Vanessa Asell Tsuruga – Q&A
Vanessa Asell Tsuruga – Q&A 1920 1080 World Football Summit Asia

Rakuten has strong ties with the Asian and international sports industry. In 2016 they became FC Barcelona’s Main Global Sponsor and first-ever Official Innovation and Entertainment Partner. They own one of the biggest baseball teams in Japan, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and soccer club Vissel Kobe.


We sat down with Vanessa Asell Tsuruga, Vice General Manager Global sports strategy and branding at Rakuten, Inc., and speaker at WFS Asia. Vanessa leads the Digital and Content portfolio, weaving in the contractual sponsorship assets from the sports properties in the Rakuten portfolio.


Can you tell me a little bit about your work experience and how you started at Rakuten? What’s your experience in the world of sports and football?

I think sport can change the world but sport cannot do it on its own. You need people and companies with a passion for empowerment and positive change. I moved to Tokyo for this job 9 months ago because I wanted to work with the big sports properties that Rakuten has. I have a personal connection with Barcelona since I lived there during my teens and I was at Camp Nou in 1994 when FC Barcelona beat Real Madrid 5-0 in El Clásico. Moments and celebrations like that live forever!


I wanted to diversify and help Rakuten reach its goals. Before Rakuten, I spent 12 years with ASICS in sports marketing and activation roles at the Global HQ in Kobe and in the Scandinavian region based in Stockholm. In 2014 I took leave of absence and went to Olympia, Greece, for a Master’s Degree in Olympic Studies at the International Olympic Academy.


Rakuten has been in Spanish news a lot since Iniesta signed for Vissel Kobe. For people who are not familiar, how would you explain Rakuten’s connection with the world of sports and football in particular?


We are not new in using sports as a platform – we own a soccer club, Vissel Kobe, and a baseball team in Japan, the Rakuten Golden Eagles. In 2017, we kicked off a major brand transformation project to unify our 70+ businesses – both in Japan and globally – under a single Rakuten brand. We chose sports as a platform to take this transformation forward because we wanted to bring the emotional connection to our users through our services the same way sport brings emotion to fans.


The Asian football industry is growing at a very fast pace. There’s a lot of involvement from private companies and governments, which are investing large amounts of money into building academies for children and helping clubs getting bigger. How do you think the Asian football industry will evolve in the next few years?


At the moment Japan is a buzzword when it gets to sports and Rakuten is really happy to be an important part of that conversation. We own Vissel Kobe which is getting stronger and stronger with big names such as Andrés Iniesta and David Villa coming in specifically from Spain. It looks like a great future for football fans in this region and Rakuten is actively playing a big role. We just announced the Rakuten Cup with FC Barcelona, Vissel Kobe and Chelsea FC matches planned for summer 2019 in Japan. FC Barcelona stars and former teammates Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper will be on the same pitch again.


What is Rakuten’s main goal in the football and sports market in Asia?

We use sport as a tool for marketing and introducing our services. Our first goal is to get people familiar with the Rakuten brand so they can understand our philosophy of teamwork and empowerment of the community. The carefully selected teams we partner with share these values. We hope to ultimately get accepted by the football and sports community first, and seamlessly connect with them through our services.


We are hoping to connect with fans that are either going to the games or watching it through one of our services. We want to connect with them on an emotional level and try to spread the Rakuten brand awareness while explaining who we are and what it is we do.


What’s the main strategy that Rakuten is using to engage with fans and increase its brand awareness globally?


Our strategy is about reaching the hearts of the fans. Again, football is a very emotional sport. If we are able to create and be part of emotional moments and stories, whether it is live or after the games, and we’re able to give the fans that amazing fan-experience then we are in a really good position to spread engagement, increase brand awareness, introduce our services, and take football beyond borders.

What do you think about WFS and what do you expect to achieve? World Football Summit arrives in Kuala Lumpur at a time where the Asian football industry is at its best.


I think it’s a very good opportunity to speak at this event. It gives us a chance to talk about optimism, which is one of the pillars on which we are built. It’s good for us to tell our story about why we chose sports to put all our brands around one singular platform in 2017. Being able to tell this story to the wider audience and also the networking opportunities of meeting people face to face is very valuable.

Daniele Gonteri – Q&A
Daniele Gonteri – Q&A 3050 2030 World Football Summit Asia

Genius Sports is a leading provider of sports data, technology and integrity services. It specialises in enabling leagues and federations to collect, manage and distribute their live data.

We had a chance to sit and talk with Daniele Gonteri, Head of Football at Genius Sports and speaker at World Football Summit Asia.


Welcome back to World Football Summit Daniele. Can you tell us a little bit about Genius Sports and your new role in it?

Thank you. After more than 15 years at UEFA, working across a lot of important projects and with some great people, I joined Genius Sports in January as Head of Football.

Genius Sports is a technology company that works in partnership with football leagues and federations. Our software enables all levels of sport to capture, manage and distribute their official data and statistics.

As Head of Football, I’m responsible for leading our football strategy, which includes product development, innovation, and expanding our global network of partners. Already, it’s been massively rewarding getting involved with a company that is growing so quickly and has such a clear commitment to driving the development of world football.


Big data has gone from being an unknown part of the football business to be a big actor, with clubs having big data experts on the payroll. What’s the importance of big data in sports and how can it be used?

Sports increasingly recognise that they need a dedicated strategy and technology infrastructure to thrive in the era of big data.

With control and the right tools, sports can use their official data to improve everything from how they run their competitions, to the content they provide to their fans, coaches and partners. Data has become a crucial element in growing a sports’ bottom line, enabling them to provide a more valuable product to their sponsors whilst creating new revenue streams.


Genius Sports seems to be growing rapidly in Asia. What trends have you noticed amongst Asian football leagues and federations?

Asia has certainly been a real success story for Genius Sports across multiple sports. In the last year, we’ve formed new data and technology partnerships across Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, China and more, while opening a new office in Singapore and driving the continued rollout of the AFC’s competition management system.

Each of our partnerships is unique but we’re noticing a real commitment amongst Asian football leagues and federations to enhance the product they offer their fans. This is driving a major overhaul of their technology infrastructure and services in order to provide live match updates in real-time, increase the number of platforms which their audience can engage with and provide a rich level of insight on individual teams and players.

Football has always been more of a traditional sport, where technology has not been welcomed. We’ve seen that trend change in the past few years, so in which ways can football benefit from technology?

I think it would be very fair to say football and technology haven’t always had the smoothest relationship! But hopefully, the successful introduction of new systems such as goal-line and VAR is paving the way for a better dynamic where technology can support and enhance the game experience.

The most valuable technologies are those that make sports lives’ easier or provide new insights. Digital transformation is a real trend across the sports industry at the moment and we’re seeing leagues at all levels actively disposing of manual or paper-based systems in return for advanced software.

