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Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport! We’re speaking to Digital Business Lecturer, Dr. Alex Fenton!

 

Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously? 

Hello I’m Dr. Alex Fenton and I’m a Lecturer in Digital Business at the University of Salford. It all started with an undergraduate degree in Media Technology in 1997 at University of Bradford where I started making websites, videos, audio and multimedia stuff and then I got my first graduate job as one of Salford University’s first full time web developer jobs for a project called the Virtual Chamber, getting Manchester online.

I worked for e-learning spin out companies, Manchester Chamber of Commerce and came back to Salford Uni to run a digital development operation where I led on all kinds of digital and web projects with Salford Uni, other Universities, the British Council, SMEs and more. I started a PhD in social media and football in 2014 (with Salford City FC) studying their social media channels using an ethnographical (netnography) approach and finished in 2018.

 

What do you do in your current role?

No two days are the same – I do a combination of teaching all levels (undergraduate and postgraduate) and I have a decent research allocation. I’m currently researching and writing about barriers to innovation in sport, VR in sport, fitness apps, network analysis, digital transformation and more. I straddle the Information Systems, Digital Marketing and Sport Business, so the role of a digital business lecturer is pretty varied.

 

What does a normal week look like for you?

Every week is different and it really depends what part of the year we’re at. Currently I’m working on about 12 different research projects leading to academic journal papers and other outputs. I’ve been working on a smartphone project with Salford Red Devils and Rangers FC called Fan Fit. It’s like a fitness app and an official sports club app, so it pulls in all the news, fixtures, social media feeds but has the addition of tracking walking and running through the phone or wristband.

It’s been a lot of fun working with clubs and fans and doing the research around it. We’re currently analysing some of the focus group data and writing a journal paper and another article for the Conversation. Because we’re in lockdown also, I’m doing a lot of MS Teams and Zoom calls at the minute to keep everything ticking over with colleagues, collaborators and students.

Alex Fenton Rangers

 

How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?

When  I was running the digital company at Salford Uni, I did a Masters in Creative technology and built a platform for students to showcase their work in a creative digital community. Academics started asking me to do guest talks about it to their classes and then my old colleague and friend Aleksej Heinze asked me if I wanted to teach on the Search and Social Media Marketing course at MediaCity. Around the same time, my old mate Dave Randles asked me if I wanted to teach first year Digital journalism in the first year our MediaCity campus opened. I did the PGCAP (teaching qualification) and the rest is history.

Working with sport is a newer thing for me though – I’m a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan, but it was really Professor Chris Brady and his Centre for sports business that got me into working with sport. I actually scrapped my first PhD proposal and switched it to Salford City FC when we started our partnership. It just seemed like a much more exciting opportunity, so I guess if it wasn’t for Chris, I might never really have turned a hobby/passion into work. It is only part of my job – but it’s a big part of my research.

I also teach a module called Sport in the Digital World, which has been great as I have some really interesting contacts in this area now like Ryan Deane (Salford City FC), Fiona Green (Winners) and Andrew Gilligan (Man City). The students love getting out on a field trip and hearing from these kind of experts, so the module has a real practical, industry feel to it.

Alex Fenton Ryan Deane

 

What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?

Since I finished my PhD in social media and football, I’ve become really interested in the applications of other technologies and innovation in sport such as VR, AR, Esports, Smart stadiums and the Internet of Things. I think the global pandemic has just accelerated the usefulness of these things – so I was really impressed to watch Brad Dack of Rovers representing his team in the FIFA2020 #QuaranTeam cup.

I really like all the stuff our Prof Andy Miah does around VR and esports and I’ve collaborated with him on book chapters and esports event like our VR, FIFA esports event at MediaCity in November. We even had a physical match on the roof of UTC and I’m really interested in the intersection between digital and physical sport. I’m also working with people like Prof Simon Chadwick and Dr. Wasim Ahmed on some really interesting netnography and social network analysis work looking at the impact of the global pandemic on sporting brands.

 
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?

Learn everything you can about data science. Even if you aren’t mathematical, get on the free Google Analytics certified course, read Fiona Green’s book Winning with Data and our book Digital Transformation Strategy and get a really good handle on how data and tech could and should be used in sports. There are loads of different careers in sport – use social media (especially LinkedIn), get yourself to as many relevant events as you can and really build up your network. Set up a blog, read, write and make a name for yourself.

 

You can follow Alex Fenton on social media and at his blog…

Twitter – @AlexFenton

Take a look at my blog at www.alexfenton.co.uk – there’s quite a lot about sport and research on there.

Have a look at our Fan Fit project – www.FanFit.co.uk – we’re always looking to speak to sports clubs, councils and other brands that care about the wellbeing of their fans, customers, citizens and want to try out a smartphone project with a corporate social responsibility twist!

 

Thanks for reading our Industry Insider feature with Digital Business Lecturer, Dr. Alex Fenton!

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