Fan engagement proving the key to growth

Last week saw the Soccerex European Forum take place in Manchester and the first ever report  looking at the economic impact of football within the Greater Manchester region, revealed that it alone nets £330m a year for the region’s economy, with 8,500 jobs supported by the game – read more here as reported by the Manchester Evening News.

That’s a pretty impressive figure for the region, where we are also based, in fact we estimate that football in the North West accounts for one third of our business, something we’re looking to grow. What is also interesting are the hot topics being discussed at an industry level and it’s probably no surprise that fan engagement is still right up there….

Soccerex’s breakout session on fan engagement proved so popular not everyone could get into the room! This alone demonstrates a level of anxiety; as clubs look to develop a strong commercial foothold and recognise that their fan base is crucial it appears so many are still unsure how to build upon this. Whatever league they might be in currently and whether promotion or relegation is on the horizon, every club is keen to monetize their fan base.

The value of knowing exactly how people are purchasing, what and when they are buying is compelling for clubs. They want to be able to develop individual customer profiles, deliver tailored marketing communications based on areas of interest and effectively liaise more closely with fans to build stronger engagement.

Galatasaray FC has been very focused on developing a vision around its fan relationship management (FRM). With the largest fan base in Turkey that spans the globe, it recognised that ticketing can be at the heart of understanding its customers and wanted to manage its customer database directly. By knowing what its supporters are looking for at an individual level, the club can now personalise its customer service and incentivise attendance with schemes around rewards, discounts, smartcards and loyalty points for priority tickets using data from its ticketing system.

Özgür Gündoğan, Head of Sales at Galatasaray FC, will be speaking about its FRM strategy at next month’s Sports CRM Summit, hosted by the Sports CRM Agency Goodform, held on Monday 20th May at IBM South Bank in London – see here for more details. You might want to come along to hear about it directly – here’s a synopsis of what he will be talking about:

“Being the top Turkish sports club known for its international successes and leadership on and off the pitch, Galatasaray SK has only 2 years ago moved to its new home. From the old 22K seater Ali Sami Yen Stadium to its namesake 52K seater Ali Sami Yen Sports Complex TT Arena, the club’s commercial model has gone through a massive transformation requiring brand new approaches in sponsorship, merchandising and most importantly fan relationship management. 

Özgür Gündoğan, Sales Director, Turk Telekom Arena, Galatasaray SK, has not only overseen the major overhaul of the club’s stadium marketing & sales strategies but also played a highly instrumental role in crafting the club’s long-term fan relationship management vision and roadmap. With the successful mid-season launch of Galatasaray’s white label ticketing solution, Galatasaray has put technology at the heart of their FRM strategy and Mr. Gündoğan will share their learnings and experiences throughout this journey.”

Of course, don’t hesitate to get in touch directly with me or one of the team if you’d like to discuss FRM and how our ticketing solution, TALENT Sport, might also help your club.

Mark Dewell, MD

IRIS Ticketing

FA Chairman David Bernstein’s Speech at Soccerex

Here is a full transcript of David Bernstein’s speech at Soccerex’s European Forum in Manchester, this afternoon:

In the 150th anniversary year of The Football Association, I really am delighted to have been given the opportunity to make the closing address at Soccerex.

My time as FA Chairman finishes in July, and while this is not quite my end of term report, let me say straightaway that I have had a really great 10 years with The Football Association. The last quarter of which as Chairman has been a privilege and an unique experience.

It is a fine organisation and I would like to pay tribute to the Executive Team and the staff. They are a talented, motivated and creative group of people who have a difficult and sometimes unappreciated task running this multifaceted, complex, high profile organisation. They are dedicated, working every hour for the game and with a determination to not only do the right things, make the right big calls, but all the while giving full consideration to the whole of our game. They should be accorded great credit. It is a pleasure working with them.

I would also like to thank the many people from across the game and industry who have given their time freely as ambassadors in support of this landmark year for The FA.

I left Manchester City 10 years ago and I have made a point to not speak publicly about my time there. Similarly after I leave the FA I will of course be supportive of my successor, Greg Dyke, and keep my observations to a minimum.

