“Globalization of the football market will drive many of the changes in the next couple of years”

Interview with Irsan Widarto, specialist in entrepreneurship and innovation, and professor of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona

Irsan Widarto was born in Indonesia, but raised and educated in the Netherlands. In 1996, he founded a software company with two friends. In 2007, the company was sold to EMC and Irsan became a director of engineering for the software division of EMC. In 2017, he left EMC to become the CTO of iChoosr, independent experts in group buying programs. Since 2012, he has also been a professor at the Johan Cruyff Institute, where his main subjects are entrepreneurship and innovation. Irsan has been playing football almost all his life, “not at a very high level, but still enjoying the game as if I was a professional”, he says. He’s also been a coach, team manager and board member at several amateur football clubs and is a season ticket holder of Feyenoord Rotterdam, so you will find him in De Kuip every other Sunday.

Could you please explain to us your research work on football?

Through my at the Johan Cruyff Institute, I’ve had the chance to look behind the scenes of many professional football clubs and other sports organizations. I always try to combine the insights I get from that with my experience as an entrepreneur and technologist. My main interest is in how we can apply the latest technologies and business models to the world of football. For example, what can football clubs learn from peer-to-peer platforms like Uber and AirBnB? Or, how could sport organizations adopt practices and methodologies from successful software companies?

What are your views on the current state of the football business worldwide? What are the main trends and what changes are needed if any?

Globalization of the football market is definitely the trend that will drive many of the changes in the next couple of years. I strongly believe that we will have a Global Champions League within 10 years, with club teams from all continents and supporters from all over the globe rooting for the best players. Technology will play an important role in this, both to give extra levels of access for supporters to follow their favorite teams and players, as well as to keep the players top fit.

What do you believe the trend is for new start-up companies in the football world?

It’s all about data! For example, data about the performance of the players, data about the fans’ behavior and preferences. I see many start-ups in the ‘big data for sports’ area, and this will only continue as we start to better understand how to collect and use the data.

What are the main innovations that clubs and other football organizations need to pursue to improve the current state of the football business?

Innovations happen so fast that it is hard to single out one or two that clubs or organizations should specifically pursue. What is most important is that football clubs and organizations need to work on a culture and framework that embraces innovation. That is their only chance to make sure that they don’t miss out on the next big thing.


Visit the web page of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona to find out more about the study program, which we deliver in English in Barcelona.

Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam uses a rich learning environment that fosters educational tools based on a student interaction model. We aim for a mix of students from sports and business sectors, which also enables students to share their unique experiences and learn from each other. Through ‘Cruyffian’ teaching methods the students will engage actively in creative challenges that require effort, commitment and intuitive thinking. Visit the web pages to find out more about these programs of our institute in Amsterdam, which we deliver in English:

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