EuroLeague brand awareness is in constant evolution. As so Pavlos Pavlidis and Edgar Dinis Goncalves had the pleasure to enquire Alex Ferrer – Euroleague head of Brand and Communications on the latter topic.
1) Can you briefly guide us through the growth of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four as a premium Sports Entertainment Event since 2002 until today ?
It’s been impressive, really. Although the Final Four concept already existed before the modern EuroLeague, it has been since 2002 when it progressively has been gaining relevance to what it is today. Nowadays, the event marks a red alert in the calendar of the best sports events globally.
If you look back to 2002, it was a different event. There was very little more that the games themselves, and the event was broadcasted to around 20 countries. In 2017, the Final Four in Istanbul reached 214 countries and territories, a record in the history of European basketball, that without counting our OTT service, which literally reaches every corner in the world with an internet connection. Besides the reach, the event gradually evolved from being ‘four games of top quality basketball’ to a true basketball party for fans and a must-attend networking point for sports stakeholders.
The parallel offering now includes a big fan zone, the awards ceremony where the best players of the continent are recognized, press conferences, player appearances, hospitality events, post-game parties, sports business summits, and the Adidas Next Generation Tournament (Under18 European Finals). We want to make sure that every fan and partner can combine some sightseeing with an agenda full of Final Four related events.
Every year we are brainstorming on how to make it bigger and better for the enjoyment of fans and partners.
Tickets always sell out well before the teams qualify for the event at an average price of almost €400, which is a good symptom of the appetite there is to attend. This season, tickets were sold out in October, when the competition was only starting!
2) Tell us few aspects (key notes) on EuroLeague’s communication/marketing strategies for the final four.
The strategy is always a two-fold plan.
On one side, we need to ensure that those fans that will be in the arena and around the city bring back home an unforgettable experience, beyond the performance of the teams on the court, which we are certain will be at highest standards. Fans spend an average of four nights in the host city, so we always focus on a few key factors: on one hand, the city needs to show a commitment and deliver a warm welcome to the visitors and also involve its inhabitants as much as possible. We closely collaborate with the host to dress the city in a Final Four costume and also to secure key and iconic locations to hold some of our parallel events. Spots like Trafalgar Square (London), the Duomo (Milan), Alexander Platz (Berlin), and now the Kalemegdan Fortess in Belgrade have hosted the Fan Zone, and also some other iconic buildings have been the home of other parallel events. The area is also a key spot, as fans spend there more than 8 hours along the weekend, so we need to ensure they have convenient transportation and a comfortable and pleasant experience outside and inside the building. On the other hand, there is a large number of fans that follow the game from their homes. Fans with very different profiles and on different platforms. Some are hardcore fans of the participating teams, others just basketball fans, young, old, some watch all games live, some others follow them through other second screen platforms or through social media. It is a very fragmented audience that expects the same quality no matter how or where the follow the event. We have a top-quality production and editorial team that is only focus on that, on telling the story of what is happening on site to those at home, and make them feel as close as possible to the games and to the stars.
And of course, our partners take huge importance on both. We are lucky to count on some of the best brands around the world that are devoted to activate around their sponsorship and help us connect with the fans, no matter where we are, and amplifying our communication and marketing efforts and making the event even bigger.
3) The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four 2018 will land in Belgrade, for the first time. A city/country with enriching Basketball roots. How relevant is this disruptive step towards European Basketball fan engagement ?
It will be a very special Final Four indeed. Serbia in general and Belgrade in particular have always been a cradle of talent in basketball and passion of the fans is hard to match by other countries and cities around the world. Serbian fans deserved to have a Final Four in their country, and we are grateful to the city of Belgrade and to the President of the State for helping us make this happen. We are looking forward to being there and we are certain that this one will be one of the best Final Fours ever.
4) We live increasingly in a digital era. Euroleague Basketball and IMG 10-Year Joint Venture was a ground-breaking synergy. Are the results from the latter partnership according to the expectations thus far?
In fact results have been above expectations after the first season. But this is a long race and we have just passed the first mile. We are now developing many different projects in a number of areas that should be the stone on which we will build further growth over the next 9 years.
5) Which are the key points of success from previous the year’s final four communication plan?
We focused on two areas for the first season. First and most important, we wanted the product to be of the highest quality product. So to start with, we changed the format of the competition, reducing the number of teams from 24 to 16, and deploying a round-robin format that would allow all fans to see all of the 16 powerhouses play against their beloved team, and all of the stars in the League as well. This was a major step.
At the same time we revised some of the rules of the game and officiating criteria to make the games as fast as possible. We wanted to have a fast-paced game with more spectacle, fast-breaks, and less interruptions.
Second, it was all about the packaging of the product. Starting from the courts itself, where we upgraded the unified look-and-feel, continuing by a re-branding process, and ending with putting in place a big and talented production team to deliver this great product to the fans. In this last factor we of course relied on the biggest experts in the industry, IMG, who helped us swift the production standards and take them to another level. The digital team was also expanded to intensify and diversify the content offering across all platforms.
All of that combined resulted in record numbers in attendance, reach and audience across every single platform.
6) In your opinion, what is the key to success of a communication plan?
The most important thing is to know your audience. You need to fully understand what is expected from you to make everything possible to deliver it. You need to understand what every segment of your fans want, and nowadays that also varies depending on the platforms they are.
We are actively working on a new project now called EDIE (Euroleague Data Intelligence Engine) that will take us one (or many) steps forward in that direction. As most sports organisations, we believe there is still a lot to improve, as we know very little of the millions of fans we have a relationship with. In fact information is fragmented and sits in different locations that do not talk to each other. We want to know every single one of our fans, across any League or club platform, to be able to deliver a better service and experience to them, and also to offer them what they are really interested in. We see this as a corner stone to cement future growth, and I believe this is the most important thing for sport businesses and for every business after all.
7) Do you have a specific strategic plan to make the sport more popular?
Yes, we are developing a number of initiatives to increase our fan base. We will obviously continue researching for ways to further develop the product and its production, but there are also a number of other things we are looking at. For example, we are building a network of creators that cover a number of cultural areas (music, gaming, fashion, film) and also some other pure basketball influencers. Such network should allow us to reach a younger fanbase in a language they understand. Reaching younger fan communities is an important objective for us. Despite our average fan age is still relatively young (29), we see it is slightly growing over the years, and we need to ensure we keep those fans of the future engaged with basketball. Grassroots projects are important, and we have developed local programmed in some countries as well, but also identifying who are those people these fans listen to, and what is the culture that is influencing them.
8) What is your leadership style?
You probably should ask my team to get the right answer.
I try to give every member of the team the right space so they can take their own decisions and work amongst themselves to find solutions. Also, we always try to create a hardworking culture, but in a very relaxed and casual environment.
Whether I truly accomplish that or not, this should be others to tell.
9) Which professional advices would you give to young Sports Marketing Graduates entering the market?
I would probably say creativity and teamwork are the most valued attributes.
Working in basketball is a blessing for almost every sports fan, as you combine passion with duty. And if that passion is mixed with a good dose of creativity and a true teamwork spirit, that is a success recipe.
Sport needs young and creative people that are ready to disrupt, to think differently, and that are also ready to work with others within the organization to plan for changes and evolutions to happen.