Kicking Off Innovation


Hywel Sloman, Chief Information Officer at Arsenal FC, looks at innovation in an organisation that people choose “for life”.

Innovation has been in Arsenal’s DNA since our formation in 1886.  

Our legendary manager in the 1930s, Herbert Chapman, was, in fact, nicknamed the Great Innovator. 

He introduced numbers on shirts, changed our kit to red shirts with white sleeves, removed “The” from our name so we always appeared first alphabetically in fixture lists, created the WM formation which totally revolutionised world football and got Gillespie Road tube renamed to Arsenal so it would be known throughout the world.

Bringing this into the 21st century, we have looked to be as innovative as possible in all aspects of our business.  For example, in our retail operation, we used to run the same technology as organisations such as Paul Smith & Ted Baker.  If you compare our retail functions, we do a lot that is similar to Ted, but we have three stores, and they have 70.

One key point for us is that we look for innovative ideas outside our industry, as much as within.  When fans benchmark their online experience with us, what Tottenham, Chelsea or Man United do is neither here nor there.  In all our lives, we know what good looks like, and it is truly cross-sector.

Our flagship store, the Armoury at Emirates Stadium, on its busiest weekend, does more international card transactions that weekend than Marks & Spencer, Gap or Argos.  For many of these fans, this is a once in a lifetime visit.  So we need to get it right. We used technology to reduce the transaction time at till by 50%.  If you are in a queue and desperate to get to your seat in time for kick-off, that’s really important to you.

Another innovation is in how we run a match day.  We have invested heavily in improving the operational capability of the Club. We have over 3,000 people working for us on a match day – stewards, security staff, caterers, cleaners, first aid, police - even IT.  

It is a huge logistical operation and, in today’s climate, ever more important that everyone is safe and secure at all times.  By using new, bleeding edge technology, we can manage the operation of the 3,000 people in real-time – something no-one has been able to do before.

Finally, we launched the Arsenal Innovation Lab in September 2017, working with six start-ups for ten weeks on specific business challenges.  This has enabled us to get access to technology we would otherwise not have seen; and generate a greater culture of innovation around the Club, while finding ideas that have improved our fan experience.

So, why are you reading this on a blog for Northumbrian Water?  On the face of it, our businesses don’t have much in common.  But, Northumbrian Water are doing some world class stuff in this area, and it’s a pleasure to be involved, and learn from them.  In many ways, your relationship with your water company and your football club is one you’re stuck with for good and for bad.  So, we are looking at ideas to provide world-class interaction and engagement with customers when dealing with complaints.