Former Barcelona star player Andres Iniesta, who is currently playing in the J-league’s Vissel Kobe, was named the latest LaLiga Icon, a global marketing initiative fronted by ex-La Liga stars with strong online followings.
LaLiga is the organising body of the top two divisions of Spanish club football, and it’s president Javier Tebas said: “We are delighted to have Andrés Iniesta on board as a LaLiga Icon. He is a player who inspires millions and is a fantastic representative for what LaLiga stands for across the globe.”
Iniesta is the second LaLiga Icon, with the first being former Real Madrid and Spanish national team captain Iker Casillas.
“Iker is a player with a huge number of followers of social media, some 45 million, and this is really important for us,” Tebas said in March during the launch of the Icons initiative.
The LaLiga Icons initiative aims to expand the LaLiga brand through a strategy focused on digital dissemination, maximising LaLiga content and taking advantage star player’s social media followings around the world.
LaLiga told Sportbusiness Asia senior editor Kelvin Tan: “The Icon initiative is an extension of an Ambassador programme that has been going on for the past four years, where we work with past legends of LaLiga to help share our message around the world. We have many strong ambassadors including former stars such as Gaizka Mendieta or Fernando Morientes. The ‘Icons’ status for Casillas and Iniesta recognises their exceptional achievements in the game and the fact that they spent practically their entire careers in LaLiga.”
“One of the key ways that we work with Ambassadors/Icons is to produce entertaining content for fans that helps spread visibility for LaLiga. It could be a message for a national holiday, an event, a football skills challenge, etc. We use this in a variety of ways but most of the content works well for social media, so we focus our efforts there.”
Ivan Codina, LaLiga’s managing director for SEA, Japan, S.Korea and Australia said: “The LaLiga icons build an important connection between globally-known football stars and our competition. Having spent a huge amount of their careers in LaLiga, the icons have a great understanding of how the competition has built a global fanbase over the years and its future objectives. They help demonstrate to brands and viewers that the impact of LaLiga goes far beyond a playing career.”
The social media platforms that LaLiga engages their global fanbase include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, VK, OK, Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, TikTok and Toutiao and LINE.
Beyond being a fanbase outreach, LaLiga Icons also function as global spokespeople for LaLiga, and will appear alongside LaLiga at events or record comments as part of a communications launch, which gives the them added visibility that is offered by these ambassadors with huge global followings and social media influence.
However, these Icons will not engage with sponsored and B2B campaigns. Codina said: “We work with icons to provide an engaging voice behind LaLiga projects around the world. This helps communicate our message to a wider audience including global fans and brands. The strategy does not include direct deals between icons and brands.”
While the Icons initiative will be fan-base driven, the increased numbers of Asian fans that it will garner will help LaLiga’s commercial plans in the region. Though Iniesta’s presence in the Vissel Kobe side has not helped their J-League ambitions as much as they hoped, with the club in 15th place out of the 18 clubs on the table, he has certainly done wonders for them commercially. “In a normal year we sell 150,000 merchandise item,s but in the two weeks after Iniesta arrived we sold 50,000,” Masayuki Morii, Vissel Kobe’s business manager said to the Guardian.
Alex Broun, LaLiga’s commercial director for SEA, Japan, S.Korea and Australia said to Sportbusiness Asia: “We are extremely privileged in this region, where new industries and brands are popping up. We are looking at exciting brands who want to build on the passion that Asian fans have for LaLiga, and who are seeking to do things differently, such as Unilever and Budweiser.”