When I was appointed Chairman I observed that the FA lacked stability and was an organisation short on confidence. I think and believe it is generally recognised that we have made real progress on both counts.

The greatest privilege of being Chairman of The FA is the honour of leading the whole game and there is much to be proud of at every level.

Our National game, or amateur game as it is widely known, is the lifeblood of football in this country. In this 150th anniversary year, it is more important than ever we highlight the outstanding work at grassroots level. There are 400,000 volunteers that ensure people of all abilities can enjoy their football every week. These are our unsung heroes and without them football would not function in England. This is where football is such a powerful vehicle for good, keeping people fit, providing a social focus and also supporting our professional game as a crucial entry point into the sport we love. In my time at The FA the women’s game has gone from strength to strength, and in its 20th anniversary of being run by the FA it stands on the verge of overtaking both cricket and rugby in terms of its levels of participation.

As President of Level Playing Field I am particularly passionate about the strong progress in our disability programme, as highlighted by the Paralympics. Over 115,000 participants take part in some form of disability football every week, making it the seventh most popular team sport in the country.

The professional game is also something we should be very proud of. We have the oldest football league in the world, this year celebrating its 125th anniversary, where clubs remain at the heartbeat of many communities. The Premier League meanwhile continues to grow as an incredible global competition. This is the league that is watched wherever you travel in the world, continually providing exciting high-octane football. Our leagues are tremendous assets to both English football and the nation as a whole.

We also have The FA Cup, the oldest, most famous domestic knock-out competition in world football.  As our landscape continues to evolve, we all have a duty to protect and treasure the unique traditions and heritage that The FA Cup provides. This is a magical and democratic competition which year on year brings all parts of the game together, delivers inspiring giant-killing moments and incredible stories. Ask any Wigan or Millwall fans their views of The FA Cup and they will I’m sure proclaim its magic.

However, the professional game does not exist without the supporters who flock to our football stadia. They are our heartbeat. Without these passionate fans there is no football and we must ensure we treat them with care and respect, and make football accessible to all.

Football officials, players and managers change, the fans are a constant.  At this significant time of year when we remember those who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough, we must not lose sight of this.

Our match officials make football happen at every level. We have some of the best in the World, and rightly recognised as such. We have become too accustomed to criticising them, when technology means every decision is scrutinised more than ever before. While there is always going to be debate, we must treat them with greater respect, focus on their sustained excellence and have trust in their abilities and integrity.

Youth development is an area which may have been neglected in the past, but this is now really taking off. Our professional clubs deserve tremendous credit for the way in which they have developed their academies and the whole game is building on that with the Elite Player Performance Plan. We do need to produce more and better players in this country and I believe this is happening. The challenge moving forward is for these players to be given the opportunity to perform at the highest level – Howard Wilkinson spoke eloquently about this at The FA Council yesterday. The pool of English talent has to increase.

he opening of St. George’s Park, The FA’s National Football Centre will also be of great benefit to the whole game. In just a few months we have already seen St. George’s come to life as a real hub for our national teams. The Club England setup is working extremely well. The ambition of having it operating in a similar manner to a successful football club is being achieved. We have a good level of mutual confidence and camaraderie which runs through this division embracing the managers, their staff and our teams. Roy Hodgson has bought into the whole concept and is building for the future, introducing young talent whilst working flat out to qualify for the World Cup.

In my view we continue to move in the right direction as an efficient and well run organisation. The FA operates extremely well. We distribute £100million per annum to the wider game, Wembley stadium can now justifiably claim to be one of the very best venues in the world. Wembley is now profitable and we expect it to be debt free within 10 years. Meanwhile St. George’s Park having been constructed on time and to budget is now moving into its operational phase.

Respect as a subject has risen to the top of my own agenda and today I will talk about this in its widest sense to include antidiscrimination and related matters. My time as Chairman has been accompanied by a background of individual, high profile issues and even in the last few weeks we have seen a string of challenging headlines. Nevertheless the general progress we have made in dealing with discrimination has been significant. I believe the FA has handled these matters impartially and properly and at the same time enormous efforts have been made to educate, regulate and lead on this vital agenda. I was particularly pleased that at the request of the Prime Minister we led football in producing a collective action plan on antidiscrimination with recommendations and there is a stream of actions in hand which will begin to be implemented later this month.

