More than football: A conversation with La Liga’s Eduard Castell
Eduard Castell is the Hong Kong and Macau Delegate for LaLiga, the world famous Spanish football league. He recently joined theDesk in Sai Ying Pun in order to promote Spain’s passion for football and other sports through international and local projects and collaborations.
Eduard, from Valencia in Spain, met the newsDesk to talk about his work and how he’s sharing the love of football across the city.
Going for gold
In 2014, Eduard was living in Shanghai. “I was there on behalf of the Spanish Government to work with the Economic and Commercial office. We were promoting Spanish companies, helping them to do business in China and increase their exports.
While in Shanghai, Eduard became involved in project called LaLiga Global Network. “We were helping Spanish football clubs to arrange friendly matches around the world.”
LaLiga, representing Spanish football, were a natural extension for Eduard’s work in promoting Spanish brands. “It was perfect. We were organising activities, mixing Spanish with local companies. And with the clubs there to attend media events, it meant we could have greater impact,” he explains.
After the successful collaboration, Eduard moved to another company. He was involved in sports-related marketing for a French company. It was then that he discovered a project called LaLiga World Network.
“I follow LaLiga on social media. I suddenly saw a message saying, ’Do you want to work for the best league in the world?’ I was very curious,” he recalls
The organisation was looking for 60 people to become delegates to promote Spanish football. The requirements were ideal. “You needed a passion for football, to be a graduate, be able to speak Spanish and English and have international experience.” So, he applied, along with more than 12,500 others.
The selection process
The recruitment process was rigourous. First, an online test, a test of English and psychometric tests. The next stage meant he needed to fly to Spain and attend in person. “We did more tests and gave personal presentations,” he explains. Candidates took part in business simulations and asked how they would react. “Mine was about bribery in a country. Obviously, this is against the ethics of LaLiga. They wanted to see how we would deal with this situation.”
Eduard passed the initial stages. The next step was an online interview followed by another trip to Spain. “We ended up in the former Atletico Madrid stadium, Vincente Calderon.”
By this time, the number of candidates was down to just 150. “I was sitting with people who were competing for all the regions: Asia, Africa, and so on.”
With three years experience of working in Mainland China, Eduard was fighting for a position in Asia. While there, he was selected by his group to be the speaker. “I presented on their behalf. I was lucky because it gave me a chance to be visible.”
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but I definitely feel that this time I won because I work for LaLiga. It’s my dream job.”
The best league
There are a lot of football fanatics in Hong Kong. And more and more, people are discovering what makes Spain’s LaLiga so special.
“First, we really have the best teams,” he says, “and right now there’s no doubt that the best players are in LaLiga.”
One reason for Spain’s strength in world football is the commitment to grassroots development. Nurturing the football stars of tomorrow has always been a priority for clubs.
“In the last 10 years we’ve had two European Cups and the first World Cup in the history of the country. It’s helped increase the positive opinion people have all over the world towards Spanish football.”
Far more than two big teams
Eduard tells me, “I understand that Madrid and Barcelona are the icons. The most well known clubs, the biggest fan base and with the most titles. And right now they have some of the best players in Europe.”
But keen to point out that Spanish football is not only about the two giants. “Many other teams, like Valencia, are doing well this year. They’re having a golden period. And Sevilla has won three Euro titles in a row. They are now playing in the champions league. Atletico Madrid, is a similar story to Valencia. They’ve reached the finals twice. Of course, we only remember the winner but getting to the finals is a great achievement.”
“Spanish football is passion. Exciting to watch. They really want to win. I also love that we play football on grass. It makes the matches amazing to watch.”
“It’s not football. It’s LaLiga”
Read more about: LaLiga’s new global campaign
Reading so far, you may have the impression that LaLiga is only about men’s football – LaLiga Santander. But that’s not the case. As Eduard explains, “It’s not only about the 90 minutes of the game. We talk about the passion, the enthusiasm of the audience; Being with your friends at a bar watching the game, or going with your family to the stadium.”
