When it comes to scoring fans in Asia Pacific, European football leagues hold the record for the most assists, retaining its status every year as the most popular football leagues in the world in the eyes of Asian fans.
The 2017 Red Card Report, created by digital consultancy Mailman, found that Manchester United was the most influential football team online in China, the world's most populous country, while Bundesliga came in first as the most popular league, with the English Premier League coming in behind at second.
Spain’s LaLiga, came in a distant third in the report, despite having two of the world’s best players the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, playing weekly in the league for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
That could change soon however, says Ivan Codina, managing director of Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea at LaLiga in an interview with The Drum, as the league continues to build its presence in APAC by becoming closer to the football fans and all the football stakeholders in the region, including its existing partners, broadcasters and football entities in each market.
Having opened its Singapore office in March this year, its fifth in Asia and acts as LaLiga’s regional hub in SEA, continues Codina, means that a bigger presence will allow the league to activate its assets across the region, through organising public viewing events, trophy tours, having LaLiga legends and ambassadors and have many other activations in store.
“On top of that, we are also evaluating opportunities to give back to the society through corporate social responsibility campaigns and will work closely with the domestic leagues and Football Associations,” he adds.
Codina believes that LaLiga has had a smooth journey so far in APAC in terms of building its brand, after Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group bought the naming rights for Atletico Madrid’s new stadium and Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten signed a multi-million shirt deal with Barcelona.
He feels that having Asian companies seeing the value of the LaLiga brand, the league and the clubs that pry their trade in LaLiga is comforting to see. “Besides opening doors into Spain and Europe for these brands, it definitely aids in the global recognition of our league and allows us to capture the mind share of audiences in Asia through them. Through these brands, we are able to better activate our assets in the region, and allows us to provide better support,” he explains.
However, Codina admits that there is still more work to be done as the Premier League currently commands the most attention from fans in Asia with its great commercial strategy, which it has been executing in the region for the past 15 years.
Despite that domination by the Premier League, he is keen to stress that LaLiga is not looking for a direct confrontation with the Premier League, but rather approach the competition with the understanding that they are all fans of the beautiful game.
Codina explains that LaLiga is doing this by targeting football lovers in general and trying to get them hooked onto a team that they can support in LaLiga, telling the stories of the leagues’ other teams which have also been performing on the global stage, such as Valencia (owned by a Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim), Sevilla and Villareal, and aid in helping the teams reach greater heights and household names in APAC.
The league also appointed Olympic Badminton champion Carolina Marin as a LaLiga brand ambassador, with a plan to use her to promote its brand in badminton-crazy markets in APAC.
“Our main objective is to become closer to football fans in general, and we believe that we can coexist with the likes of EPL, Bundesliga and even other sports leagues such as the NBA,” he says. “We are here just to interact and get closer to them, to share with them our unique flavour, our football and our culture. It is not a one off- we are here to stay, and to develop relationships with federations, leagues, stakeholders and fans. With a keen insight into the market, we are focusing heavily on digital marketing to interact with our fans in their local languages and provide engaging, relevant content.”
Aside from attempting to dethrone the Premier League, Codina says eSports is another challenge that LaLiga foresee it will encounter in APAC as it shifts attention away from traditional sports from the younger demographics, who may not have a vested interest in sports as much as generations before them had. “However, we are always seeking to better understand our different markets and audiences, and will strategise based on each market needs,” he adds.
While there is no doubt that there are many hurdles that LaLiga has to jump through to become the number one football league brand in APAC, Codina is confident that the league can get there, pointing to the fact that LaLiga has been the top league in Europe over the last five years and produced the continent’s top-rated club more times than any other league, according to UEFA’s league coefficient.
He also highlights that LaLiga clubs have won the most UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA World Cup titles. While he admits that everyone associates LaLiga with Messi and Ronaldo, he points out that other LaLiga players have also dominated the European top 11 for years.
“We recently introduced a new slogan, that encompasses all that LaLiga is: ‘It’s not football. It’s LaLiga’,” he says. “We are more than just the beautiful game of football, we are a way of life, and the brand goes beyond the game. Through this, we want to build a truly distinct brand image and show we are here in APAC to enhance the experience of LaLiga that is unlike any other."