A new generation of players are growing up with respect as a code and these youngsters will consider it as a normal part of their football education. This is vital as we all know the importance of players as role models. We need to be confident in ensuring that our own regulations and procedures are updated to deal with on-field matters as the game continues to develop.

I also hope and believe that the strong stand I took at the FIFA Congress in 2011 helped enhance our standing in the wider football world and I think that we have done well in developing relationships with Government, the media, the other football organisations of this country, FIFA and UEFA. In the case of UEFA this is clearly evidenced by our hosting both their congress in London this year and a second Champions League Final in 3 years at Wembley.

Our representation on international committees is stronger and better organised. This is vital if we are to increase our influence across the world game.  We need to use that influence to promote progressive issues and change internationally. To do this effectively we need to work with our colleagues in UEFA as self evidently the unified voices of 53 nations will always carry more weight than England’s alone.

This clearly brings me to Governance and the structure of our game. This issue has been with me almost from my very first day, and through the work of Parliament, its Select Committee and Government itself, it remains high on our agenda. I am not one of those who think politicians have no role in questioning how we run our game. Whilst we are rightly very proud of the tremendous change that has taken place in our industry – commercially and financially we have experienced nothing short of a revolution in recent years -we are not unique, and like every major sector in society we have to expect external scrutiny and challenge as part of the process of renewal and adjustment to a game that has fundamentally changed over the last two decades.

Let me be quite clear. During my term we have made only limited progress in this area. I did manage to have two independent directors appointed to the FA Board and they have already proved to be of real value.  But otherwise changes in governance are still very much in the melting pot and being stirred very slowly. Our governance reform process is working on the principle of ‘gradual change in due course’ and I think as a consequence the whole game is missing an opportunity to better itself.

I am frequently asked a crucial question: is The FA is a representative or a governing body? I believe it is both but that the balance between representation and independence leading to the ability to govern strongly must continue to be examined.

In conclusion, I genuinely believe English football has so much to be positive about and so much potential for the future.

From youth development to women’s football, investment in the grassroots to the strength of our Leagues, we are thriving and looking ahead.

As a game we’ve been on quite a journey since 1863 – from a London tavern to a global billion pound industry played by millions – it has faced down many challenges and it has always been at its strongest when working together.

For me this is the most important point – strengthening relationships, furthering trust and approaching everything as a collective whole game will undoubtedly provide the best platform to achieve success across all areas at all levels.

As I step away from my present role I will watch the next stage of development with fascination with optimism.


‘A Unique Russian Perspective’

2018 FIFA World Cup LOC Deputy CEO Alexander Djordjadze with the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell

In a change to the planned attendee, 2018 FIFA World Cup LOC Deputy CEO Alexander Djordjadze stepped in for CEO Alexey Sorokin (who was on World Cup duty in Moscow) and delivered a compelling and heartfelt overview of Russia’s hopes and aims for the first World Cup to be hosted in Europe since the glorious summer in Germany in 2006.

Here’s an outline of the main points discussed:

Russia’s successful World Cup bid has the support of the general public on a grand scale. When they were awarded the tournament it was a huge shock to all but three years on they know that the public is very much on their side. A survey last year revealed that 65% of people know that the World Cup will be in Russia and 89% believe it will bring benefits and an emotional boost to the country. Of course, there are a few critics, there always are says Djordjadze. However, he believes it is mostly political rhetoric. The World Cup will undoubtedly bring jobs to the country and being a centralized state aids with the organising. The government is very much behind it and taking it seriously (as demonstrated by the fact that Alexey Sorokin could not attend Soccerex today, as he is meeting with the government back in Moscow) and President Putin is Chairman of the LOC board.

People are proud that Russia has been chosen for such a unique opportunity – the first country in Eastern Europe to host the tournament. Once Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014, then it will sink in further and there will be a more palpable pride that they are the next hosts.

Djordjadze points out that there is much work to do but reminds all that during the bid they never said they were ready to host the World Cup tomorrow. Very few countries could do, as very few have 10-12 suitable stadia, +100,000 hotel rooms etc. Five new stadia are being built at the moment. 80% of the population live in the west of the country and games will be concentrated there. Maximum travelling times for teams will be 1-2 hours.

