AST had the honor to interview Ivan Codina, Managing Director of LaLiga, SEA – Australia, Japan & South Korea. Ivan highlights LaLiga’s purpose, ambitions, achievements, and expansion plan in Asia.
Ivan is an ambitious and talented sports management expert with a Masters in Sports Management from The Johan Cruyff Institute and a double degree in Business Administration and Sports Management from Ramón Llull, a prestigious university in Spain. He has over 15 years of experience in the Sports Industry, with the past 12 years being in Asia. He has succeeded in different roles in FC Barcelona, Sport SG, and agencies like Dentsu and Red Card, and is currently heading the regional office for SEA, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. His extensive experience also included helping global brands such as Toyota, Panasonic, and General Motors navigate the intricacies of sports marketing.
It all began with LaLiga’s Global Network project
AST: How are LaLiga’s expansion plans proceeding in the different Asian markets?
Ivan: LaLiga made a bold move and invested in the LaLiga Global Network Project and has been sending delegates across the world starting 5 years ago. We now have over 50 delegates across all markets. The project has proven to be sustainable, in that the revenue can cover the actual costs and it gives us the competitive edge by being the only sports rights holder and organization that is close to the fans and the important stakeholders in the market such as broadcasters, commercial partners and institutional organizations that we work with.
Most of these delegates have at least 3-5 years of experience in the market building relationships and understanding the nature of the market of the fans and even learning the local language.
“With the team, a network of offices, and professionals spread across the globe, nobody touches as many markets directly with the physical presence as us.”
And right now in the industry, more and more organizations are moving towards a similar operations model – opening more offices internationally and having people on ground, and being closer to the market.
AST: What are some significant projects, clients, and sponsors you’ve had partnerships with during your time at LaLiga APAC?
Ivan: The most recent collaborations were with TVM, a South Korean brand that we partnered with to develop our very own LaLiga metaverse, a partnership worth EUR 26M closed by the Singapore office. We have regional partnerships like the one we have with Mansion88, LaLiga’s Official Regional Betting Partner in Asia. Then we also have some licensing agreements in Korea like the one with Slash B that are working really well for us, not just on the economic front, but also how they enable us to spread our brand across the market. We are looking into more and more licensing agreements that can help us to create a bigger impact for LaLiga in the market, especially with some local brands.
The institutional relationships we have with the local leagues and the local FAs in each of the markets are very important for us because we believe that by developing these relationships, we can contribute to the development of the local football ecosystems, which will create more opportunities for everyone. We have been able to close multiple agreements with 80% to 90% of the FAs and domestic leagues in the region.
On TV rights, we also have a very important role in trying to renew and identify new potential broadcasters that are interested in our rights and we stay close to Mediapro, our agency that looks after the distribution of TV rights.
LaLiga is also quite active in developing new opportunities that contribute on the CSR front, gaming and anti-piracy initiatives.
Engaging Asian fans with heart
AST: What do you find most unique about football fans in Asia, what strategies are working well and what do you think is the key to engaging Asian fans and building loyalty?
Ivan: When it comes to LaLiga fans in Asia, they are very very passionate about football. It is huge in Japan and South Korea and they are especially passionate about their national team and talents. What’s different from Europe and other parts of the world is the fans here, especially the new generation, become very loyal to players in particular, but many of them also follow multiple clubs instead of just one particular club.
For us, what works very well is that we try to show Asian fans that we are here to care for them and care for what is interesting for them. We are on the platforms they like to engage with the content that they are looking for, we ensure that we communicate with the local language and the localized content that they can relate to, and not just “copy and paste” it. For example, in Indonesia, we have nearly 9 million followers and we engage with fans on 5-6 different platforms. We also have a Twitter account in Bahasa. We are currently on more than 20 social media platforms worldwide with over 25 languages.
Its unique operational structure allowed LaLiga to thrive during the pandemic and as the market opens up
AST: How could the league rally post-pandemic, what are the challenges and the opportunities?