Equally, the growing buzz around big data and AI has driven the development of advanced collection and tracking systems which are changing how we view players, teams and leagues. Nobody had heard of expected goals a few years while systems such as Intel’s True View Technology which enable fans to view the live action through a player, referee or manager’s eyes are now a reality.


What do you think the football landscape will look like in 10 years given the fast-paced progress in technology? What are the new technologies being tested and/or applied right now?

Modern football moves pretty quickly but we fully expect the trend of leagues and federations taking control of their official data to grow in the coming years.

Our philosophy has always been to empower our partners to take charge of their official data at every stage. This means capturing their statistics from pitchside, using their data feed to build official records on their competitions and powering their systems and fan-facing platforms with split-second updates.

This shift, and the evolution of the technology behind it will be hugely important over the next ten years.

How does your new data capture product (Football LiveStats) stand out from others on the market?

The data technology market is increasingly competitive so we’ve placed a real emphasis on creating a product that is unique and valuable to football.

The key differences of our system are threefold: speed, ease of use and control. Because Football LiveStats captures data directly from pitchside instead of from broadcast feeds, it provides our partners with at least a seven second advantage that ensures their websites, mobile apps and other platforms are providing the fastest key match updates.

Our extensive experience in live data collection and football has enabled us to develop a user-friendly system that combines leading UI with carefully selected workflows and a touchscreen to simplify in-game collection.



For the first time, football leagues and federations can be in complete control of their data, and can carefully select where and what purpose it is used for as well as creating official records and archives on teams, players and competitions.


What specific role does Genius Sports play driving digital transformation in football?

A surprising number of football leagues and federations still use manual or paper-based solutions to run key responsibilities such as managing competitions, registering their participants or collecting live data on their games.

Our digital technology replaces these inefficient processes, saving our partners valuable time and money. But perhaps most importantly, we are democratising this technology for all levels of competitive football by providing the necessary tools and expertise to help the sport build on its growing footprint around the world.

Crucial to our success was the decision back in 2013 to build a cloud-based data warehouse. By predicting the move towards open data transfers, our team went about building an ecosystem that enables live data to be easily and securely distributed across lots of different systems and third parties.

For example, our partners can use their live data feed captured at pitchside to power everything from their broadcast, fantasy football website, performance and analytics tools or third party systems for managing competitions or producing highlights packages. Digital transformation will be critical to football’s continued growth and our approach is to empower leagues and federations.

 Daniele will be one of the speakers at World Football Summit Asia in Kuala Lumpur on the 29th and 30th of April.

David Garrido: The English teams dominating European football is not a one-time situation
David Garrido: The English teams dominating European football is not a one-time situation 680 381 World Football Summit Asia

David Garrido is a presenter at Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and the host for World Football Summit Asia. Garrido has more than 20 years of experience in radio and TV. He has covered several Champions League Finals, World Cups, European Championships and various events.


We have talked with David and asked him questions about the present and the future of the international football industry.


What can you tell us about your experience as a broadcaster and the sports industry in general? How did you end up working at Sky Sports?


I’ve been involved in sports broadcasting in the UK in TV and radio for more than 20 years now. I started doing radio in the late 1990s at Oxford University where I studied French and German, and that’s where I discovered my vocation in life and what I was going to do. After getting into the industry, I worked at the BBC for around 10 years and covered many different events such as World Cups and European Championships, and interviewed big sports personalities like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Eventually, in 2011, I moved to Sky Sports where I’ve been involved in big productions like Transfer Deadline Day which is a big thing in the UK football industry, when the transfer window closes, as well as hosting live football from LaLiga, Premier League and the Championship. Obviously, a part of my job is hosting for one of my favourites: World Football Summit.


It’s plain to see that you have a lot of experience and have been involved in the industry for a long time. What’s your opinion on the current situation of the international football industry? In the past few years we’ve seen transfer fees skyrocketing and the landscape changing radically, with clubs like Manchester City and PSG buying amazing players for very high sums of money.

It’s interesting. I remember when Alan Shearer joined Newcastle United for 15 million pounds and everybody thought that was a lot of money. Or when Trevor Francis became the first footballer to be transferred for a million pounds, which was staggering at the time. But then, we saw Neymar moving to PSG for well over 200 million Euros, which is another level of spending.

I think what’s fascinating about the football transfer market at the moment is not just the fees, but the trends in terms of who is paying those fees and who is also selling players. Actually, in the last few PL transfer windows, English sides have started to sell to each other, i.e. to their rivals. Usually clubs would never consider doing that, because that’s a way to strengthen other rival teams. Some of the trends that are developing in transfer markets are really interesting too.

The battleground is changing and diversifying, and that’s an important factor when trying to reaching present and new fan – another battle that clubs are fighting. We’ve got LaLiga selling rights in the Indian subcontinent with Facebook and Amazon is joining the rightsholders in the UK for live Premier League football, etc. I think that this is only going to get deeper and more complicated as we go on. The public, rightly, wants more and better content at better value.

It’s interesting that you’re talking about Amazon, Facebook and digitalisation. Clubs have turned into companies that compete with each other not only for trophies but also in many more aspects. Do you think it is sustainable that clubs like PSG and Manchester City are spending billions in order to get players, but not getting as much revenue in selling?

The real discussion here is about Financial Fair Play, which is designed to stop the clubs from dominating football by flexing their financial muscle and creating a dream team to the detriment of the other clubs competing in the same league. It was interesting, when I was hosting WFS in Madrid, to see European Leagues speak about the importance of competitive balance. One of the things that Financial Fair Play does is try to keep the game as balanced as possible.


Clubs like Manchester City or PSG are called “clubes de estado” by Javier Tebas, or essentially state-funded clubs, ones that have links to countries like Qatar or UAE. But football clubs must find new and innovative ways to monetize their products to maintain this rhythm of expenditure, and we will discuss some of that at WFS Asia, such as investment in eSports teams, etc.


I think that this expenditure is sustainable within a certain margin but we also have to see how things evolve. If governing bodies are thinking about launching their own OTTs, what about clubs? Could that be something in the future? The possibilities are vast. Football is a multi-billion euro industry and I have no doubt that the landscape is going to be significantly different in five to ten years time.


You’ve covered all leagues but you are closer to the Premier League. What’s your opinion on the current situation of the PL? LaLiga wins most of the trophies but PL spends much more money. Is the trend beginning to change as we are now seeing only one Spanish club in the Champions League quarter-finals and four English teams?


We will lose one English team in the quarter-finals, as one tie has two English teams facing each other, but that in itself is still a huge improvement on recent years. You’re right, Spanish teams have had a hold on the UEFA Champions League in particular. It’s not only about the teams that have won it, but Atlético de Madrid have also reached two UCL finals. This is due to the fact that the Spanish clubs have excellent technical ability and tactical knowledge, born of the incredible footballers and coaching talent they have got and continue to nurture.