Through the World Cup they want to change the perceptions and myths about their country. There were older myths about the country but they have been replaced with new myths, of oligarchs and tycoons but Djordjadze is keen to emphasise that Russia is a country with an incredible mix of cultures.

“We want to make it a great experience for visiting fans,” says Djordjadze, announcing that there will be free travel between cities for fans with tickets, on train or bus. There will be no problems regarding visas for fans with tickets (30,000 fans without visas, visited from Manchester & Chelsea in one day for the Champions League final and all worked fine), in fact he hopes that by 2018 visas may be history anyway.

They want to avoid the problem of hotels taking advantage and so regulation of prices will be enforced.  To tackle the trickier problem of fan misbehaviour a new ‘Fan’s Law’ was passed just two days ago by the Prime Minister Medvedev, with fines and bans and suspension of businesses for offenders and organisers of violence. The matter of racism and violence is a very serious one he affirms and of course FIFA will assist Russia on these matters but he is also happy that the government are helping too.

One way to change this type of culture is to change the environment and Djordjadze is clearly inspired by the transformation of the game in Britain. “We are hoping to emulate the British experience. What has been done in Britain over the past 30 years is admirable.”
By making stadiums beautiful they hope they can cut out the uglier side of the game, make attending football a family experience, rather than simply arenas where two clubs go to battle.

Of course, Djordjadze rightly points out, that a World Cup attracts a different type of fan population than at club level.

Obviously the success of Gmernay’s tournament in 2006 is something they want to emulate or even improve on.

“It will be a true festival, Russians very open hearted.”

In terms of projected numbers of attendees, Djordjadze says it is hard to say but using South Africa as an example, they had 400,000 visitors. South Africa is a long journey for most around the world, whereas the Russian World Cup will be the first World Cup in Europe for 12 years, and it is easily accessible (driveable from across Europe) and so they can expect much greater numbers from Europe & from Asia.
“We can expect an influx of fans from all over the world,” says Djordjadze.” In the millions. One million is a credible figure. There will be 3.2 millon tickets available – everyone is welcome!”


‘Are there opportunities for businesses from outside of the country to benefit from Russia hosting the World Cup?’ asked Jeff Powell.

Definitely, believes Djordjadze. In fact, he says, many British companies have already started touring and visiting the host cities. In areas like urban planning and sustainability, Russia has little expertise and so there are many apparent opportunities in the host cities for international companies and businesses. There are numerous tenders available because there will be serious work done in terms of upgrading infrastructure, urban development, transport networks.
The LOC are responsible for organising event but companies looking to do work in Russia should go to host cities directly. Each city has its own Organising Committee, chaired by (usually) the Deputy Governor. Djordjadze says this would be appropriate point of contact.

The final figures in terms of their budgets will be announced in June – they are not being not secretive, says Djordjadze –it simply has just not been decided yet. They are very keen not to overspend, however, as he states they simply can’t afford to.

Will the team be a success?

“Fortunately, through our good work , the team has already qualified,” was Djordjadze’s wry response. He is realistic but like any fan he is also hopeful: “Deep in our hearts we dream about double success as hosts and as winners!”

Their U-21 side is strong and will hopefully form the backbone of the national team come 2018. Anyone doubting the national pride, patriotism or love for football in the country can think again.

“We are a football nation, believe it or not. The first international was played 1912 before the Great war. We are hungry for victories.”

When asked about the ‘legacy’ of the tournament he talked of the usuals of infrastructure etc but he says the real results are intangible. Russia is an enigma to the world and they want to change that.

This enlightening session concluded with the humble and erudite Djordjadze referring to Plato’s writings on the state and a utopian city, that if the idea exists in the heart of one man then that is enough. His visions for Russia World Cup in 2018 may seem idealistic but he really believes and it shows.

Twitter’s Head of Sport: Lewis Wiltshire @ Soccerex Eurpean Forum 2013

twitterfootballStudio 2, smaller than the main auditorium, has been packed for each of the #Soccerex presentations/seminars so far today but the session put on by Twitter’s Head of Sport @LewisWiltshire must surely have been the busiest.


