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The Interview - Marian Otamendi, World Football Summit Director

It has been a pleasure for SPSG Consulting to be able to interview Marian Otamendi, World Football Summit (WFS) Director. Carlos Cantó, CEO of SPSG Consulting, is proud to be part of the WFS Advisory Board, and looks forward to continue working together in future Editions. To date, SPSG Consulting has been able to lead and participate in various workshops at the World Football Summit, as well as collaborate in the elaboration of reports such as "A Special Report on Football Ownership and Governance", published in December 2022, and others including Football Industry Trends, Football Industry Trends in Africa, and Football & Sponsorship.

Thank you, Marian, for sharing your time and knowledge with our readers.

WFS – World Football Summit has evolved rapidly over the last few years and, nowadays, is considered, if not THE one, for sure one of the most prestigious and important football congresses in the world. You are the founders and directors of the Congress. What was the origin of WFS and what are the plans moving forward?

Jan, my co-founder, and I had been working together for several years and, together, we founded Nexus Fostering Partnership, a business that is still running and that supports embassies and businesses from around the world to create and accelerate deals in Spain. We used to attend many trade shows and came to realize there was none gathering the football industry. We realized the strong association between Spain & Football and thought we might as well set it up. Conversations with football industry experts encouraged us to move forward, and we were identified as a project under the “Marca España” initiative before organizing our first edition.

We identified the need for an event that could connect stakeholders, facilitate networking and business opportunities, and provide a platform for talented individuals to enter the industry. Our first event took place in Madrid in 2016, and since then, we have organized 17 events globally, in cities like Madrid, Sevilla, Istanbul, Durban, or Prague and we are excited for a new edition of WFS Asia in Riyadh in December.

So far, across all of our events and with the support from brands like LaLiga, Meta, Amazon, Cruyff Institute or Deloitte, we have been able to gather 22,000+ attendees, 3000+ companies, and 600+ properties and, moving forward, our plans include organizing flagship events in each region of the world per quarter and developing WFS Verticals, which are invite-only events focused on specific topics, such as innovation, women’s football, etc., in cities worldwide.

WFS has already celebrated editions not only in Europe (Madrid and, nowadays, in Sevilla), but also in Asia (Kuala Lumpur), Africa (Durban), etc. Recently, you have signed a multi – year agreement to WFS Asia take place in Saudi Arabia. How do you envision the evolution of Football (not only from a competitive perspective but, mainly, as an industry) across the Middle East (Qatar, UAE, etc.) and, more specifically, in Saudi Arabia?

We envision a promising evolution of football, both as a competitive sport and as an industry, across the Middle East, specifically in Saudi Arabia. The level of investment in the sport is increasing significantly, and initiatives like Saudi Vision 2030 demonstrate a strong commitment to sports. With potential bids for hosting major tournaments, official club competitions, and the attraction of international superstars, the football industry in Saudi Arabia is poised for growth.

During Football Innovation Forum we were having an informal conversation about this very topic with representatives from clubs in Europe and from businesses operating in the industry and the conclusion was that it is not outrageous to think about a major league emerging from the Middle East soon. The strategy behind what Saudi Arabia is proposing seems strong, now it is a matter of executing it to see it through.

As such, we are excited about organizing WFS events in the region and expect to continue doing so in the long term.

Football is evolving in a positive way and is trying at the same time to rejuvenate their practitioners and audience. What are the main challenges that Football? And how female football can compete against other sports and entertainment options?

Football is facing several challenges as it tries to rejuvenate its practitioners and audience. As our friend Michael Broughton explained in detail on our podcast, the traditional sports business model is outdated. Stadiums have limited capacity, partners and sponsors are in need to justify their investment with greater details and broadcasting rights can only grow so much. This means that it is mandatory for the industry to find new sources of revenue.

Sustainability is also crucial, with clubs needing to prioritize economic, social, and environmental aspects for long-term success. Connecting with fans, especially Gen Z, is another key challenge due to the diversification of channels for sports content consumption. In the case of women's football, it has incredible potential, but it needs to enhance the stadium experience, improve accessibility for girls who want to play, and leverage digital channels for broader visibility and partnerships with brands. Research by SponsorUnited suggests that 61% of brand partnerships in women’s sports involve digital activation (vs 44% in men’s sports), so there seems to be a nice window of opportunity there.

Finally, if the industry wants to grow, it needs to welcome more talent into it. Senior professionals who can create business opportunities, startup founders who want to grow their brands in the industry, young talent that is knowledgeable in new technologies...the overall ecosystem needs to include these types of profiles if it wants to become more professional. One of the main trends in the football industry is the appetite coming from investment funds, private equity and other type of investors in holding the ownership (total o partially) or commercial (media, venues, sponsorship, merchandising, etc.) interest in clubs, as well as in Leagues and competitions. Back to December 2022, the WFS even published a very interesting report about Ownership and Governance in the Football Industry. What is your vision about this reality, and where the football industry is heading up to when it comes to investment and ownership?

It is undeniable that this transformative period in the industry presents significant opportunities. As we spoke about before, regions like Saudi Arabia are making substantial investments in football, and broadcasting deals and competition for talent are impacting the industry globally. Then, you go to the other side of the world and see broadcasting deals like the one between Apple and the MLS, worth $2.5 billion over the next 10 years. This is already impacting European clubs as the competition for emerging talent that comes from regions like LatAm is becoming more fierce.

All of this goes to say that interest in football is at an all-time high, which suggests investment in the industry could keep pace. We would not be surprised to see more multi-club ownership dynamics, where investors hold relevant positions in properties around the world, not just in Europe or Latam. The benefits of such a model are felt both across the entire organization including its culture, business performance, and diversification; this is a model that seems will be prominent in the industry for years to come.

Another topic we discussed in the report is athlete investment. Not that it will be the norm in a few years, but given how many of them currently are becoming savvier, it will not be surprising to see more of them being involved in some of these ownership groups. This does not mean that all players will get a "Messi-type" deal, in which it seems he has been given the possibility to buy a significant stake in Inter Miami, revenue sharing schemes, etc. but that more players will be involved with other private ownership groups.

If you are interested, make sure you download the report HERE.

According to your knowledge and understanding of the sports industry, which accounts, in a global basis, for 1.5%-2% of the world GDP, what are the main trends of the sports industry moving forward? How the sport industry will look like by 2030?

Looking ahead, we anticipate the professionalization of the football industry to continue, attracting more talent and contributing to the global GDP to a greater extent. Some dynamics that we believe are worth keeping an eye out for include:

  • Personalized fan experiences driven by new technologies will reduce friction and enhance engagement.

  • Empowering fans and evolving models like the Kings League may also play a prominent role. They will not replace the traditional model, but they will cause it to evolve.

  • From a business perspective, media rights and partnerships will continue to evolve, but properties will need to make a better effort in helping them justify their investments.

  • Furthermore, it is essential to increase the representation of women in leadership positions within the industry. This is something that, personally, would make me very proud. Currently, the number of women on the boards of top European clubs is low, and we are dedicated to driving change and promoting more empowered female leaders in the industry at World Football Summit.

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