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The Interview - María-Guadalupe Benzal, International Relations Director at MADCUP

MADCUP is one of the largest and more successful Grassroots football tournaments in the world, gathering more than 10,000 players in Madrid. Thanks to María-Guadalupe Benzal Alía for her generosity to share with our audience the insights of the tournament. SPSG Consulting is proud to be assisting MADCUP in its journey.

MADCUP is a very young but, at the same time, extremely successful grassroots/youth football/football tournament held in Madrid. Can you tell us a bit more about the origins of MADCUP?

The idea of MADCUP first came to us when we were watching the news one weekend and it covered a fight that broke out on the pitch between some parents while their children were playing a football match. Presented with this distortion between the values associated with sport and what is often experienced on many pitches where our young people play football, we felt the urge to contribute to the work that so many clubs and federations do to teach values through sport. MADCUP is not only a large-scale male and female youth football competition; it is a project in which education plays a great role, and we host educational activities throughout the year. This is what we do - we promote the values that can be taught through sport: respect for the referee, coach and the opposing team. We reward the integrity of the players, the encouraging behavior of the supporters and other aspects that show that, although winning is important, there is much more to sport than simply trying to win the match at any cost.

In any sports competition, for example, in a tennis grand slam, out of the 128 players who play in the final round, only one of them will win. The rest will have lost a match, leading to them getting knocked out of the competition. The question is, should we only place value upon the winner? Are fair play and integrity not worthy of appreciation? Do the effort of the players, in overcoming obstacles, in being strategic and inventive, not have intrinsic value? At MADCUP, we want to revive this spirit at the grassroots level and create a tournament in which young people, in addition to competing at the highest level, can enjoy playing against their rivals-peers, learn about the other cultures of the more than 30 countries that take part, forge lasting friendships and have an unforgettable experience for the whole family in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Madrid.

Just a few decades ago, the excitement of playing football with your friends would lead children to improvise, making a ball out of their school bag, and the matches would carry on until the last player ran out of steam or it got dark. Today, there is plenty of infrastructure available, but children do not use it because they spend so much time glued to screens. Those who do play in teams—and there are many of them—give up on their dreams of becoming professional players, because it is often instilled in them that it is a flawed goal. All this generates a lot of frustration in children. We need to revive the sport and the game, the idea of playing and having fun. And this is not at odds with a sense of healthy competition.

What you propose goes beyond a football competition, delving into the areas of education and values, as well as healthy habits in regard to young people, culture and tourism. Why do you think MADCUP is so unique and what kind of results have you been seeing so far in terms of participation, attendance, economic impact, etc.?

Sport is an integral part of growing up, not only because of the healthy habits it develops but also because it helps you to establish a relationship with other people in which social and behavioral skills come into play. Well-practiced sport makes us better people.

Healthy habits should be part of the education of our young people. Together with Bristol Myers Squibb, a company committed to preventing childhood diseases, we try to ensure that young people are helped to protect themselves from solar radiation and can enjoy a healthy diet, to prevent melanoma and cardiovascular diseases, respectively. If, thanks to sport, these guidelines become part of their daily routine, this will contribute significantly towards their future health. Acquiring good habits is not always so difficult with sufficient motivation, and in our case, we want MADCUP to be a source of motivation for young people.

When it comes to figures, impacts and results, the first edition was challenging, because it was held during the pandemic. However, everything worked out perfectly and we welcomed more than 400 teams—seven thousand boys and girls with their coaches—overcoming the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, without any incidents that could not be swiftly resolved. As of that very first edition, MADCUP was recognized as a top-tier tournament, both in terms of the competition itself and its organization, with Spanish and international teams competing alongside clubs based in the Community of Madrid.

In 2022, more than 700 teams pre-registered, but we capped the competition numbers at 550 to ensure all participants' safety and ability to travel, since the tournament clashed with a NATO summit hosted in Madrid. The tournament featured over 10,000 players, almost 2,000 coaches, 1,500 matches, half of the referees of the Royal Madrid Football Federation, sixty football fields and over 400 volunteers. From June 23rd to 28th, 2023, the goal is to welcome the participation of 600 teams from more than 30 countries, in 16 categories, and about 12,000 players, more than 1,600 matches, and 120,000 spectators. We are possibly already the largest tournament in the world of football clubs and federated players, which makes it a particularly special and outstanding event to be a part of.

Your portfolio of sponsors and partners, in addition to the institutional support you receive from public administrations in Madrid (the city and region) as well as football clubs (including Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid), boasts prestigious brands, such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Movistar, Burger King, Volvo, Iberia and OWQLO, to name but a few. What are the main characteristics and reasons that make MADCUP such an attractive sports event specifically for sponsors and partners?