As fcbusiness’s roving blogger for the day, I managed to squeeze myself into the corner of the room and bob my head side to side (passed the men who were standing in front, it was like being on the terraces) to see a thoroughly engaging 30 minutes from Mr Sports Twitter UK!

Let’s run through some of the stats he threw at us for a kick off:

  • Twitter has +200 million active users worldwide
  • Twitter has +10 million active users in the UK
  • 80% in the UK access Twitter via their mobile (highest in the world)
  • 60% access Twitter via their mobile worldwide
  • It took 3 years for Twitter to reach 3 billion total tweets, they now hit that number every 2 or 3 days.
  • Only 60% of active users actually tweet, 40% sign in just to follow.

People use Twitter to get closer to their interests.

There are 10 sports teams that have over 1 million followers (though AC Milan broke through that barrier last night, so it is now 11) and 8 (now 9) of them are football teams. The other two are NBA sides. Of the 2 million Twitter users in the UK, +2 million of them follow/tweet about football.

He then ran through a collection of examples of ‘tps’ (Tweets per second) figures showing that football drives interaction on Twitter more than any other events, in the UK and across the world.

A handy, catchy line to describe the influence of the medium is:

“Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what interests you the most.”

twitterfieldOne sporting body we should all look to for inspiration as we go forward, using the platform, is the NBA. They have a clear ‘on Twitter/off Twitter’ strategy. They treat the fans who follow NBA but are not yet on Twitter and the fans who are on Twitter but don’t follow NBA as two seperate entities and have strategies to draw them both onboard.

Another sport is NASCAR, who realised the value of Twitter when a driver was stuck behind a crash and from his car, took a blurry photo of his view of the fire and cars up ahead, on his iphone and tweeted it, while waiting to move again. It created a phenomenon. People tweeted him back, he replied, folks started turning over to the channel the race was on. It has sparked a serious change in NASCAR’s approach and they place a huge amount of content and importance on their Twitter pages and interaction.

As Lewis explained, in a list of hints:

  • Put your talent forward
  • Q&As are really productive
  • A photo (no matter how blurry) increases interest in a tweet by x7

Now we get onto some examples of good practice in football and unsurprisingly, they revolve around the fan engagement work being implememented by Manchester City…

Man City’s #followthecaptain initiative worked with @VincentKompany (who Lewis praises as the best user of the medium, in the UK game) to get fans to tweet motivational messages to the team. “What would you say on Derby Day?” they were asked, via viral videos online and on the Blue View screens in and around the Etihad Stadium.
The best ones, which used the hashtag #followthecaptain were printed out and placed, as posters, on the walls of the City changing room ahead of the Manchester derby and the winner received a signed copy of the poster, a signed shirt and the captain’s armband. This received a huge response and as you can imagine, actually only required a limited budget to put in place!

Breaking news is always a good way to increase interest in your Twitter account. The one who breaks the news is the one retweeted (RT) and so the one that gets the followers. Some clubs have announced managerial changes via Twitter this season.

It seems that the question you need to be asking yourself as a business, a club or an individual (and using Twitter to do so) is:

“How close can you get to your fans/clients?”


Captain of Industry: Reading FC Chairman Sir John Madejski speaking with Andrew Main Wilson

This is what I gleaned from a thoroughly enjoyable chat between Reading FC Chairman Sir John Madejski and Andrew Main Wilson. Forgive the stuttered nature of it but it’s pretty relentless stuff here with one presentation/conference event seguing into another.

Sir John’s top two business tips:

  • 1. Keep ownership of your company (He increased his ownership of Autotrader – the company he built, from asking for £5 per polaroid snap of someone’s car to a +£260 million company – from 51% to 67%.)
  • 2. Most importantly, you should absolutely, firmly, believe in your product so much that no-one’s going to sway you away from your goal of succeeding.

“What made you buy Reading?,” asked Andrew.
“We (Autotrader) used to have a box there. When the salesmen missed their targets we sent them along to watch Reading! “ quipped Sir John.
Turns out he had 24 hours to decide whether to chip in with some finance to help save Reading FC from liquidation. He decided, based on the fact that he had started Autotrader in the Reading, that he should, ‘Give something back to town where I made all of my money. At the time I didn’t realise I’d have to put It ALL back!’

