Lagardère Sports is one of the most important sports marketing agencies in the world. They have a large presence in Asia with partners such as the Asian Football Confederation and the ASEAN Football Federation.
We talked with Alberto Bernaldo, Director of Strategic Relations at Lagardère Sports, one of our speakers in World Football Summit Asia and expert in the international football industry.
Hi Alberto, we’re excited to have you as a speaker in WFS Asia. What can you tell us about your experience in the world of sports? How did you reach Lagardère?
Interestingly, I am a former banker turned sports professional. Following my passion more than 15 years ago, I travelled the globe working for internationally-renowned organisations, managing complex football commercial rights and relations with football’s biggest rights holders.
In particular, I worked at UEFA and since 2017, I have been with Lagardère Sports, based in Singapore, as Director of Strategic Relations for our Football division – Asia.
Since day one, I’ve enjoyed enormously being part of such a dynamic company that has been a major driving force in Asian football over the past two decades. I thoroughly enjoy working in such a fascinating environment across Asia.
During my career, I have also been involved in other major sporting events such as Formula 1, the America’s Cup (sailing), as well as Tennis.
As you mention, Lagardère Sports has great importance in the Asian football industry. As such an important part of the industry and with such heavy roots in it, what’s the company’s current strategy in Asia?
For the past 25 years, Lagardère Sports has been behind the scenes and playing a pivotal role in the growth and development of football in Asia.
We are truly proud of the work we have done with competitions such as the AFC Asian Cup, the AFC Champions League, the AFC Cup and the AFF Suzuki Cup.
We have been part of the football evolution across the region and this is something that will continue for many more years to come.
Our strategy is to build on the work we have done in the past quarter of a century, while also unlocking new opportunities in the football ecosystem across Asia.
This also applies to Europe, where we have a very rich history as well as a strong presence and expertise which puts us in a privileged position to steer the global vision within the business of sport.
It’s great that you mention it. In the past few years the exchange of information and business relations between Europe and Asia has grown massively. LaLiga, Premier League, Borussia Dortmund or Manchester United are just a small sample of clubs and federations that have opened offices on the Asian continent with the objective to strengthen their relation with the Asian industry. The fact that World Football Summit is celebrating its first regional event in Asia is a big proof of that.
The world has become smaller but the game of football has become bigger!
Europe is influencing Asia and vice-versa; both continents are communicating more, and we are seeing a greater exchange of ideas, strategies and plans.
These collaborations are mutually beneficial which creates a strong foundation for the game to flourish globally. As you’ve rightly put, hosting the World Football Summit in KL is a fine example of the progress being made.
Over the past decade, we have seen a huge increase in football viewership across Asia. As a case in point, the recent AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 was a defining milestone.
Incredibly, over 732 million people tuned in to the game, which was a huge increase from the 435 million who watched in 2015. China drew the largest audience with close to 215 million viewers, followed by Iran with nearly 162 million, and then Japan with just over 130 million.
The participation of teams like Vietnam, India and the Philippines for the first time – the result of the number of teams being increased from 16 to 24 – contributed to this increase in viewership. I’m confident that the participation of more national teams will boost the development of football in many countries.
In Asia – where consumers are more digitally connected than any other region, and the rise of the middle class has resulted in a significant increase in disposable income – football has inadvertently benefited from this socio-economic evolution. It has also led to the creation of many new business opportunities within the football industry.
As we have seen, Asia continues to dominate the headlines for many major sponsorship and TV rights deals; this underscores the strong interest and eagerness to consume football in the region.
Easier access to content has also triggered an exponential growth in the Asian football fan base which has a strong appetite for premium content.
This bodes well for brands who are in the football space – because football is drawing huge crowds and engaging more eyeballs than ever before, it justifies corporates’ investment in the sport as they are able to leverage multiple platforms to connect with their target audience in Asia.
Do you believe that there’s specific region of Asia that is leading this growth and football expansion? For instance, Singapore is home to many clubs that are choosing to open offices in Asia. There’s also a big growth of sponsorship opportunities coming from the Middle East since the World cup in Qatar was announced.
Yes, in addition to China which we all know is becoming a major player in football, the Middle East has been investing hugely in the football industry for many years now. All eyes are on this region as they gear up to host the next World Cup in Qatar 2022.
Saudi Arabia, recently hosted the Italian Serie A Super Cup, and we will see them increasing their presence in football in the upcoming years. We’ve also just heard that China is discussing with the Italian football federation about a broader political tie-up between the two countries.
And not forgetting the UAE who did an outstanding job hosting the AFC Asian Cup 2019. They pulled off 51 matches involving 24 teams across eight venues in four host cities!
LaLiga, Serie A and Premier league are doing efforts to reach these countries. Many have opened offices there. It’s clear that there is a competition to see which of them will reach the most amount of fans. Who do you think is doing it better?
There has always been a strong interest in European football in the region. The Premier League is leading the Asian conquest and were the first to approach the market here and engage with its ecosystem.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a big push from Spain’s LaLiga as well as the German Bundesliga and their clubs in trying to further develop their brand equity and fan base across Asia.
At the same time, the Asian market has also matured and become much more demanding.
To succeed here, mid to long-term strategies are needed. International organizations who decide to invest in this region must be prepared to do so for the long haul. They must build their brand over time by establishing continuous touchpoints with their target audience. They will need to offer solutions, content or experiences that will benefit local partners, community, and fans – all of which will result in an enduring legacy.
It is important that European organizations invest in understanding and treating each country market differently, and develop “tailor-made” strategies for each of the heterogenous markets in Asia.
What do you expect to achieve in WFS? Why do you think is important to have these types of events?
World Football Summit lands in Asia at a very exciting time.
It is extremely healthy to have events like this, where you can meet key players from the industry and share expertise in an open forum.
WFS Asia also highlights the union of two huge sport markets, Asia and Europe, and this will provide further opportunities for the business of football to grow and expand.
I’m privileged to have the opportunity to chat with the industry’s heavyweights during my panel session. And I also look forward to sharing with you some best practices Lagardère Sports has acquired from cultivating the Asian football landscape over two decades.
See you soon in KL!