That said, I believe that the situation is beginning to change. This UCL with English teams dominating the quarter-finals is not a one-time situation. It is not only about money. If you look at the managers of those clubs: Pochettino, Klopp and Guardiola are some of the best coaches in the world, as well as Solskjaer who has had the best education in the world, learning from Sir Alex Ferguson during his time as a player at Manchester United. That is going to make a difference and is something that English teams are going to use to change the balance.


I still think that there is plenty of strength in LaLiga and it is a really interesting time because these two leagues are the ones that dominate.


You have hosted World Football Summit before and will do it again in Asia. What do you think about it? Can you share your experience, as well as why you think is important to celebrate events like this?


I’ve been very fortunate to host and cover lots of events in my career, such as World Cups or UCL Finals and I have to say that the event we held in Madrid was right up there for me. The number of top speakers we had such as Javier Tebas, Andrea Agnelli or Ronaldo Nazario, to name just a few, was amazing. Being on the same stage and sharing that experience with those guys was incredible. It shows that in a very short period of time WFS is attracting the right people to these events, giving them a platform to speak and shape the conversation of the present and future of the football industry.

That event was a success, but any company who is successful needs also to evolve and this is what WFS is doing by heading to Asia. We talk about football being a business; businesses need growth and Asia is still a relatively untapped resource. Leagues are trying to get into Asia, with the PL being the most obvious example but it is interesting to see what other leagues and clubs do, especially LaLiga.


There’s an old cliché about people seeing more and more football shirts in Asia. But it’s more important than that. When I’ve been in Asia, I’ve noticed a huge appetite for football. We are the most connected generation in history and you don’t have to be in that country to consume that country’s football, and clubs know that. Whenever I have a conversation with fans over social media and they come from Indonesia or Malaysia, I am really impressed by how much football they consume and how well-read about football they are.


WFS is a great opportunity and a really important event, and I am confident that it will be a roaring success.

Ramón Loarte – Q&A
Ramón Loarte – Q&A 1772 1181 World Football Summit Asia

Ramón Loarte is the Chief Commercial & Marketing Officer at Sevilla FC. He is result-focused and holds an MBA at IE Business School, with more than 15 years in managing business development for top-tier companies and specialized in digital areas.


Over the past 15 years, Sevilla FC has become one of the most important clubs in Europe, winning 5 Europa Leagues, 2 Spanish Cups, 1 European Super Cup and 1 Spanish Super Cup.


We had a small Q&A with Loarte, who is going to be a speaker at World Football Summit Asia, in Kuala Lumpur, on the 29th and 30th of April, 2019.


What can you tell us about the current strategy Sevilla F.C .is following in the digital part of the club? We’ve witnessed how nowadays it’s getting more and more important to cater that part of the club and manage to be even closer to fans.


At Sevilla FC, we understand the importance of digital growth and that is why it is an integral part of our marketing strategy here at Sevilla FC. We want to talk with our fans on a daily basis which will come from our digital platforms and how we engage with our fan base. Just this last year we launched our “Sevilla World Fans” program, which is aimed at identifying our global fans and providing them with exclusive content and club news on a daily basis. As part of our digital growth, we understand the importance of giving fans access to the club with localised content. That is why we have a digitally responsive website which is translated into 6 languages. This is also why we have social channels localized across 7 markets with individual and local ad hoc content published on the respective channels.


What’s Sevilla’s role in Asia and what does the club want to achieve in the Asian continent?


Asia has been a key market for Sevilla FC and, in the future, will only become more important to the growth of our football club. We visited Japan two years ago, when we played two games against local J1 league teams. On the back of our successful Japanese Tour we partnered with two Japanese companies in Falken and Makita with both companies still sponsoring Sevilla FC today. Also, in late 2017, Sevilla FC opened its first SFC Soccer Academy in Asia, in the city of Fukushima. This is the first of many Academies we hope to open across the continent in the near future.

Sevilla FC is also working with the renowned Chinese digital agency Mailman. As part of our work with Mailman we are creating localised daily content across our Asian social media platforms such as Weibo.

Also, as a club, we are working closely with LaLiga who have physical presence in Asia with their Singapore office. During the last 3 years, LaLiga has launched a powerful project of internationalisation of their brand and all their teams, not only the two strongest ones. With LaLiga keen to develop the brand around the world in new football markets and Asia especially, there is an opportunity for Sevilla to grow its fan base too.


How much and in which ways do you believe that the Asian football industry has evolved in the past few years? Every day we see more clubs opening offices in Asia and aiming to be closer to fans in that part of the world.


The growth of Asian football has been fantastic to witness and I’m very excited to see where it will lead to in the future. I think that the more time that European clubs spend in Asia, the more time we spend working and exchanging ideas with our Asian counter parts, the more the Asian football will continue to grow and improve.


 Sevilla FC is an example in many ways. It’s a club that masters the transfer market, has a great eye in finding talent and is living a Golden Age. Why do you think is the reason for that? What is the key to Sevilla’s success in the past 15 years?


Sevilla is a club that has experienced massive change in the last 15 years. In the early 2000’s the club was going through economic problems with negative funds and also in sporting terms there were problems. Following our relegation to the second division, a lot of projects put into practice suffered shortages of funding. But since then, the club has undergone extraordinary change. Under the guidance of coach Joaquín Caparrós, Sevilla would go on the win promotion as champions back to the top flight at the end of the 2000-01 season. The following years would see the Andalucian’s consolidate their position in the league whilst changes at board level would add stability to the club’s business functions.


In 2006, having secured the UEFA Cup qualification, the team would triumph over Middlesbrough in the final in Eindhoven, setting up an all-Spanish UEFA Super Cup final against Champions League winners FC Barcelona in Monaco which they won 3-nil. In 2006-07, Sevilla ended the season in 3rd place in LaLiga behind champions Real Madrid and Barcelona, ensuring UEFA Champions League qualification. Since 2007, Sevilla has won the Copa Del Rey (2009-10), and the UEFA Cup/Europa League a further three times in a row in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Sevilla FC won the Europa League on five occasions across a 10-year period with a squad that incorporated a lot of young players who had developed through the Sevilla FC youth system.

Inside the entity we have a clear aim, which is the sporting goal. In other words, our financial resources are our main tool that enables our professionals to aspire to achieve the best sporting success.


Sevilla FC has made great marketing campaigns in the past few years. More and more clubs are looking for ways to engage with the fans and keep them as close as they can. What is the most important thing you want to communicate and how do you do it?

 “It is said we never surrender”, this is the identity of everything we do and communicate at the football club. Whether that relates to the team on the pitch or our commercial growth off the pitch. This identify is felt in the communication across all the aspects of our club, from the offices to the pitch, keeping our philosophy always close to our minds. This philosophy has helped us reap the European rewards, giving a boost to the club as well as obtaining international recognition and attain a prestige, which we did not have before.