He was candid about the fact that he is not a football fanatic, that he decided do it for the community. “Reading is the 4th oldest club in the country, I thought that it was worth preserving for the community and now I’ve been Chairman for 24 yrs.”

He was equally honest about his feelings on clubs making frequent and abrupt managerial changes, especially as he believes that ’continuity is important in business’.
He revealed the developments behind in Reading’s recent change:
“It was not my call. I would have kept Brian McDermott, he’s a thoroughly nice chap – but Anton Zingarevich knows a lot more about football than me and he had made his mind up – but the fact is if you don’t win games you can expect to be moved on.”

He was quite clear about the fact that owners/Chairman shouldn’t get too involved in the football side of the club, however:
“If you start meddling on the football side, how can you reprimand him [the manager] when it doesn’t go right? He [the manager] lives and dies by the sword and he understands that.
“The only way you get involved is on the hiring/buying players’ side. It’s a tough old business. It’s not all about money though. We have a saying ‘Do it the Reading way,’ it’s about hearts and minds too.”

He continued to say that they probably should have stuck with the now manager of Liverpool.
“Let’s face it, all fans want is ‘win, win, win.’ Their respite from the daily grind is to come along and see their team win.” Although he did go on to say that Reading’s fans are very forgiving.

Buying football clubs is, let’s face it, says Sir John, ‘big boy’s toys’. “[At Reading] We do it by stealth but you can’t keep pulling rabbits out of the hat.”

So, following on from that admission, ‘how does a less fashionable club grow their brand globally?,’ asked Main Wilson.
“Reading is emerging but it hasn’t arrived yet,” says Sir John. Having a Russian owner means they pick up more Russian fans, via that link. (Btw, Zingarevich spent two years at school in Reading – there’s the link with why he bought the club.)
Reading are doing deals in India and the Far East (as well as with clubs like Galatarasay, which you can read about in Issue 68). Signing players from abroad can also help with a club’s international profile.
“The biggest thing for Reading,” says Sir John, ”is what it does for the area. It really puts the area on the map. I’m a big fan of the Premier League – it’s the biggest export product we have. One billion people watch the games, it has such a colossal pull, it’s magnetic.” We should be doing everything to foster and grow that, in his opinion. So it is difficult for a club like Reading, who ‘are at best a yoyo club, who continue to punch above our level’.

He revealed, and many people with interests in similar sized clubs will identify with this, that, “There are a lot of fans in Reading who think it’s more interesting to be in the Championship, they feel that the Premier League is a procession.”

He also revealed that getting into Europe isn’t exactly a blessing for clubs of a certain size because although it is great for the fanbase, clubs can lose money, if they are not careful. A salient warning for clubs like Swansea, who are getting excited about heading into Europe next year?

It will come as no surprise to readers that he is a big advocate of ‘growing your won’ and thankfully the club’s new owner shares this vision. ‘He [Zingarevich] is going to invest heavily in our academy.’ They have already had ‘tremendous success’ in developing players.
“Last season we had six players in our squad who had come through our academy. It’s fantastic for small clubs to develop their own players, and a lifeline.”

Sir John’s not a very big fan of agents either:
“It all seemed to happen when David Beckham got an agent (or two agents), now every Johnny Kick-a-Ball has one, when the PFA was actually doing a great job supporting players. Now agents do everything for the players – they are an integral part of their lives – but as a breed I’m not a fan, they’re parasitical, feeding off the game. Sorry if there are any agents in the audience – that’s just my opinion. And it looks as though they’re here to stay, unfortunately.”

After 23 years as the owner as well as the Chairman, he could not hide his relief at having someone come in and take over the mantel. It was a heavy responsibility.
“We’re staring down the barrel of relegation, not a pretty sight. I wish we could pull a rabbit out and stay up, manager, players all desperate to stay up. If I owned the club it would be a far worse thing, for 23 years I’ve had the whole weight of the club on my shoulders. It was a palpable relief to pass on that burden. Now as Chairman I can go along and enjoy it and see what everyone else is about. That burden is unbelievably heavy. I’m demob happy.”