Ivan: I would say that LaLiga was better prepared for the pandemic, especially based on our Global Network Project structure. While most properties had to stop direct (face-to-face) communications with the partners for more than two years, we were able to continue working very closely with all our stakeholders. A majority of our delegates didn’t go back to Spain during the pandemic, so most of them were able to continue having communications and understanding what was going on in the market and with our partners, having the sensitivity to suggest ways to continue working or overcoming the different challenges.
Even though we slowed down a little bit, last season was our best year since we started five years ago in Asia. We had really good results on different fronts, whether it be the commercial side, TV ratings or brand awareness or social media. Since we focus more on digital now, engagement is the most important thing.
I would say LaLiga is pretty well-positioned in terms of post-pandemic recovery with new broadcast deals in Australia (Optus) and in South Korea (Coupang Play) due to start in the 2023/34 season. Now, we are currently in the midst of identifying what’s going to be our strategy for the next 10 years.
Choosing Singapore as its APAC headquarter
Photo credit: LaLiga
AST: Singapore is emerging as Asia’s Regional Hub for global sports business headquarters, and LaLiga has been here since 2017. What are the competitive advantages that this country has to offer?
Ivan: It’s not a secret that Singapore is a perfect hub to look after the entire region, from Singapore, Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and Australia. When we decided to open the regional office in Singapore, the main reason was that we had some strategic partners that also have their regional office in Singapore, such as BeIN sports, Mediapro, even the owners of Valencia FC are from Singapore, all these combined with the benefits of setting up a company in Singapore, so we thought it would be a good idea to set up our regional office here.
Providing LaLiga-level training for Singapore’s future football stars
AST: Tell us about LaLiga’s involvement in Singapore football’s developmental plans (“Unleash the Roar project”) How is LaLiga collaborating with SportsSG and ActiveSG?
Ivan: “Unleash the Roar” is a project that has been cooking for two years. When the pandemic came, our team had more time to focus on the Singapore market, and we were in conversations with different stakeholders that look after domestic football in Singapore – the government, FA, the league, and eventually the opportunity came to be part of this project.
We focus more on the development of youth football, more on recreational than competitive, although there’s an element of competition. Since Singapore has decided to develop ‘School Football Academies”, which is adding a football program to the curriculum of certain schools that kids can focus on both studies and football. LaLiga is leading this project and bringing in LaLiga coaches, we have 10 schools at the moment and hopefully to reach 20 in the next 1-2 years. We will be developing the football education structure for each school and focusing on the local coach development and youth development and internal tournaments that will prepare the kids for future challenges when they go to competitive football.
Another part that we are involved in is to bring the selected top young talents to Spain, where they will train at our high-performance center in Madrid with La Liga coaches. They will also get the chance to train at different La Liga clubs across Spain and learn how La Liga Youth Academy works to develop the future talents that play in La Liga. This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to experience high-performance training with La Liga coaches. This project shows Singapore’s ambition to increase the talent pool in the country.
Growing football from the grassroots up
AST: What more can be done to grow football at the grassroots level in Asia?
Ivan: I think there are different opportunities to develop football on a grassroots level in Southeast Asia. There are two things that are very important; first is to increase the level of the coaches. We always try to find ways to be involved in some coaching development, one coach can impact thousands of kids in their careers, and we just focus on the top 20 – 50 young talents in the country.
The second thing is to increase the level of the competition, such as to increase the number of international youth tournaments in the region as well as the participation of external top youth teams coming from outside the region.
Lessons from Ivan’s former athlete life
AST: What are some lessons from your years in the sports industry that have served you well as you are building out LaLiga Asia?
Ivan: Not just with my current experience at LaLiga in Asia but with most of the things I do in life, I try to pretty much put in place everything I learned as an ice hockey player and as an athlete. Team sports teach you some values which are difficult to acquire elsewhere, such as team-building, overcoming challenges, how you work in different dynamics, how to structure things, and how to be goal-oriented. There are multiple areas to develop as an athlete that I definitely utilize and integrate into my day to day life; as a dad, and as a husband.