Maite Ventura, LaLiga’s Managing Director for Middle East and North Africa, is confident that football will come back resilient and stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Spanish Football League‘s MENA operations chief made the statement during a webinar, hosted by the Dubai Sports Council in collaboration with LaLiga, and drew 169 attendees, including senior officials from Spanish football clubs and from Dubai.
Titled “Football Club Strategy for Recovery from COVID-19,” the webinar sparked in-depth discussions as panelists shared their ideas on the way forward for the football industry in the post-COVID world. 19.
As keynote speakers, Ali Omar, director of the sports development department of the Dubai Sports Council, and Maite Ventura kicked off the discussions before leaving the stage to the three Spanish panelists – Franco Segarra, head of data analysis, from ticketing and fan experience at Liga club Valencia CF; Federico Gonzalez, advisor to Spanish second division club Real Oviedo; and Francesc Arnau, the former Barcelona and Malaga goalkeeper who is now Real Oviedo technical director.
The list of panelists also included senior officials from the four Dubai football clubs: Dr Khalid Al Zahed, executive director of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai; Saeed Ali Al Amri, Executive Director of Al Nasr; Humaid Yousuf, director of the football section at the Al Wasl club; and Ali Al Bedwawi, executive director of the Hatta Club. Daniel Barriga, LaLiga delegate for the UAE, and media specialist Sami Al Emam were the moderators.
“First of all, I would like to thank the Dubai Sports Council for providing us with this amazing platform to be able to share our thoughts on COVID-19 and its impact on the football industry,” Ventura said. “Thanks also to all the clubs in Dubai for joining us, as well as Valencia CF and Real Oviedo.
“The coronavirus pandemic has hit the whole world and it has definitely affected the sports industry. It has been a very difficult time for us, but we have worked very hard to adapt and adjust to a new reality, our ultimate goal being to connect with millions of our fans around the world.
“Right now we are fully focused on recovery and it started with the restart of our league games, which started on June 11th.
“To be honest, being able to get our players back on the pitch and be able to finish the season has been a great accomplishment for La Liga. We see it as the first step towards the recovery of the football industry.
“Again, we are adapting. We play, for example, behind closed doors, which means we have to provide a great entertainment experience for our fans who watch the whole world. Apart from this, there are many other challenges and factors impacting the football industry such as the financial implications and consequences for players and their contracts.
“However, at LaLiga, we strongly believe that the football industry will recover and come back as strong as it was before, if not stronger.”
Federico Gonzalez also shared the optimism and praised the Real Oviedo team for anticipating the problems that have arisen as a result of the lockdowns around the world and finding solutions to continue to generate income during the crisis in a country that has been one of the hardest hit as the pandemic peaked in Europe.
“At Real Oviedo we were able to anticipate this situation,” he said. “So we started planning early, from the time we first heard about COVID-19. We started to work on different plans to try to compensate for the loss of income that we knew to follow.
“Our team launched a great online campaign, focused on virtual marketing and sales, which was a great source of income for us during this time. The team continued to work hard at home – as hard, if not harder, than before, in the office – generating income.
“They have continued their hard work, and they continue to adapt and innovate as they look for new ways to generate income and attract sponsors in a very difficult market. But we remain optimistic as we are convinced that a lot of investors will be back soon, and we will bounce back stronger from this period. “
Speaking about the challenges from a training perspective, Real Oviedo Technical Director Francesc Arnau said: “It has been a big challenge for me because the last few months have been really tough as Technical Director.
“In recent months, the technical staff has focused on maintaining the physical condition of the players, who were training at home. We are now trying to adapt to the new COVID-19 security protocols, which have been prescribed by La Liga, as the most important thing for us is the health and safety of the players and all club staff. So we tried to adapt to changing situations, new challenges and protocols. “
While soccer leagues in Europe have picked up, only a few of them allow fans to attend. Most matches take place behind closed doors, which means a loss of revenue for clubs in terms of ticket sales on match days. In addition, clubs will owe their season ticket holders for matches they were unable to attend.
Speaking about this, Valencia ticketing manager Franco Segarra said: “Valencia has a stadium with a capacity of around 48,000 to 48,800, depending on the competition. The maximum number of subscribers we can have in the stands is 40,000. We cannot have more because when you play in UEFA competitions you must have free seats for supporters at the outside.
“So right now we have 40,000 season ticket holders and we owe them something. The reason is that they have paid to watch X number of games in the season. Our subscription includes all matches that are played in our stadium, but there are five matches that will be played behind closed doors without fans.
“The problem here, because of COVID-19, is that not only are we not going to draw extra money from the ticket booth on match day, but we also owe money that we have already received and accounted for. subscription holders.
“So you have to be very creative in finding a way, on the one hand, to please customers – in our case the season ticket holders – and, on the other hand, to avoid making the money we owe them. We need to turn this crisis into an opportunity and see what we can do.
“We at Valencia are essentially giving season ticket holders three options in compensation for the five games they were unable to attend. The first option is this: we ask them if they are ready to give up the money for the good of Valencia. In return, we will give you some preferences for next season. For example, once the matches start playing with supporters in the stands – this could be 20% or 30% of the capacity stadium – those who choose the first option will be the first to attend next season, and we will also be giving them the opportunity to purchase the new 2020-21 season shirts for free.
“For option two, instead of refunding this season, we will give them the money back in the form of discounts for 2021-22 season tickets. The reason we are not doing this for the 2020-21 season pass is because we believe that the 2020-21 season will not be a normal season either. On the positive side, we are creating a long-term partnership with our subscription holders.
“The last option is, you request the money and we refund it to your bank account.
“So these are the three options that we give people and we think they are fair. We would rather fans go for option one or two, which is why we’ve tried to make those two options a lot more appealing than option three, which is where you get the money back now.