And to finish off, here’s Sir John on how the game has changed, how fit the players are these days:
““When I took over Reading, when we had a win I’d go into the bar and buy them all a pint of bitter. Now they wouldn’t be seen in a bar. They’re all highly tuned athletes, with nutritionists and dieticians. They could play 3 or 4 games a week. Players just love to play, as far as I’m concerned.”
And he had the room chuckling with this one, as Andrew Main Wilson closed the chat with this question: “This is a quote you made a few years ago,  ‘I believe when you sell a company you should always leave something substantial’, what have you left for the Russians?”
Quick as a flash Sir John replied: “Debt!”

1-2-1: David Davies with UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino

Soccerex European ForumAbridged highlights from a thoroughly entertaining, engaging and affirming chat between David Davies and UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino, held in the main auditorium on the first morning of Soccerex European Forum (Manchester 2013)…

(Image: Action Images)

One of the main aims of UEFA is to lift the prestige of national teams. As Davies pointed out, by building up club football they have in some ways diminished national team football and there is no magic wand available to change that.

UEFA will reveal a new international calendar, kicking in winter 2014. The aim is to make international football more readily available to a much wider audience, so that over a 5 day window, there will be games to watch each day (eg. Double header internationals will be played Thurs/Sun or Fri/Mon).

One of the main aims of UEFA is to lift the prestige of national teams. As Davies pointed out, by building up club football they have in some ways diminished national team football and there is no magic wand available to change that.

Infantino was keen to emphasise the appeal of national team football to viewing audiences:
For example, the recent England v San Marino match attracted higher TV audiences than the Man Utd v Real Madrid game and recent FA Cup clashes – 6.5 million compared to 5.1 million for the others. There is a similar picture in Germany where 30 mill watched the national team’s games compared to only 19 million watching Bayern Munich in the Champs League Final.
“This proves there is a big passion for national team football – we just have to put it into the right framework.”

Davies: “ Sepp Blatter has been quoted as saying that the 2020 Euros will lack heart and soul – is it  conceivable that he is wrong?”
Infantino: “We would not make this kind of decision without consulting our member associations and 52 out of 53 were in favour – Turkey was the one who said, ‘No,’ as they were keen to host 2020. So, many are strongly in favour.”

Davies: “Do you expect a bid from The FA to host the semis and final at Wembley, to make up for the upset of missing out on 2018?”
Infantino: “Well, there are not so many stadia in Europe that qualify, with 70,000 or more seats and the hotel capacity to support it. The more applications we have the happier we will be. On the 26th April we will publish the bid regulations and voting procedure.”
He continued to explain that the National Associations will have plenty of time, until 11th Sept, to decide for what they want to bid for. Then on 25th April 2014 they have to present their dossiers and in September 2014, the hosts and venues will be decided. Campaigning is not ruled out, within limits

Has the Financial Fair Play legislation been a success so far?
Infantino believes so and explains the impact has been a change of thinking, if not yet in practical terms and on balance sheets:
“The biggest success of FFP today, is that in the head of each owner, CEO, even in the minds of coaches and players, there is this notion of FFP and that we have to do something to manage our finances at our clubs indo so in a fair way. It has kicked in.”

This was part of UEFA’s thinking from the outset.
“These rules were not created just so that we could exclude clubs. FFP has been created to change the mindset and promote the sustainability of clubs. Sadly, we have already had to use it to exclude clubs, for example Malaga was suspended from next year’s European competition. We have a reputation of being hard but fair and we hope we don’t have to take the sanctions.”
From next year, clubs will be expected to ‘break even’ which includes paying debts and monies owed to other clubs. Evidence of this kicking in can be seen in the reductions in debts between clubs in recent seasons. “£60 million was owed between clubs in 2011, this fell to £18 million last year – so this has already gone down.”

Davies acknowledged UEFA’s reputation as being hard but fair but went on to ask:
“Has enough been done about racism? Despite all of the efforts of over a decade, it’s still here and it’s still a scourge?”
“Yes, it is,” replied Infantino. “It has improved but still even one case, is one case too much. We have taken this seriously on board.”