LaLiga also understands that promoting sport around the world needs to be fair and inclusive. “It’s why we’re boosting women’s football, called LaLiga Iberdrola,” he says. And it’s a lot more than nice words and good intentions. LaLiga found the same types of sponsors and put in the same amount of money as the title sponsor.
A consistent brand
“We bring in strategists too, so we can create a better product. At the end of the day, we’re about entertainment through sport.” Eduard says. “It’s a type of product, so it has to be homogeneous.
Consistent branding is critical for any company. And international football is no exception. “When I watch a match from LaLiga, it has the same no matter whichever stadium they are playing in,” Eduard explains. “It didn’t happen in the past, but now that’s changed.”
The viewer or spectator experience also needs to adapt to changes in technology. From 4K replays of matches, to developing VR experiences; LaLiga understands the importance of adapting to new consumer demand and behaviour.
Protecting their assets
“We also want to develop sustainable sport,” Eduard says. “That’s why we’re investing a lot to fight against piracy.” Illegal broadcasting and sharing is a big problem worldwide. Eduard explains that they focus heavily on taking care of their IP and protecting their clients interests, including broadcasters.
“We have a specific department to deal with it. All employees of LaLiga are involved in combatting piracy.”
As their slogan says, LaLiga is more than football. The game itself has become a mass market phenomenon over the years, with billions of viewers and fans. To address the demand, LaLiga has grown 40-50 people to around 300 people in short period of time. And with a global network in place, the organisation is in a perfect position to help other minor sports gain traction.
“We cooperate with them on communications and visibility. Sometimes sports don’t get this opportunity. LaLiga’s brand is very strong so we’re able to help a lot.”
The work doesn’t end there, as Eduard explains. “We have set up a foundation. We help people with lower incomes or who have less possibilities in life by doing a lot of projects. For example, working with schools and through companies’ social responsibility programmes. Any way that is possible for us,” he says.
The Hong Kong context
Eduard’s love of football extends to the local league. In his role as an ambassador, he attends local matches to build connections and, more importantly, enjoy a good game. “This year in Hong Kong there are many Spanish players. I go whenever I can and I get on well with the players, and also the people you don’t see, behind the scenes.”
Coming from a country that lives and breathes the beautiful game, how does he see the situation of local football? “Football is popular here, but not so much local football,” he observes. He feels that the local product isn’t something that really attracts a wide fan base right now. “When I talk to people, they tell me that 15 – 20 years ago the stadiums were full, sometimes more than 20,000 spectators. But now some of they are quite empty. It’s a pity.”
Getting close to the fans
“I think that Hong Kong people like football, but they mostly like international football.” And while people know the big names in Spanish football, he sees his work as a non-stop job. “We need to continue to remind people. Sometimes people know the teams and the players, but the brand is much bigger. It’s the 20 clubs in the first division and the 22 in the second division.
“At the end of the day we need to get close to the fans. To really understand their needs and what we can do to help them discover our great teams and players. And encourage them to love our unique product,” he says.
LaLiga is building momentum through its community work and online engagement. Eduard recently organised an event on the Sky Terrace at Hysan Place. They set up a mini football pitch and invited the media to learn about their renewed strategy.
Find out more about: LaLiga’s recent event at Hysan Place
“We ran a football clinic with kids from a local school and invited Roberto ‘Chino’ Losada, a former player in LaLiga, who’s now here playing for successful local team, Kitchee.
“We also invited Fu Chiu Man, a local female football player. It’s easy to say we support women’s football, but we need to demonstrate our commitment as well,” Eduard says.
“It was funny because when I contacted Chu Man she was a bit surprised. ‘Why me?’ she asked. I said, ’Because you love football, and you train hard.’ She thanked us but actually it’s us that needed to thank here. We have to learn from women in football. It’s not only a superficial thing.”
Giving back to society
“It goes without saying that our target is young people,” Eduard says, “but we really need the media for help us with that.” Since setting up his office at theDesk, Eduard has been working to better understand what the media and local people are looking for.
“I was quite surprised when I talked with the media here,” he says. “Some of them mentioned a story about Spanish club, Real Sociedad. They hired a homeless man, called Ruben. He was living outside Gate 22 at their stadium. So, they hired him to work on maintenance and now he’s earning a good living. The media explained that this is the kind of story that Hong Kong people really enjoy reading.