To become one of LaLiga’s, and European football leading clubs requires continued sporting success. Sevilla’s Europa League success in recent years has helped the club build a reputation that is valued by players from around Spain and Europe. Our approach combines the closeness of a familiar club together with the professional structure to help the club build the Sevilla FC of the future.


What’s Sevilla’s medium/long term objective as a club? After winning all those trophies in the past ten years and consolidating as one of the most important clubs in the world, what is it that the club expects to achieve?

As a club we are now focussed on building the Sevilla FC of the future. The club now has 432 employees and revenues of 220M euros and our aim is to continue to grow both on and off the pitch. We want to shape and sustain our model to remain competitive with other clubs in Spain and in Europe as well as to continue obtaining competition successes.

Part of that strategic plan is the remodelling of our stadium, Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Investment in the stadium’s structure and facilities has been undertaken in the last few years to accommodate the needs and expectations of the modern fan, but keeping in mind that we don’t want to lose its essence and location in the city centre. Increasing the stadium’s capacity and developing new hospitality areas have also been an integral part of this development, which the club hopes will secure us the chance to host a UEFA Europa League final in the future.

Since 2015, the club has invested in changing the colour of the seats, covering exterior stands with metal facades and LEDs, the renovation of refreshment stalls and toilets, the replacement of fences with glass panels, the renovation of the away changing room and referees’ changing room, the installation of two new scoreboards and the expansion of the lower East Stand.

We are also developing an action plan for our Training Ground Campus currently known as Sports City. We are aiming to invest between 15 and 20M Euros in the coming years to dedicate an exclusive area for the first team, build offices for the general services of the club, as well as to complete the work of the mini stadium “Jesús Navas”, which has already been initiated, and to undergo a general modernisation process.


How important is the use of new technologies such as big data or machine learning for a club? As we talked before, Sevilla F.C. has a great knowledge of young players across the globe and it has proven how important is to know players when starting to work in the transfer market.


Crucial to the club’s continued growth is the implementation of growing and engaging our global database of fans. This is key for our commercial opportunities both domestically and internationally. With LaLiga keen to develop the brand around the world in new football markets, there is an opportunity for Sevilla to grow its fan base too. And in order to grow our fan base and to grow commercially, it is key we build our database of fans on a global scale. That is why we launched our “Sevilla World Fans” program just last year and why we work closely with Nielsen Sports on identifying and recognizing our fans globally.

According to data from Nielsen Sports, Sevilla FC has 144.5m potential followers around the world, from which 46.8m show a strong interest in the club. Our 5-year plan aims to approach this impressive number of people who show an interest in Sevilla FC and develop more of a global brand without jeopardizing our close environment. Our new digital platform will provide us with identifying multiple touch points to our global fan base. We want to know as much as possible about our fans so we can make sure we are delivering value and rewards for their appreciated support.


On the 29th and 30th of April, World Football Summit will land in Kuala Lumpur to celebrate its first Asian edition. The key players of the industry will gather for two days and discuss the hot topics of the business. What do you think about WFS? Why is it important to have events like this in the football industry?


I think it is important that we have events such as WFS in order to bring the key people from across the football industry to discuss key topics and plan the future of the beautiful game. In this fast-paced life, we all lead today, it is great to have events such as WFS to switch off the day-to-day work for a few hours at least and look to engage with fellow professionals and listen to motivational speeches from the football industry elite.


World Football Summit (WFS) is a globally recognized and important sporting conference. I have been a regular attendee at WFS Madrid and I’m really looking forward to WFS Asia. I think it will be an important date in the calendar for all sporting executives going forward.

Alberto Bernaldo – Q&A
Alberto Bernaldo – Q&A 1196 1148 World Football Summit Asia

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!

James White – Q&A
James White – Q&A 1000 667 World Football Summit Asia

James White has more than 25 years of experience in the sport’s industry and is currently working as the Head of Sales at FIBA in the APAC region. World Football Summit is not only an event that seeks to gather the most important decision makers of the industry, but also to invite important executives from other sports and build bridges that will make the sport’s business thrive.


Hi James, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how did you end up working with FIBA?

I’ve been involved in sport’s marketing since 1994. My first football involvement was in 1994 with the Indonesian league. I’ve been working with football leagues, clubs and national teams in Asia and Europe ever since. In 2011 I was among the first people to engage European clubs and national teams to create local and regional Asian deals, which increased revenue and exposure in the international markets. Many of those clubs have opened offices in Asia ever since.

I am currently with FIBA Marketing seeking partners across the Asian region. But I have worked with many sports in Asia since 1994.

James White

With such a big baggage of experience, in your opinion, what’s the current situation of the Asian sports market? There are many indicators showing us that it is a great continent to invest and that the interest, not only in football, but also in basketball is growing faster than we could ever predict.

 I think that the world sees the strength of the Asian market in terms of sponsorship and investment potential. The economy is going well here so there’s money for sports.

Sports marketing, in general, from content to fan loyalty, ticketing and even sponsorship is at an all time high. Digitisation allows rights holders to know their fans better and deliver diverse offerings, which translates in high engagement levels and revenue as well as better sponsorship prospects.

In my case, FIBA is seeing its most successful days commercially. Times are great for the sports marketing industry here in Asia and the future looks bright as well.


Football clubs and federations are doing all they can to reach the Asian market and engage the fans. Offices are being opened, sponsorships are being negotiated as we speak, etc. How is basketball compared to football penetrating the market?

Football has a higher global participation. It’s by far the biggest sport in the world; basketball is number two, but there’s quite a big difference between number one and number two in terms of following, viewership and participation. We have to choose which markets we engage for our marketing push. We’re happy to have a good position in China, which is becoming the world’s biggest market from a sports revenue perspective. The future looks good as we have our FIBA Basketball World Cup there this year. Having top players from around the world competing here in Asia will help us for years to come in both China and the greater Asian region.

Finally, we work closely with the NBA who has been successfully developing Asia for many years. Football has a very big head start and is the biggest outdoor sport, we are the biggest indoor sport so we certainty hope that people can play football on a sunny day and come inside and play basketball on a rainy day!

Continuing with the parallelism. What would you say that football could learn from basketball and vice versa? NBA is certainly competing with the Premier League and LaLiga in terms of viewership and it’s plain to see that both sports are doing many things right. But, what could they do to improve?

Basketball has learned from football. In our latest world cup qualification process we modelled it after FIFA’s by introducing home and away qualifiers for the first time across 80 markets. That increased our penetration and fan base dramatically since we suddenly had 80 markets watching their national team vs other international teams at home. These games took place simultaneously over an 18-month period.

Also similar to FIFA and other successful global sports federations, we want to give our member associations the opportunity to generate revenue and to play in front of their home fan-base. That sort of activity will increase our footprint all over the world all at once. By seeing what is successful in other sports, we are now reaping the benefits and witnessing huge growth across many markets.

