June 4, 2016, was a landmark day in the history of Club Deportivo Leganes. Pablo Insua’s winning goal not only secured a 1-0 victory against Mirandes on the final day of the season, but propelled the club into La Liga for the first time in its 88-year history.
Based on the outskirts of Madrid, with a stadium that seats just shy of 11,000 spectators, Leganes provided the only domestic bright spark for the Spanish capital in 2015/16. Although Atletico and Real met in the Champions League final, both were pipped to the Primera Division title by Barcelona, while Getafe and Rayo Vallecano were relegated to the Segunda.
Leganes may be a small team, but they have big ambitions. Handed a blueprint for survival by fellow first-timers Eibar, whose survival for the past two seasons has defied all expectation, the club has made a superb start to life in La Liga. Leganes already have two away wins under their belt, as well as a hugely creditable 0-0 draw at home to Atletico – Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side managing to nullify Antoine Griezmann & Co, something that not even Barcelona could manage in last week’s 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp.
While on the pitch performances have earned acclaim, developments off it have also begun to garner interest. In recent weeks, Leganes officials have travelled to both the UAE and China to secure international partnerships for a club looking to take full advantage of its status as a La Liga outfit.
The commercial deal struck in Dubai is particularly intriguing, given that it could revolutionise the concept of shirt sponsorship in football.
Saudi Arabian sports marketing company MBUZZ Sport bought up the rights to appear on the front of Leganes’ shirts in the 2016/17 season. It is not the first Saudi foray into La Liga shirt sponsorship, with MBUZZ Sport’s parent company MCCI, a mobile communications giant, linking up with Getafe for a brief stint towards the end of last season.
What makes the Leganes agreement different, however, is that MBUZZ Sport are planning to license out their shirt sponsorship to the highest bidder. It won’t be done on a season-by-season basis, but in “packages of games”, meaning Leganes will likely have multiple different names on their shirts in 2016/17.
“The idea is to give small and medium sized companies a chance to get exposure in La Liga for the first time,” CEO of MBUZZ Sport Youssef Abdellaoui told Sport360.
“The cost of sponsoring shirts for the season is certainly prohibitive to many so instead of giving them one season, we’ll give them a third of the season, maybe even just three or four games. They get to see the value added to that brand or sponsorship and then maybe next year you might have them for the full season.
“It’s going to be up to the customer. If they want only one match, we will advise them, okay, maybe the exposure would be better with two or three matches or more. But maybe they just want to feature against Real Madrid or Barcelona. If that’s what they want, they can get it.”
It’s not a unique idea. In 2010, during Tottenham’s first foray into the Champions League, asset management firm Investec sponsored the club’s shirts in Europe while software company Autonomy appeared in the Premier League.
The appeal certainly seemed a little less obvious with Leganes. So why did MBUZZ take a punt on a newly promoted La Liga side?
“Leganes I see it like Leicester,” Abdellaoui explained. “No-one would have ever thought Leicester could win the Premier League but this is the beauty of football. Leganes have been managed extremely well and, despite not having much money, have managed to get to La Liga. I was at the Atletico game and they showed how good they can be. They have what it takes to stay in La Liga. They are fighters.
“The big clubs are the big clubs. Everybody knows about Barcelona and Real Madrid but five years ago no-one was talking about Atletico. They weren’t considered one of the biggest teams and certainly weren’t one of the riches teams. Now it is a completely different story. Why can’t Leganes be a part of that as well? Why not any other team?
“We find comfort with Leganes. They have shown they are ready and keen to promote themselves and the GCC, especially in the Saudi market. Our objectives aren’t just related to the team’s performance, though if they stay in the La Liga and do well, that’s a good thing for them and that is of course what we want.
“But it is also about the infrastructure of the club, the academy, the relationship with the community. These are things that are important.”
Indeed, the scope of the partnership goes beyond shirt sponsorship. MBUZZ’s parent company MCCI is installing Wi-Fi at the club’s Estadio Municipal de Butarque home, while Leganes will send coaches and potentially players to work and play in the Saudi Pro League.
For Leganes vice president Felipe Moreno, it is the opportunity to expose the name of Leganes to a new audience that is one of the most appealing aspects of the deal.
“The economic side is the least important right now,” Moreno said. “We don’t just want to take money from the Arab world, we want to create a pathway between football in Spain and the Arab world. We want to lead the way in this collaboration. We will also invite coaches from Saudi Arabia to see the way we work, see the team in the best league in the world. In both Spain and the Middle East, we want to help create young men that are very competitive and understand the value of respect.”
The aspirations of Leganes don’t end there. Moreno revealed officials are pressing ahead with a proposal to change the club name to Club Deportivo Leganes Madrid in time for next season, with hopes that a closer association with the capital will make the team even more marketable. However, he concedes that there are no plans to sell off naming rights to the stadium, which is named after exalted local patron Nuestra Senora de Butarque.
“I don’t think we could ever change the name of Estadio Butarque,” Moreno said. “The whole city is named after Butarque and the fans would not like it. But the name of the club, it is just a minor adjustment that could make a big difference.
“We want to have our name on the map of the world so rather than being Leganes CD we want to be Leganes Madrid. We are in Madrid, a suburb of Madrid, and we want this to happen. It’s about exposing the club to the outside world.”
La Liga’s exposure in Saudi Arabia is certainly increasing all the time and Saudi involvement in European football is only going to get bigger given the division’s popularity continues to rise among the Gulf state’s fans and businesses continues to grow.