Eduard is finding out that while football is important to people, the wider community are interested in how clubs and players can give back to society. “Some people criticise footballers’; high salaries. But in Hong Kong, people also like to find out about the huge and positive impact that sport can have on people’s lives.”
Open to opportunity
“We want to have more impact on social media,” Eduard tells me. “Getting more followers is very important.” Like all companies in this digital era, football leagues work hard to build up a strong fan community online. “We care a lot about our broadcasters, too,” he adds. “They are the ones that know the market inside out. We’re active in cooperating to try and increase the community of fans.”
LaLiga has a lot of expertise to offer countries where football isn’t as developed. For example, they promote and fund grassroots programmes to nurture local talent and set up youth academies around the world. “In the USA we train coaches. They told us it’s what they most need. And we have more than 50 coaches in China right now, in different schools.”
The organisation is also setting up a chain of LaLiga academies. “The last one opened in Indonesia. We also have a high-performance academy in Dubai.”
LaLiga is looking for people and partners who are interested in investing and working with them on all kinds of projects. “In Egypt, a major soft drinks company runs an academy. We did a project with them to send 23 young players, between 15 and 19 years old, to Spain for the whole summer. These are projects which would also work well here in Asia,” he says.
“Sports project could be part of any company’s corporate responsibility,” he says. Schools and academies are also natural partners for collaboration.
“One option is that we could send kids to Spain for a week or longer, depending on their availability. People can contact LaLiga if, for example, they want to arrange a visit to Spain, maybe play friendly games with youth academy teams, train with them. There are a lot of possibilities,” he says.
Get involved now
If you love football, you’ll love the passion and energy of the Spanish league. Local fans can watch matches live on Now TV “We’ve worked with Now TV since 2015. This year they have both Cantonese and English audio. Now TV is very good. We’re very happy to work with them,” he says
Fans can also connect through social media. “We have some truly amazing content on Facebook and Instagram. Even on twitter, although it’s less popular here in Hong Kong,” he says.
What’s more, the organisation are running a series of international campaigns. “We’ve invited people to attend the first matches, the Derby – Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid, and also the ‘Classico’ – Madrid vs Barcelona. Many more are on the way.”
With broadcast partner, Now TV, they’re promoting ‘LaLiga Experience.’ “Six fans from Hong Kong will go to Spain to watch Celta vs Real Madrid. We pay expenses – flights, hotel and, of course, the best tickets.”
Looking for opportunities
Locally, Eduard is actively seeing link ups with schools and other organisations . How can people get involved? “What we want is a proposal. Tell us exactly what you want. There are so many possibilities for cooperation. We don’t want to tell people what they have to do. We want to know what people want so we can help you.”
“We want to become international, we people to see us as a friend. We’re not just here to make money and then disappear.”
What kinds of projects work best? “We’re particularly interested in original, unique and ambitious ideas. But at the end of the day, any cooperation could be good,” he explains.
Founded in 1984, LaLiga de Fútbol Profesional (LaLiga) is a sports association comprising all clubs in the first (20) and second (22) division of the national Spanish football competition. The Spanish competition is widely recognised as the world’s best based on the number of international competitions won (Champions League, Europa League) and players elected to win the Ballon d’Or.
LaLiga’s main product is the televised competition. The organisation is responsible for production of the matches as well as international audiovisual rights sales. Additionally, LaLiga operates various online properties including Web site, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and apps. In short: LaLiga is a content creation and entertainment company.
LaLiga seeks to be at the forefront in terms of quality and technological innovation, offering consumer the best possible experience. This includes broadcasts boasting the latest innovations in technical features and production, for example 360 cameras, sky cameras and 4K. We see our products as an extension of the in stadium experience. We want fans to enjoy it to the max.
Furthermore, LaLiga is firmly committed corporate and social responsibility topics. We promote fair play and completely reject violence of any kind in and around the matches. The institution also promotes the women’s game, while our foundation aims to instil values such as inclusion and respect amongst future fans.