for free to clubs. Up until now we have signed 16 or 17 clubs, this (Burnley) is the first one in the Premier League, and there will probably be more to come.”

This is why the club saw value in Nordensa’s tech-based platform, although Docea notes that as this is the company’s first major English football debut and it also still early years for the company, fans shouldn’t expect an impact on Bunrley’s scouting straightaway.

“The impact won’t be immediate as we mainly work with young players – 18 and 19 years old. It will be a while before they have an impact on the first team,” he says.

“A lot of the talent we discover will be of interest to Burnley’s academy, not the first team. It’s a step by step process, we’re focusing on underdiscovered gems, mostly from Africa who will need a few years.”

Digital scouting, not digital betting

For now, Africa is Nordensa’s main geography when it comes to identifying new talent with its data-led scouting platform. As Docea notes above, African players are often undiscovered due to more traditional sporting methods.

Africa is, in Docea’s opinion, the “most unscouted continent out there” and is home to “a lot of talent”. The company caught some mainstream media attention last year when Cameroonian player Joseph Iyendjock joined Georgian top-flight team HNK Šibenik as a midfielder, scouted via its platform.

“The scouting is for real, the academy is for real, you’re developing real talent.”

Latin America is also a growing area of interest for the platform, with Docea sharing that Nordensa is looking at the western side of the region for talent. However, when it comes to interest from both football clubs and fans, most of the attention comes from Europe.

“The UK and Germany are the main markets for football management types of games, it’s a huge market,” he says. “Our assumption is that what we are building with Nordensa is a fantasy football game but for real. I think step by step we are adding features to the app that you will see in football management games.”

Investment is now on Nordennsa’s agenda, as Docea details plans for the firm to soon launch a scouting platform where fans play an active role in the process. As he puts it, “the scouting is for real, the academy is for real, you’re developing real talent”.

Fan engagement, and perhaps most importantly fan representation, has become a prominent talking point in Europe over the past few years – particularly driven by the backlash against the European Super League (ESL).

When asked about this context by Insider Sport, Docea responds: “Fans want to have a voice in football in general, what is being served to them is a substitute for the real thing. You get the option of voting for the colour of the bus, that’s not real ownership in football. 

“At some point next year we want to have real football clubs listed in the app, and fans can own a piece of that football club. There have been crowdfunding projects that have not worked out very well, but this is a global platform a lot of crowdfunding projects fail because they are not global.”

Burnley FC vs Chelsea FC
Burnely vs Chelsea – Credit: Cosmin Iftode / Shutterstock

However, when looking at Nordensa’s platform, particularly the chance for financial gain offered to fans, it is hard to avoid potential comparisons to gambling. The case of Football Index, an ill-fated betting platform in the UK which offered users the chance to purchase shares in players, comes to mind.

“If you look at it in a certain way, it can look like betting, as if you are betting on someone’s future, but there are some differences,” Docea explains.

“You have to have knowledge, we have built a scouting department that is very good because we want to use the best data we can find and find the right talent. Secondly, where the money goes. In a betting company, it all goes to the betting house and some of it goes back to the player. 

“In our case, 100% of the money goes to the benefit of the player, it’s worth mentioning that it is not going into the player’s pocket because that is not legal. It goes to the club, it goes to the coach, branding, academy, everything they need to be successful.”

Nordensa is carving out an “interesting path”, Docea assets, by bringing something new to the table. 

The firm does not class itself in the same category of Football Index, which he describes more as “digital marketplaces, where you’re betting against other people, whilst we are a platform that helps young players development and links their success to fans involvement.”

This is something that has not been done before, the firm’s CEO believes – and he also observes that in an age where many football clubs find themselves in financial difficulty many “could use help from fans – but they just don’t know how to do it”.

“It’s going to be hard, we need to find out what people really love, we’re still an early stage startup and are still exploring what clicks with football fans around the world,” he summarises.

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