At the keynote discussion panel on the second day of the Sports Industry Awards Asia (SPIA), Asia’s Sports Industry Awards and Conference, held at the Grand Hyatt, BGC, on Tuesday 3 December, Ronaldo Nazario—more commonly known as “Ronaldo” or “El Fenomeno,” the former FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid player, and Brazilian World Cup winner—took to the stage to speak about his rise to success as one of the greatest players to ever play football.
You may also like:
Nowadays, he’s owner of Real Valladolid, a football club in the top-tier of Spanish football, LaLiga Santander, having purchased a majority stake in September 2018. “It’s a pleasure to be here in Manila,” declared Ronaldo at the 5th edition of the event, who was also on hand to launch the LaLiga press conference, in which the Spanish football league organization announced their marketing and communications strategy for the Asian market.
Ronaldo’s universally renowned status in the sport many call the “beautiful game,” has given him unique leverage his role as an ambassador for LaLiga, Spanish football, and his club project, where he aims to bring a passion to and attract a global following for.
Alongside him on the discussion panel was Dr. Edwin Moses, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400m hurdles, and chairman of education at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This is in line with “Icon 2 Icon,” an initiative that shares stories of sports personalities and their path to greatness, from being budding athletes to global stars. Moses was quick to add praise to the Brazilian legend’s achievements in sport on and off the field.
A different time
Citing the greater number of opportunities for successful athletes today making substantial headway into the business of sports in an interview with ANCX, Moses says that in some cases nowadays, athletes “are just as wealthy as the owners of clubs or teams as they earn much more than when I was an athlete, so they can exercise more options in investing in sport. So you have a guy like Ronaldo, who has a football club, an agency of his own, and the financial backing to be able to invest his own money to do these things which is great.”
What these sporting greats have in common is a propensity to capitalize on their individual successes in their respective sports and build on their legacies. Moses is planning to take Icon 2 Icon to Tokyo 2020 with a view to getting sponsors to support his advocacy in giving budding athletes and fans a source of inspiration.
“Everyone has a story or went to a position in life when they were affected by something that really propelled them to iconic status,” elaborates Moses, who went on to recall being unable to get any scholarship to run track in the early 1970s, and became Olympic champion three years after studying physics and industrial engineering. “I want to find interesting sportspeople, find out what their stories are, and make them more publicly accessible to everyone,” he continues, “because I know that most of those stories are covered up and people don’t talk about it.”
These are exactly the types of stories that LaLiga are looking to package and share with Southeast Asian fans as all the representatives of LaLiga and their respective clubs in attendance—namely Valencia CF, RCD Mallorca, and Real Valladolid—discussed their international strategies for marketing thousands of miles beyond Spanish borders.
Despite total stadium attendance for the Primera División and the Segunda División (the first and second divisions) combined for the 2018/19 season reaching 14.8 million, this figure is hardly one percent of the 2.7 billion global viewers who tuned in throughout the same season. Therein lies the mammoth challenge of trying to create a meaningful relationship with the other 99 percent as much as the loyal local supporters who turn up week in, week out.
Three years ago, LaLiga introduced Asian timezone-friendly kick-offs at 12 noon on weekends, which have eventually proved to be a hit with fans in Spain, who can now take their children to watch matches earlier in the day. The potential for simultaneous enjoyment of a LaLiga matchday across territories is, therefore, only now starting to make business and marketing sense. In terms of international presence, LaLiga currently has three offices in Asia—India, China, and Singapore, with the latter being the operating hub for Southeast Asia. Twelve delegates are working permanently in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia, among other territories.
“Did you know that Paulino Alacantara, the Spanish-Filipino football player, was FC Barcelona’s top scorer for 87 years before Lionel Messi?” Iván Codina, director of LaLiga in Southeast Asia, shares in a one-on-one interview with ANCX. It’s with these “nuggets” of Spanish football stories that Codina hopes will drive an increase in fan engagement in the Philippines, for example.
Codina shares that they also have CSR programs. “We develop institutional relationships with the domestic leagues and domestic FAs,” he says. “We try to build the best relationships with all the different stakeholders.” As such, LaLiga has already advised on local institutions on issues such as financial control, the management of audiovisual rights, marketing, sporting projects, and compliance for leagues and football associations including the Malaysia Football League (FMLLP), Football Association of Thailand (FAT), and PT Liga Indonesia Baru (LIB). The hope is that LaLiga’s strategy in other more football-crazed Asian nations can also be adapted and ultimately contribute to the development of the Philippine Football League (PFL), the latest incarnation of the country’s top-flight tier of football which was only established in 2017. Currently in its third season, the PFL still has some way to go to hit the heights of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
LaLiga, it seems, might just be arriving at the right time to act as a key partner to develop the footballing league ecosystem in the Philippines. Josep Borrell, Valencia CF’s Commercial Strategy Coordinator, certainly believes that learning from the long tradition of football in Spain can benefit the PFL in its infancy, especially with greater opportunities for investment in the sport today.
Borrell outlines three areas in which the PFL can build on in order to grow successfully: first, to put faith in the teams which have a good structure—ones that have an academy and a stadium with the minimum requirements needed to provide a good level of entertainment for the fans; second, to grow its fan base by “telling the story of football as the biggest sport in the world and believing in it,” and highlighting relevant links between Spain and the Philippines in order to create a relatable connection; and lastly, to increase the PFL’s marketing and promotions by giving football more exposure across all media, “not just by entertaining fans, but by educating them.”
Not that LaLiga hasn’t already forged relationships in the Philippines already. Last May 2019, CD Leganés, another football club in LaLiga Santander, launched their season ticket campaign in its sister city, Leganés, Iloilo in order to increase sales. Twenty-three-year-old defender Rodri Tarín flew 18,000 kilometers from where the club is based, on the outskirts of Madrid in Spain, all the way to the Panay municipality to spread awareness and gather support from their Filipino counterparts. The creative campaign was a success in getting loyal fans to renew their season tickets while also gaining new ones. It is one of the more original ways in which Almudena Gómez, the LaLiga delegate assigned in the Philippines, has collaborated with a Spanish club to generate locally-relevant content to spark attention in both countries.
Although interest in the sport continues to increase in the Philippines, the country has not quite established itself as a footballing nation just yet in comparison to its Southeast Asian neighbors. There are, however, more-than-promising signs with the Under-22 Azkals narrowly missing out on qualifying for the semifinals of the SEA Games 2019 football tournament with Cambodia’s 3-1 defeat over Malaysia edging out the Philippines at the group stage, despite their impressive 6-1 against minnows Timor-Leste. Head coach Goran Milojevic proclaimed that their run at the Games gives the country genuine hope that football in the Philippines can elevate to the next level.
With LaLiga’s strategy in the region, spearheaded by arguably football’s greatest number 9 striker making a blockbuster appearance in Manila, and the country’s burgeoning competitiveness coming to a head, it’s high time that the Philippines puts its best foot forward on the pitch as much as it does on the court.
For more information, visit LaLiga.com.