MADCUP has a number of characteristics that make it a very attractive tournament for our partners and collaborators. The Supreme Sports Council of Spain has recognized MADCUP as an event of special interest for its support of youth sport and promotion of sport among women. From the perspective of sport, we aspire to be one of the best tournaments in the world, but, as I have already mentioned, MADCUP is much more. MADCUP encompasses different sectors, Education, Culture, Health and Tourism, in collaboration with the UNWTO and with federated sport, and is deeply rooted in family values.

The tournament App, developed by OWQLO, provides real-time updates on the pitches where matches are held simultaneously. We work with MARCA as a Media partner and receive the fantastic support of the EFE Agency. MADCUP TV by INTERACTVTY broadcasts many of the matches, including the Gold finals on Telemadrid, Movistar Ellas, Real Madrid TV, some of them live, so that parents, players and coaches can enjoy the tournament experience from their own homes.

From a logistics point of view, one of the most outstanding aspects is the attention given to the teams, who are assisted at all times and taken care of from the moment they land at the airport until they depart. In just three editions, the number of international teams who have returned to compete the following year is very high, highlighting that MADCUP is one of the tournaments in which they have felt best looked after.

We have developed a crowdfunding platform so that teams with limited economic resources can still take part in MADCUP.

In a nutshell, the MADCUP Sponsorship Program enhances the visibility of our sponsors’ brands, aligning them with the core value of being associated with the largest youth football tournament in the world. We have designed a comprehensive sponsorship program that allows us to provide support in specific areas/projects and to help brands, in full coordination with us, to plan, organize and launch projects (mostly related to social and environmental sustainability) with added value. Meanwhile, it also offers brands the opportunity to generate incremental revenue.

This framework encourages brands to associate their products and services with the values promoted by our tournament and through which we connect so successfully with our target audience. The Community of Madrid, the city councils of the municipalities of the Community of Madrid, the Empresa Municipal de Transportes (EMT) urban transport planning company of Madrid, the Royal Football Federation of Madrid, PROLIGA, the University of Alcalá and its Cimuart Institute are great partners of the project. We also work with companies such as VOLVO, which assists in providing vehicles and transport for the tournament, as well as SANFIZ, IBERIA, BCD Sports, to allow Spanish and international teams to travel to Madrid. SOLAN DE CABRAS and Plátano de Canarias provide water and fruit for hydration, while BURGER KING contributes an increasingly healthy food offering. OASIZ and CINESA provide the entertainment available for participants and family members. Not forgetting KROMEX, a Madrid-based company that provides football balls and sports equipment.

MADCUP is an international tournament. The 2023 edition will take place in the Madrid region from June 23rd to 28th, and it is expected that more than 12,000 young football players will participate, representing 600 teams, 30-40% of which will be international. MADCUP has also signed a partnership agreement with the Dallas Cup (in the United States). How important is the international angle of MADCUP, not only this year but also in the years to come?

MADCUP has an international dimension because every year we want to bring together in Madrid all the best clubs and teams from around the world. Historically, when Spanish athletes and teams have achieved international success in various sports, the promotion and social following of this sport in Spain has exploded. We want to be the world’s meeting point for youth football - an event that the best teams from every country don’t want to miss.

The international aspect is fundamental, because it gives young people the opportunity to meet and interact with other cultures. They spend time together, sharing their cultures and values, and they get to know about life in other countries. In short, when you travel, you are able to value and appreciate the beauty of what makes us different. This year, we aim for international clubs to represent 30% of the total number of participants in MADCUP.

This year, we have signed an agreement with the Dallas Cup, the most prestigious youth football tournament in the United States, which so far has held 33 editions. Every year, they have to select the 300 teams that will participate, since more than double that number apply. MADCUP and the Dallas Cup share common values and goals, and we are open to collaborating with others institutions, organizations, companies, sponsors, etc., with the same interests as us, that can help us to develop our project, or that can find in us a fruitful affinity.

The sport industry generates around 1.5-2% of the global GDP and is evolving rapidly. Based on your in-depth knowledge and understanding of this industry, what are the main challenges the sector is facing and must address in the coming years? What do you think the sports industry will look like by 2030?

Sport will always continue to be played. However, it is true that an industry of this size is constantly evolving to take advantage of the benefits offered by new technologies, new materials, etc. For example, by recording a match, artificial intelligence allows us to create a very detailed analysis of the performance of a team, and even of each individual player. These data, which can be of great importance, should not be taken as an absolute when it comes to organizing youth sport, and it is therefore essential that sport retains its fundamental values. Innovation and new technologies must only serve to reinforce these values. As long as this is the case, everything will continue to be in order, but the moment that the possibilities granted by technology become an overriding value when it comes to training young athletes, this will put us in a risky situation, with undesirable results.

The sport industry is also in the process of embracing the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) and is aligned with the 17 SDGs of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, becoming a pivotal, pro-active player in spreading the word about and implementing the concepts behind them.

The most important thing is to perceive the value of sport as an industry, with all the companies, people and added value that it represents. We encourage all those involved in this industry not to lose sight of the benefits and values that sport brings.

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