On the other hand, I think that basketball is the only sport that enjoys a strong lifestyle element around it. It’s not just about the sport; it’s fashion, it’s hip-hop music. I think that basketball reaches a group of people that are not necessary hard-core sport fans but really like the lifestyle around it.

Football enjoys a big base of hard-core fans but there’s not as many entertainment and lifestyle elements around it. Especially when you go to a game, that’s that: all eyes are focused on the players and the match.

If they could somehow introduce entertainment elements in an organic matter they could reach more casual football fans and focus more on the off -the-pitch elements of the players. Now that we have a growing digital community there’s more of that being done, but I think that this is an area where football could do more.

We’re moving into a new generation of millennial kids that are going to want cool and fun things. And if the sport is seen as kind of your dad’s sport, it will slowly lose its appeal. While remaining true to the game, every sport needs to stay relevant to young fans; a way of doing that is creating/promoting the lifestyle and entertainment elements around the sport.


That is in fact something that many football circles have discussed and many people are looking at what happened with tennis in the US, where it has become a sport watched by older people and forgotten by the younger generation. Talking about the future, what’s FIBA biggest aim in Asia in the near future?

 The FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in China in August and September and that’s where most of our focus is being put this year. We obviously have other events happening which are also important, but much of our effort is being put into properly marketing our first FIBA World Cup in the new format and make it the biggest and best sporting event of the year. For example, we had the draw ceremony in Shenzhen last week where we had entertainment like Jason Derulo, Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant, and we actually sold out the stadium of 8,000. People were really excited to attend and it felt like a concert! FIBA turned an operational process into an entertainment/lifestyle event.

Our focus is showing people that our product, whether it’s men’s, women’s, boys, girls, 5 on 5 or 3 on 3, is a fun product. We want to expand in Asia and show those new fans, even if they are not really basketball fans, that they can come to a basketball game, enjoy themselves and have a good time.

That’s our focus: drawing the attention to the lifestyle elements of the sport. Showing people in Korea that most K-pop artists prefer basketball than other sports. Showing them that there’s something for everyone in our game; whether it’s the music side, the fashion side or the actual sport side. I believe that there’s something that will appeal to the urban youth in Asia.

We want them to come and check it out and I bet they’d love it if they gave us a chance.

What’s your opinion on World Football Summit and this type of events?

Often times we operate in spheres of knowledge and we can be limited to the expertise within our own organisations or by the information that we see in the industry publications we read. But only when we cross those spheres with other people, we can truly understand new ideas that we come across. Then, we find ways to move things forward.

Sharing ideas is always a good thing. WFS is a great opportunity for sharing ideas and literally ask questions and dive a bit deeper. We can come away with actual strategies and actionable concepts. It’s a great idea and I am really happy and proud to be included.


James White will be one of the speakers at World Football Summit Asia, where you can hear more about what he has to say about the Asian sports industry.

Suresh Letchmanan – Q&A
Suresh Letchmanan – Q&A 990 557 World Football Summit Asia

Borussia Dortmund has been playing a leading role in the European football scene during the past ten years. The club has achieved the Champions League’s second place in 2013 and winning two Bundesliga trophies in 2011 and 2012. BVB is also known for its development of young players, such as Mario Götze or Ousmane Dembélé.

We have interviewed Borussia’s Managing Director in Asia Pacific, Suresh Letchmanan, and discussed the current situation of BVB and the Asian Football Industry scene in general.  


Hi Suresh, can you tell us a little bit about your career and experience in the football industry? As I understand you didn’t start working in the industry until a bit after graduation. What can you tell us about it?


I have a diverse background of a career. I worked for around six years in the legal industry and graduated from the UK, reading law. Even though I started on that path, I always had a huge interest in sports, so I did my master’s law degree in International Sports Law at Anglia Ruskin University, England. I was involved a lot with sports law related work and it was a difficult move for me to start a new career totally in sports but I was particularly passionate about football.

In my younger days I played football at a semi-professional level, so when I saw the opportunity to work around this sport, I jumped on it without hesitation. I got the break at World Sport Group, Lagardere Sprts for three years and thereafter a further two years at a city law firm in Singapore before joining Dentsu Sports Asia, as the company’s Vice President. The opportunity to work with Dortmund came around 5 years ago. I’ve been in the industry for around close to 12 years and I am very passionate with the work that I’m doing here at Dortmund an am also familiar with the activities and the sports business in and around Asia.


Have you seen a lot of changes in the Asian football industry? There is a World Cup coming in 2020 in Qatar and the AFC just organised an amazing Asian Cup, which has been a great success. The AFC revealed that the 836 million interactions during the tournament broke the record, and that in many cases, fan engagement was ten times higher than in the previous cup in 2015. How do you see the future of football in this continent?


Asian football has grown tremendously and rapidly over the years. The quality of football is getting stronger and closer to some of the leagues in Europe. One example is that you could see many Asian players plying their trade in Europe. I can speak about the Bundesliga, where, for instance, we have so seen many Japanese players playing in the league.

Furthermore, it is a great spectacle to see how successful the Asian Cup has been. There’s a lot of media interest and also brand exposure for the local brands as well as a great deal of partners and sponsors interested in participating in a tournament like this. It’s also a great platform to see top Asian talents on display.

It is also important to notice how smaller nations have closed the gap with the traditionally bigger football-driven nations. Vietnam is a great example of that, but you can also look at what India has done in the last few years to get closer to the “big boys”. China is another good example, with a great professional league that helped them pushed their national talents forward.


Asian football has developed well over time and there’s a lot of interest on the Asian players globally, as mentioned. I’m confident that in the years to come we will see more Asian footballers making their marks on a bigger European stage. It’s just a matter of time of when you see the gap between the Asian players and European players become smaller.


Borussia has been growing both as a club and as a brand, what can you tell us about the work you’re doing? What are your club’s strategies in Asia? Are you looking for sponsorships, to build academies or a mix of everything?


There are a lot of things that we expect to accomplish here in Asia and we have organically grown our visibility and reach in the last five years in Asia. However, the first important element for a club like Borussia Dortmund to achieve is for us to be closer to our fans. We would like to think that we are a club that is always close to the people. An example of that is our stadium, where you can see 25 thousand people on the south stand at every home match. It’s an amazing spectacle and atmosphere. Here at Dortmund it’s in our DNA that we maintain a close relationship within our club including our fans, staff, coaches, players and partners. We’re a family here.


For us in Asia it’s important that we are seen and to be present in the various markets in and that’s why we were the first German club to come to this Continent. We would like to continue to be closer to the Asian audience, fans, partners, media and the Football community. We also want to be close to those who can’t afford a trip to Europe to watch the team play in the stadium, that’s why we bring the team to Asia, with our players, legends and create nice stories.

