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New Spanish Era

In the space of a week in May, Atletico Madrid won Spanish football’s top-tier and was seconds away from a famous UEFA Champions League victory. Dermot Ledwith speaks to the club’s commercial director Javier Martinez about the challenges and opportunities in capitalising on the new success.

Atletico Madrid overcame bookmaker’s pre-season odds of 66-1 to win last season’s La Liga title, breaking a two-club domination in the country that had seen Barcelona and Real Madrid consecutively win nine previous titles.

Atletico added to that amazing feat with a first Champions League final in 40 years, which it lost to city rivals Real in extra-time.

The huge transformation on the pitch means the onus has been on the club to raise its game commercially, and it did exactly that in February with the appointment of managing director for business development, Javier Martinez, as a direct request from majority shareholder Miguel Angel Gil. Argentinean-born Martinez came from a similar role at Disneyland’s French office.

“As a club we are planning so that in the future we are less opportunistic with our business strategy and are able to monetise in a more organic way,” Martinez told SportBusiness International. “Success can kill you; so you need to be able to manage it well.”

With a move to a new stadium in the offing for the 2016/17 season, preparations are in full swing to turn Atletico into a long-term major football power in Spain and extend its brand on the international stage.

“We have evolved for five years, now we have the new stadium and a structure that allows us to be among the top three clubs in Spain,” adds Martinez. “Our aim is to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League every season over a number of years. To compete, I have to increase revenues, improve the partnerships we already have and sign new deals that benefit us both domestically and internationally.”

Martinez sees the club competing in the second-tier of clubs in Europe alongside peers such as Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. However, he is insistent that the domination by the big two in his home market has been broken.

“There is a generation of kids who have now grown up with Atletico winning things,” he says. “We win things with our own specific mentality, and our coach [former Argentinean international] Diego Simeone represents the essence of this.”

As a club we are planning to be less opportunistic with our business strategy so we are able to monetise in a more organic way

Fan Celebration
Atletico has won awards in the past for creative marketing campaigns that played on fan loyalty, as well as the club’s reputation for adversity. One famous advert showed a young son perplexed when asking his father why they are Atletico fans, however the current campaign tells fans to ‘Celebrate what you are’ – and that underlines the new mentality Atletico is looking to convey, says Martinez.

The current shirt deal with Azerbaijan runs until the end of the 2014/15 season, and the club has worn the country’s ‘Land of Fire’ logo on its shirts since an original one-match deal was struck before a Madrid derby in December 2012. Atletico had previously struck one-off promotional matchday shirt sponsorship deals with Huawei, the Chinese telecoms company that now has partnerships with Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax among others clubs.

“We are exploring opportunities to continue working with Huawei,” adds Martinez. “We did some short-term deals that showed them how they can work with football clubs, and our relationship is an example of how we give value and provide sponsors with what they want.

“With the Azerbaijan deal, both parties are willing to continue after the current deal – they have a great case study with huge brand awareness. We are in a global market and want to be in new territories developing new local partner agreements where we don’t just put our club name on something, but where we can grow our fanbase.

“Our story is universal, we are the underdog, the challenger fighting the status quo and we have an inclusive brand; we don’t have the problem of Real or Barca where you either like one or the other.”

The vision for the new Atletico Stadium – http://www.clubatleticodemadrid.com/

New Stadium
This summer, Atletico has visited Mexico and the United States for pre-season fixtures, while Martinez cites China, the Middle East and India as other areas they are interested in. In the latter, Atletico has a strategic project with a club in India’s new Super League competition, Atletico Kolkata.

Meanwhile Atletico’s domestic fans are traditionally loyal and regularly fill the 55,000-capacity Vicente Calderon stadium just south of the city centre, but that could change for the better when the club moves to the proposed 70,000-seater venue close to Madrid’s main international airport in two seasons’ time.

“We have a robust department for venue development that looks after our current stadium and will lead the launch of the new stadium,” says Martinez.

“We have a consolidated commercial team focused on sponsorship, retail, and licensing development, plus a newly-created marketing department to look after the brand, strategy and CRM. We will also soon have a new business intelligence unit.

“Another exciting project is the round of negotiations for the naming rights of the new stadium, where we are speaking to a number of brands. Our academy is also strategically important and we’ll be working closely with it to develop commercial partnerships abroad.”

On the subject of La Liga’s famously top-heavy TV rights, which are negotiated individually by the clubs and an issue that greatly disadvantages Atletico in favour of its two main rivals, Martinez sees an obvious injustice for a club that has just topped the league.

“It is very difficult to compete in these circumstances, but we are fighters. Now we are relevant on a global stage we have to consolidate what we have achieved,” he says. “The change in the law that is being discussed would benefit us greatly.

“We have to face facts, Real and Barca are global brands that earn many times our revenue, to compete with that you need a lot of courage and heart.

“We have made a good start by putting into place what we need to compete. Last season was amazing, but now we have two years of hard work before we open the new stadium.”

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