He went on to outline a recently agreed joint resolution in which they plan to amend disciplinary rules. What will this mean? Well, it seems the action is to be two-fold.
Firstly, they need to improve and increase their work in awareness/education and secondly, there will be harsher sanctions. Players will now be suspended for 10 matches and if supporters are found to be racially abusing player then the first sanction will no longer be a fine but partial closure of stadium – the part where the racist abuse occurred. On the occasion of a second offence, there  will be total stadium closure and a fine of EUR 50,000.
In addition, referees will be encouraged to work through a three step process to stop, interrupt and even abandon games in in case of racist events.
“This will make a real difference,” said Infantino.” It is clear. It is harsh. It will be known to everyone. This is what we want to implement.“

Davies referred to the Europol announcement in February about the fact that 380 European games had allegedly been affected by match-fixing and asked, “Why did that not become a bigger issue?”
“Match fixing is a big issue for us,” replied Infantino. “It disappeared because it was ‘not news’. We knew about it before, we had taken sanctions, banned players and officials involved.
“It’s a cancer we have to eradicate. We are monitoring 32,000 matches, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We have a contact person in every country. At the moment we see that 0.7 % (mainly in lower leagues) of games present irregularities.
“We cannot allow anyone to attack the soul of football but we need the help of governments, law enforcement agencies to assist us. There is no way we can investigate bank accounts or the like, without the help of the authorities and it is in their interests to do so because what is behind match-fixing? Why would someone fix a match in the Third Division in Switzerland, amidst the cows and the alps? It is because there is organised crime behind this. The money from match-fixing is financing drugs and prostitution etc. We will do our part, kicking out all involved.”

Are there matches being fixed today, came the question from the ‘floor’??
“I would say not top level matches but sadly, maybe at lower level,” admitted Infantino.

Another question from the room: “Is there an agenda for a Euro Super League?”
Infantino:” It already exists – it’s called the Champions League. We already have the best competition in the world.”

And after the evidence of the action from last night’s quarter finals, in Istanbul and in Dortmund, it would be churlish to disagree.

Soccerex European Forum 2013 Kicks Off

Welcome to Manchester…
DSC00435The opening address to the two days’ of football and business action was given by Manchester City Council’s CEO, Sir Howard Bernstein. He explained the significance of football and indeed the Soccerex, to the economy of the city.

Here are some of his key points in a bulleted format:

- Soccerex bring s approx. 1200 delegates to the city and £6 million into the local economy.

- Delighted to have secured the Global Convention from the period 2014 to 2017. Hoping this will bring £20 million into the economy and over 3000 delegates.

- Football plays a key part city’s economy. A report to be released tomorrow will show that in the year 2010/2011, football contributed £300 million to the local economy and helped support 8,500 jobs.

- As the global brand of Manchester increases, their two successful teams will hopefully help promote more inward investment.

- eg. Etihad recently opened their European service centre in Manchester, creating 300 jobs.


FA’s Director of Communications Adrian Bevington:
“It is important we are accessible in our 150th year.”
“Not only will be here giving presentations and speaking , we will also be listening. We should be conscious what is being said in the industry “
“One of our key aims is to continue making the game inclusive & accessible. “
“We must remind all that we are a ‘not for profit’ organisation and that we invest over £100 million back into game every year.”

“Thanks to Man City Council & Soccerex to inviting us to be a part of this.”

Chairman of Soccerex Mr. Tony Martin

Closed the opening address by highlighting the continued growth of the football industry and also the growth of the Soccerex forums.

He is delighted that: “The  2014 flagship event will be here, again generously supported by Marketing Manchester. So put 6-10 Sept 2014 in your calendars. “

He ended with best wishes to all:
“Thanks for being a part of this challenging, compelling but highly rewarding world of football. Enjoy your Soccerex experience.”



The fc business team are en route to Manchester, ready for the highly anticipated Soccerex Eurpean Forum. The event kicks off with an opening address on Wednesday at 9.30am and will be followed by a succession of sessions on varying topics relating to the future and business of the sport we all love. In between the whirlwind of expert presentations and discussions, we will aim to keep you updated with any stellar highlights and observations across the two days.

See you in Manchester (we are at Stand 147) or see you online!