Secondly, we want to export our knowledge. A club like BVB has a very strong technical knowledge of how to grow talent. We have a great youth-driven philosophy and we would like to share that with Asian market. There are many ways to do it, such as club development programmes or just by sharing our knowledge with the academies, clubs and schools here. What ever we do we want to do it in an authentic way and at the same time keep the intensity to grow more black and yellow hearts.


Thirdly we want to add more black and yellow colour to Asia. We want to grow our merchandise and to have more people having access to our products. It’s nice to see some black and yellow in this region; it’s a nice colour and you can use it even to go to the cinema or for a night out.

We want to be present in each and every way. Sometimes we send our former legends to meet the fans; some other times, our current players come to Asia in the preseason to share stories, talk with the media or just to a meet and greet with our fans.

If we do all these exercises we might also find the possibility of securing a new partner or sponsor, but that’s not our first aim: our first one is to be closer to our current and future fans.


Bundesliga has also grown a lot in the past few years. There has been an increase in the amount of money invested in it, and we’ve seen how the German league has topped the Italian one in the UEFA ranking. This great success has come hand in hand with the one in the German National team. Also, many young talents in Europe are coming from German teams. What’s the secret behind this great success in German football?


The most important thing is to develop and cherish the youth. They are the future. The German clubs give the young players a chance to play on the big stage, in huge competitions like the Europa League or the UEFA Champions League. You can find examples of that in our club, like Christian Pulisic, but this youth-driven philosophy happens also in the other Bundesliga clubs as well.

We see many players coming at a very young age and become superstars. The latest example of that is Jadon Sancho. I believe that this philosophy makes our league really attractive and special.


Secondly, we have the best fans. Every stadium is full on every match day and you can see and feel a huge amount of emotions, adrenaline, passion, character and support in the air. It’s unbelievable what we see every weekend in the Bundesliga. Every match, at our stadium we have close to an average of 81.000 attendance and for some fans it has become difficult to get hold of season tickets.

Suresh Letchmanan, Managing Director in Asia Pacific – Borussia Dortmund

That’s another thing that says a lot about the boom that the German football is experiencing. How do you think that it happened? What’s the difference between the way Spain, England or Italy are having their strategy in attendance. German attendance is the highest in the big five leagues. Does it have to do with the price?

Absolutely. You need to keep prices at a reasonable and affordable rate for the people to continue to come and support their teams. At the end of the day the fans are the ones that are spending the money at the club and are the ones that go to the club’s shops to buy scarves and all sorts of merchandise.

We want our fans to have a fruitful and wholesome experience, not just a trip to the stadium and back home. It is nice to see families going to the matches and be able to buy a drink, some food or even make a visit to the museum on an affordable price. That’s why we offer discount prices with the tickets, or bundle it with a visit to our club museum for example, which, at the same time, makes the fans happy and attracted to the club. Also, at the end of the day, that’s money that is coming back to the club, and it’s a way for the fans to keep supporting us.


Finally, what’s your opinion about World Football Summit? It is the first time that WFS arrives in Asia, an ever-growing market. What do you expect to accomplish there?


This is a great platform. It is amazing to have all the top different industry football players coming in one day and all in one place and ready to share their knowledge. its the football community and it’s nice to see and meet everyone at the same spot. It’s also great to share with each other what each of us are doing at our respective clubs. Is a great stage and I look forward to attending and supporting the event.

Héctor Prieto – Q&A
Héctor Prieto – Q&A 3840 5760 World Football Summit Asia

We have visited the Yerba Buena VR’s office in Madrid to interview their CEO, Héctor Prieto. The office is set in central Madrid, Gran Vía, in a co-working space hosted by Telefónica and its brand Wayra.
YBVR is the winner of the WFS 2018 StartCup, a competition for the sport-tech companies around the globe.


Héctor, what could you tell us about the company? Imagine that you are trying to explain Yerba Buena VR and its history to a person that has never heard about it in their entire life.


This is a company created by four video lovers. Constantino and I started working together a long time ago. We built the ONO platform in Spain and created an IP-based television company, which Ericsson loved and bought. They asked me to go to the US, where I met really interesting people, which would later become my partners in YBVR.

The idea came up during those long nights where we stayed up working for Ericsson. We saw that VR [virtual reality] was getting the attention of many companies. For instance, Facebook invested 2 billion dollars in Oculus; Disney also invested 65 million dollars in virtual reality. We looked at each other and realised that there was something missing in the market. People were investing in technology, but nobody was looking at how to market it or deliver it in an efficient way.


How did you find a way to get into the market? What was the solution you brought to the table? After all, VR is a relatively new market in which new ideas are probably welcome.


We had to think out of the box. The problem we saw was that VR requires really heavy high-definition images being streamed at a very fast speed. The streaming VR platforms had to lose most of the quality in order to deliver a good service. We decided to concentrate all the quality, 8K-12K, in the spot where the person using the headset was facing, while losing quality in those areas that are not being seen by the user. This idea worked amazingly and we patented it.

That’s the way we reached 4 times the quality with half of the Internet use.


Did YBVR start as a company focused on the world of sport? I understand that you have been working with Mutua Madrileña tournament and the Australian Open. How did you decide to dive into the world of tennis?


One of us, Constantino, was a semi-professional tennis player, so he knew the business. We started to work with the Spanish Tennis Federation, afterwards we did the Davis Cup in Marbella, entered the Madrid Mutua… at the Mutua Madrileña tournament we had a stand where people could watch Rafa Nadal playing live with the VR headset. More than 2500 people saw it, with around 75% of them being teenagers and young adults. That was a success since the director of the tournament brought us because he wanted to organise a technological and youth-driven tournament.

Such experience showed us that this tool is great to bring the young people closer to the sport. In the USA for example, tennis is a sport watched by people in their sixties…. our tool could attract young people back again to tennis.


YBVR was the winner at the World Football Summit 2018 StartCup by GSIC. How was your experience in this event? Did it help you move your company towards your objectives?


It did wonders for us. It’s important for you to know that we, as a company, won’t serve the audience; we serve other companies like LaLiga, Fox Sports or the Australian Open.

That’s why the WFS StartCup worked so well for us, a lot of interesting things came out of it. The jury, which was composed of around 18 people, was formed by around 80% of potential clients of ours. One of them was an executive from LaLiga and she approached us to see if we could do something together. We are now in very advanced conversations with LaLiga thanks to our participation in the summit. I encourage all startups in the sports world to sign up for this event.


How is the company moving forward? What are your aims for the next few years? You are now establishing yourselves in the world of sports. Will you keep growing your presence there or try new markets?


We’re really happy because the thing is going great. We’re based in Silicon Valley, but our technology is made in Spain. The partners are all Spaniards, except for Víctor, a Mexican. We have investment from different kinds of Venture capital and Telefónica just joined as well in the investment. HTC is also working with us in San Francisco. We have raised more than 3 million USD in investment and we are growing the project, with 12 clients, mostly from the sports industry.

