Over the last few weeks, LaLiga has made a huge effort to keep its fans engaged and to promote its partners worldwide, with a FIFA20 competition involving real LaLiga players representing their clubs (#LaLigaSantanderChallenge), an online festival that brought football and music stars together to raise more than €600,000 to fight coronavirus (#LaLigaMusicFest) and three new TV programmes that allowed the league’s global audience to peak into how players were dealing with the lockdown.
While clubs in Spain resume training ahead of a potential restart of the competition, we talk to its Managing Director in South East Asia, Iván Codina, about the lessons learned while filling the void left by the COVID-19 lockdown and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for both the sport and the industry.
Q. Firstly Iván, how are you doing right now and how is the coronavirus affecting you personally and professionally?
A. Well, I’m taking this call from home, like pretty much everyone else nowadays. In Singapore, things have evolved in a difficult way in the past few days. Everybody is already in lockdown at home and the number of cases has been increasing drastically in the past few days. The local government is taking the right measures to try to have COVID-19 under control, so that means that for the time being I’m working from home like everyone else and like all my colleagues. I’m trying to overcome the challenges of working at home with kids running around, but so far so good. In terms of how this is affecting our business, as you can imagine it’s had a massive impact. Right now, we are just trying to have open discussions with all our stakeholders and we are assessing the situation to see how we can best accommodate or overcome this situation altogether.
Q. One of the issues the coronavirus might be revealing is that football perhaps relies too much on live events. Would you agree that this is one of the major challenges the industry is facing in the next few months? And, how is LaLiga tackling this in the Asian market?
A. We consider ourselves as an entertainment company, as in sports and entertainment. So, we live in this space and, for us, it’s no longer just about the 90 minutes on the field of play. The consumption behaviour has been changing drastically in the last few years. The millennials and the youngsters that follow LaLiga are sometimes more interested in other sorts of content other than highlights or what’s going on in the 90 minutes on the field of play. That gives us an opportunity to find different ways to engage with these fans. We focus a lot on what happens before and after and during the week. That’s very important because we have identified a huge increase in demand or appetite for this kind of content. We always try to develop new ways to engage with our existing fans and also to attract other fans that may not necessarily be traditional football fans. We’re always trying to be creative and to identify other content and that’s why our slogan is ‘it’s not football, it’s LaLiga’. We have multiple events and projects that we work on at LaLiga. We’ve also been currently working to also see how we can best support the fight against the current situation. It’s a global crisis. Of course, LaLiga has been coming up with events like #LaLigaSantanderFest or #LaLigaSantanderChallenge. We have been raising funds to support the fight against coronavirus and to be able to buy some medical equipment for the hospitals to be able to fight the coronavirus.
Q. I know that hosting on-site activations together with local partners and broadcasters is a crucial part of LaLiga’s famous ‘glocal’ strategy. So, how do you keep the ball rolling for the clubs now that there’s no action going on?
A. Everybody is being hit one way or another from the coronavirus. It is very important for us to have even better communication with all the different stakeholders than we had up until now. It’s very important to work with the likes of the broadcasters, existing commercial partners and the different leagues that we partner. We’re listening to the fans and seeing how we can all support each other. For us, it’s very important to identify ways in which we keep offering value to the associations we have with our stakeholders. Luckily for us, a partnership with LaLiga is not necessarily just about what happened in the 90 minutes of a live match in Spain. It’s much more than that. So, we’re trying to see how exactly we can develop specific content, depending on the market, that we feel is going to be more engaging for both our fans and for our commercial partners or broadcasters. So, we have been working very closely with our partners in defining what is the best way to engage with our fans. Having said that, we also need to try to be sensitive to what’s going on right now. It’s not necessarily the right time to be seen as being very pushy as you try to promote your brand. Right now, of course it’s okay to continue engaging with your fans and trying to be creative and see what is the best way to come up with relevant content for the market. But also, it needs to be a little bit sensitive.
Q. Are you working on strategies for how to relaunch the league when that eventually happens? I suppose that the Asian market will continue to be crucial since it could be one of the first markets in the world to recover from the crisis.
A. The internationalisation of the league is one of the biggest strategies and objectives right now. We still have a long way to go to grow our brand and our presence in a lot of markets. In this region in particular, we have a lot of room for improvement. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a relaunch. But, that being said, what we’re starting to work on is to try to see what is the best way to make sure that everybody is aware that the competition is resumed when it comes to the right time. As you know, we have a project called LaLiga Global Network where we have over 50 delegates sent across the world, with nine of these delegates in nine different markets in this part of the world. We’re trying to see with them what would be best once the competition is resumed. We’ve been trying to develop ideas and activation plans for the remaining 11 matches. But, again, there’s a lot of uncertainty and also we need to take care and make sure we understand what the situation is in each of the different markets. We can try to send across a message of hope and try to keep people positive. I guess that once we see that football is coming back then probably that will be seen as a message of hope for everyone.
Q. We’ve already seen the economic impact the coronavirus crisis has had on clubs in Europe. What do you think the impact will be on Asian football?
A. Everybody is getting hit, right? And the football industry in particular has massively been hit. We need to understand the ecosystem of the different leagues in the region. We have the more developed leagues such as the Chinese Super League or the J League or K League or even the A League in Australia. Then we have the less developed leagues in South East Asia and other parts of the region. In the more developed leagues, perhaps compared to the top European leagues the impact is a little less because in the top European leagues they are heavily dependent on massive TV broadcasting deals. In these leagues they also depend a lot on broadcasting rights, but it’s not the same proportionally if compared to the top European leagues. A lot of the top clubs depend more on private investment of some of the big local companies and that gives you an idea that the impact might be lessened compared to the top European leagues. Whereas for the less developed leagues in this region, they normally don’t have much revenue coming from sponsorship or TV rights, so it’s still going to be challenging for them. Right now, we’re even looking at leagues that might not even be able to go back next season and they might need to stop for a while. So, it’s a complete disaster. Most of the clubs cannot pay their players, so the situation is a little bit worrying. There are going to be challenging times ahead for them.
Q. What do you think will be the main consequences and challenges in the future for football properties such as LaLiga, as we move forward from this and into the future?
A. It’s very hard to guess what it’s going to be like in the next few months once things start settling down. So much has been said about life as we know it never being the same. I’m sure there are going to be some opportunities and some things that are going to change. It’s difficult to say which. I just can say that those who can be more flexible to adjust to the new circumstances are going to be the ones who are going to make it back and can even look to a brighter future. That’s what we are working on right now. We know it’s going to be a very challenging path, first to try to resume the competition and also there are going to be some circumstances we won’t be familiar with. I particularly think there’s going to be an opportunity to be more creative on digital and with the way that we try to bring the game closer to the fans. Let’s not forget that ultimately there are only a few lucky fans who are able to attend the matches in the stadiums, but there are millions of fans out there that have never had a chance to go and experience the competition live. So, the way we engage with fans all over the world I think will improve due to the current situation. I think it’s going to be a big opportunity to improve on digital and content and be more creative when it comes to engaging with the fans. It’s probably going to be more challenging when it comes to securing partnerships. The rights holder will need to be more creative in coming up with additional value to convince some of the brands out there to look for an association with a league. I think that’s going to be a challenge probably. But, I want to remain positive. Perhaps this is going to be an opportunity to bring the football industry to the next level. I’m sure that we will overcome this situation and hopefully we will come out stronger and with an even higher proposition for our partners.