Our biggest client is the Australian Open, and we expect to see them increase the value of their sports rights package and bring it up by 10% in three years thanks to our product.


Why is the Australian Open such a great ally? What made you go to that tournament in particular? After all, you’re based in California, and other tournaments in Spain or USA would seem to make more sense.


We started working with tennis, not just because of Constantino, but because we knew that the Australian Open has always been open to the application of new technologies. They are the ones that are always looking for a way to improve and make their tournament more broadcasting-friendly. They were the first ones to use the spider cam, the net cam, etc. They have always been innovative.


But now, as you mentioned, you have started to negotiate with LaLiga. Is there a big difference between the way that football and other sports approach technology? We’ve witnessed how, for many years, football has been more of a traditional sport that didn’t adopt new technologies. Do you consider that this is changing?


We think that our technology is best applied in sports. We tried different fields like tourism but we believe that our technology shines in a live broadcasted event. The sports industry has changed a lot and it is now more open than ever for new technologies.

It’s true that football is more of a traditional sport, but that’s also beginning to change, and LaLiga is a great example of that. It is amazing to see the way they are doing a push in technology and internationalisation over the past four years.

I realised how big the brand is when I moved abroad. Wherever you go, LaLiga is a well-known entity and Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are known in each and every corner of the world.

The efforts made in the internationalisation and the technology application of the tournament is amazing. Also, a lot of Spanish companies are working to make it a better and more modern competition. We will see amazing results soon.


I had the opportunity to try your technology in the VR headset and I quickly understood why you won the WFS StartCup by GSIC. It is an amazing way to experience sports and all these kind of events. How is this going to be marketed? How much could it cost for the average user to have this experience in their living room?


I think that the sports audience will be enjoying this technology really son. That’s what we’re working on. It is not as expensive as most people think. The typical VR headsets cost 180 USD. In Japan they are selling a lot of these because houses are smaller and there is not as much space to put a TV. But, even if the technology is as good as it is, there’s still need for agents like Facebook to push the VR revolution forward and use technology like 5G to keep advancing. I think that Movistar could release a Premium service with VR headsets, that’s something that could happen really soon.

People will start to use the VR technology when there’s content behind it. In the NBA, for instance, there already is. We are now talking with FIBA and want to reach the world cup in China.


As a user, what would I need? There are still a lot of unknown things about the use of this type of technology. But let’s say that Movistar does release this premium service, what kind of hardware would I need to enjoy it as a user?


That’s the great thing about our technology. You don’t need anything but the headset and an Internet connection. The day that a service is launched, you just need the headsets and you will enjoy it.

It will seem as though you are at the World Cup without having to take a plane. It’s important to understand that we are creating a new medium that is not the TV. We are trying to replicate the idea of being at a sports event without actually having to be there. My partner always says that the day will come when you know you were at the Australian Open, but you won’t be sure if it was via VR or if you were actually there.


I know that this is a difficult question to ask, but when do you believe that this will happen? VR technology has moved a long way in the past few years and it is now more than ready for the general use. When will the average user enjoy this new technology?


The project we are thinking about is the 2020 Olympics. We want to make it available for everybody in that time. We have Japanese capital working with us and we think it is a possible objective. I don’t think that 100% of the audience will have this technology in one year and a half, but I do believe that the 2020 Olympics will be watched with our VR streaming technology.


Learn more about our World Football Summit Asia StartCup and the Startup Competition in Madrid.

Lars Heidenreich – Q&A
Lars Heidenreich – Q&A 1100 1080 World Football Summit Asia

This week we interviewed one of our speakers in World Football Summit Asia, Lars Heidenreich. Lars is the Director of Mediapro Asia, and he talked about the newest trends in broadcasting, football piracy and other subjects that will also be a part of WFS Asia.


Welcome, Lars. It’s a pleasure to have you as one of our speakers in WFS Asia. We know you are the Director at Mediapro Asia, but what can you tell us about your involvement in the football industry and in broadcasting in general?

I’ve been working in the industry for over 20 years and I’ve spent most of my career in Asia, where I arrived in 1998. I’ve seen a huge amount of changes and vast developments in the industry; from working with traditional Free TV broadcasters to the arrival of PAY TV, digital and social media, which made it possible to deliver more football matches and distribute more content throughout Asia.

During these twenty years, I’ve also witnessed the changes of broadcasting industry and the arrival of new players and platforms, as well as new technology being introduced in the market, such as OTTs.


As the channels to bring football to the audience changed, viewership also did. We’ve seen how football has come a long way, from being a not-so-followed sport in many countries to the most watched and supported one in the whole continent. Countries like Thailand or China, where football was a sport followed by a minority of the population, are now hugely interested in football. What can you tell us about these changes?

Football is a commodity in Asia. There was always a following for English football; the English Premier League enjoyed a massive fan-base, obviously due to the cultural ties and for language reasons. But, over the years, Asia has witnessed how LaLiga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 have grown and gradually built and expanded their fanbase. Throughout the years, the interest among Asian fans to watch and consume European football has grown exponentially, also pushed by the arrival of many successful Asian players to the European leagues.

But the interest has not only grown towards the European football, as many countries have their own big fan-base for their domestic leagues. J- League, CSL in China or the Thai Premier League are just some examples of national competitions that are becoming bigger brands.


Has the domestic growth started along with the interest in European football? Is this something that has been happening for a while or just a few years ago, when countries like China and Japan started buying players like Paulinho, Fernando Torres or Iniesta? Many scholars on the subject have their doubts on whether this growth is something that has been happening organically or with the support and money injection from their national governments.

It is a mix of both things. Most Asian leagues woke up to this a little bit more recently, while in Japan or Korea, J-League and K-League already were well established when both countries co-hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002. In China the explosion of CSL is a more recent thing and some of the current interest levels, government and private business support may in part be owed to the Chinese President.

But the growth and investment are plain to see and it’s a recognition that their talents have become better. With the support of the domestic broadcast industry in each country, I think these leagues are getting greater exposure and turning into proper businesses in their own right.


A few weeks ago, there was a Piracy joint statement by AFC, UEFA, FIFA, Premier League, Bundesliga and LaLiga on BeoutQ. This marks a big milestone, as it represents a huge part of the industry coming together to fight piracy and make their intentions clear to the world. Coming from the broadcasting industry, this obviously affects you. What’s your take on piracy?

 Piracy is the single biggest issue for the entire industry. It’s not something new but it has been a growing trend and a problem that attacks not only football, but the whole entertainment industry. Government bodies and industry bodies must share and compare notes to help each other fight it. At the moment, there are new systems and tasks forces being put into place to recognize piracy, share and exchange information between Football governing bodies and to lobby governments to introduce stricter legislation to fight piracy.

Piracy is a major concern to the whole industry and it’s not something that can be taken lightly.


On the other hand, new ways to bring football to the audiences are being tested. This year we’ve witnessed how innovation, technology and football came together when LaLiga, Mediapro and Facebook announced an agreement to broadcast LaLiga in India. What can you tell us about this new way of broadcasting football?

LaLiga makes strong strides in engaging with the audiences and reaches out to football fans anywhere, as well as engaging with younger demographics and new fans. LaLiga makes conscious efforts to reach a broad audience, even accommodating kick-off times for more suitable viewing times in Asia.

LaLiga closed a deal with Facebook in India, which is one of the biggest and most relevant markets for Facebook outside of the US. This was an absolute first amongst European Football leagues and a very innovative way to try something completely new in a non-traditional Football market. Facebook offers a very broad distribution as a free medium that enjoys a huge following in a very tech-savvy market. At the same time, sublicensing three matches per week to SONY TEN, offers LaLiga fans in India the best possible combination to consume Football on social media and more traditional linear television.

It is really a great example of digital / social media complimenting established operators in a country. Football is still a growing sport in India and LaLiga has been making efforts to capture that fanbase, including opening a dedicated office in Delhi some four years ago. Apart from working with Facebook on LaLiga, Telco ‘Reliance Jio’ have also signed up recently to broadcast the Copa del Rey competition.


Is this something that can start a trend? Social media platforms are in the center of how businesses are made nowadays. Do you think that something like that can start happening in football, making social media the preferred way to broadcast football internationally?

The trend is not new, depending on which market it has in fact been happening for many years. In China for example, even six/ seven years ago Mediapro Asia had distributed LaLiga literally on every Internet and video portal from PPTV, to SINA, Tencent, Youku, LeTV, Ali Sports and NetEase. That came on top of CCTV 5 and several provincial broadcasters showing LaLiga matches every week. through each and every platform.

Today, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter etc. appear to be the new trend to partner the football industry. Not just LaLiga in India. Apparently, Facebook also acquired English Premier League in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for next season. Whether it becomes the new go-to platform for football broadcasting remains to be seen. At this stage rights acquisitions by major social media networks still appear to be very selective and driven by both opportunity and geography. Initial results certainly look good. LaLiga likes the data they are receiving and the feedback is great, but it is too early to know what model really works best long term. There is definitely room for traditional media to remain significant in the sports industry for years to come.


With all the changes witnessed in the industry and in broadcasting in Asia. What do you think about WFS and WFS Asia? Why do you think it’s an important event?

It’s a fantastic opportunity to provide a platform for all the different stakeholders and industry players to come together in Kuala Lumpur and exchange information on all the topics while discussing all the subjects. Is great to have this platform and bring everybody together and build a relationship.


If you want to hear more about what Lars Heidenreich has to say about the football industry and Asia, you can find him at the World Football Summit Asia in Kuala Lumpur on the 29th and 30th of April.

Adrian New – Q&A
Adrian New – Q&A 1106 1104 World Football Summit Asia

This week we have decided to sit down with Adrian New for a few minutes and discuss several topics. New is the Director of Football Initiatives at AIA and we wanted to hear a little bit more about his background and take a sneak peek at what he has to say about the football industry in general.

Adrian New will be one of the speakers in World Football Summit Asia.


You have been involved in the football industry for a long time. Can you tell us a little bit more about your experience, where do you come from and where you are now?

 I have covered the whole spectrum. I came to Asia in 2001 after working with VISA in sponsorships. I moved to a company called World Sport Group and through them I worked on the AFC properties for five years, where I was head of sales. After that, I joined Chelsea FC as managing director in Asia and I was responsible for the commercial activities in Asia.

 Since the beginning of 2016 I have been working at AIA, where I manage the partnership with Tottenham Hotspur.


The Asian Football industry has evolved largely in the past few years. We have seen a big number of Asian countries investing in their national leagues and sport facilities. Asia has also invested a great amount of money in buying players from European leagues to improve their own national ones. You’ve been in the center of this evolution. How did it happen? 

I am probably biased towards the Premier League, but I think that as the platform has grown, viewership has grown a lot. The resonance football has across Asia has increased.

If you go back to 2001, when I arrived here, The Premier league didn’t have a particularly strong platform in Asia and it was probably pretty much unknown in India. The Premier League made great efforts to increase the platform while keeping the product strong. There has always been a level of interest in football here, but it is now growing rapidly.


Do you think it’s possible that Asian leagues reach the quality of the Europeans one day? After all the money that is being invested, the aim is probably to compete with the greatest teams in the world. For instance, the strikers in Vissel Kobe, with Iniesta, Villa and Podolski, could compete with the attackers of many European top teams.

 The general quality of the Asian leagues is still far from the European ones. Outside of Japan and Korea, people are more interested in European football than they are in their own national leagues.

That’s beginning to change. Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand can get huge crowds, but European football still leads the way. I work in 18 different countries and in almost all of them football is the number one sport.


Countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia have appeared on the radar of football fans around the globe. These were countries that had nothing (or close to nothing) to do with football, but now are main actors in the picture of the international football industry. Is the Asian football industry going to keep investing in Europe consistently? Should they keep putting money in Europe to maintain themselves in the picture?

 I would prefer to see them grow their own players rather than keep buying top players from European leagues. If you look at China, where the president put a lot of emphasis in building football schools for children, the problem I see is that their parents weren’t used to football. Now, with the new generation growing up around football, kids are being encouraged to follow football as a career rather than as a hobby. The more they can do that, like it’s starting to happen in Indonesia and Malaysia, the better their local leagues will get.


In the meantime, while Asia has been investing in the European football in different fields, such as the sponsorship of stadiums or the buying of clubs like PSG and Manchester City, Europe has also turned to Asia. The percentage of money invested has been growing consistently over the past few years. How can Europe grow their fan base in countries like Malaysia, India or Qatar?

 I have seen the number of European academies here grow rapidly. Ajax has an academy, LaLiga too; Real Madrid has a partnership with another one… I don’t know if they are going to put money directly into buying clubs, but they’re investing a lot of time and money into the development of players, thus making Asian football grow. They are helping in the development of talents on a day-to-day basis.


In April, World Football Summit will celebrate its first event in Asia. Hundreds of decision makers, clubs and federations are expected to attend. What’s the importance of events like WFS in the industry and what do you expect to achieve there?

I think it’s important that the world of sport comes together to share experiences and opportunities. There aren’t many places here in Asia where you can meet so many people from the industry. The opportunity to meet the top of the people in the football industry is fantastic and we should keep learning from each other.

To me, that’s the key benefit to the summit.


If you want to hear more about what Adrian New has to say about the hot topics of the football industry and Asia, you can find him at the World Football Summit in Kuala Lumpur on the 29th and 30th of April.