However, Jon Long, MENA managing director of sports analytics company Nielsen, believes that while Saudi investment is on the up, the Saudi Pro League still provides excellent sponsorship opportunities thanks to its enduring popularity.
“The Middle East continues to play a big role in European football sponsorship. Traditionally it has been the UAE and Qatar which have dominated that investment, most notably the major airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways,” Long said.
“The role of Saudi Arabian brands is less well documented but there is now around $20m (Dh73m) per year being invested by Saudi-based companies in European football sponsorship with STC leading the way through long-term partnerships with both Manchester United and Real Madrid that focus on marketing rights other than shirt sponsorship.
“Saudi brands have to weigh up such activities against the opportunities in the local league, which attracts big domestic television audiences in its own right,” added Long. MBUZZ Sport has opted to turn outwards from the Middle East with the Leganes agreement, though the company is adamant that there will be tangible benefits domestically given the depth of the deal with regards to coaching.
For Leganes, meanwhile, it is all about making the most of their time in the spotlight.
Italy’s role at the forefront of the fashion world is well known but in fitness, too, the country has long been firmly on trend.
Since 1983, Technogym has been revolutionising the environment in which people work out – stamping Italian style across gyms around the globe. First came the transformation of imposing steel structures into sleek, modern designs – before technological innovation became a guiding principle.
And having established a reputation for excellence in the field of fitness over the past three decades, Technogym’s position as a market leader has manifested itself in Rio de Janeiro this month, with Olympic athletes relying on the company’s cutting edge equipment to enhance performance.
Technogym is the official supplier for the games – for the sixth successive Olympics – and has kitted out gyms in the athletes’ village and at Rio 2016’s venues. Many of those going for gold in Rio are already familiar with Technogym as its gadgets and gizmos are key training tools for coaches and athletes alike.
“We have built 15 gyms in Rio and are providing equipment, digital support and trainers to help the athletes and their teams,” Technogym’s UAE managing director Michele Moro explains.
“It’s about helping athletes complete the last steps of the preparation, to manage the stresses associated with competition. It is the sixth time in a row we have been involved in the Olympics and is another wonderful opportunity, as well as being a big responsibility.
“The expectations of those athletes are getting higher and higher; there are thousands of people working day and night – sometimes just for 10 seconds that can change their lives or for one game. This means we need to be perfect, to have perfect equipment and provide perfect support for these men and women chasing their dreams.”
Preparation is everything for athletes and Technogym certainly views the four years between the games as important as the three weeks that make up the Olympics.
“It is in those four years that we develop the relationship and the trust, as well as through the previous editions,” Mori says. “So we need to be ready, provide what they need, be there and make sure that everybody will be focused on the objectives that many have been working their whole lives towards.
“We work shoulder to shoulder with the athletes – we see what they do, and try to get feedback to see what is next because in four years there will be another event.”
Helping athletes go ‘Stronger, Higher and Faster’ – as Pierre de Coubertin’s Olympic motto famously states – is a central tenet of Technogym’s philosophy. But there is no question that, from a financial perspective, the mass market of amateur fitness fanatics is more crucial to the company’s ongoing success.
We can’t have Olympic athletes everywhere but you can have a life objective, the gold medal you will personally be chasing. It is no less important.
So are its products built for the elite, trickling down to the grassroots? Or is it an amateurs-first approach?
“Often it is the same product, whatever the level,” Mori says. “At the least it is the same family of product, with slight variations. There is of course a wide gap between amateurs and elite athletes but Technogym’s aim is to accommodate as many people as possible.
“Events like the Olympics are designed to inspire, to encourage people to do what athletes do. Obviously we cannot have Olympic athletes everywhere, but you can have a life objective, the gold medal you will personally be chasing. It’s no less important.
“Of course there is certain equipment made for Olympic athletes that aren’t as helpful for beginners but typically, what we try to develop solutions that appeal to a cross-section of society.
“We recently brought the Skillmill to market, for example, which is a typical example of our mass market appeal. It is perfect for high intensity training, and can be used by anyone from rugby players to burgeoning cross-fitters.”
One of the key players in dragging gym-based exercise into the mainstream, it is a legacy of which the Italian fitness giants are particularly proud.
“Historically, most gym equipment looked like medieval torture devices. Gyms were intimidating places. But we introduced the Italian style and design to make the experience more enjoyable for a regular person. We wanted to attract new people to the gym and to change their lifestyle, that’s why we created more sports-orientated equipment. Suddenly it wasn’t just all about dumbbells anymore.
“Now the fitness industry has exploded. I like to use a restaurant analogy. There are hundreds of different formats of restaurants – fine dining, buffet, fast food and then sub-categorised into Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese and Indian. The fitness industry can be the same, there is so much choice now. Something for everyone.”
The digital revolution has brought with it new challenges, notably greater competition and an increasingly saturated marketplace. But Mori says the industry changes have been wholeheartedly embraced.
“Remember that technology, design and innovation are part of our DNA. Previously we were perhaps a little too out there, too ahead of the curve but now the fitness industry is moving so fast – we are at the heart of that.
“This gives us excitement and motivation. Developments like the app have been great because it helps the users and the operator to know more about needs. What is our base? What is our goal? The key to the success of any company is knowing about your clients, whether you deal in credit cards or fitness equipment.
“We are in a service and experience industry and I think in the app we have a beautiful tool, an opportunity to engage and excite more people and at the end of the day a healthier community.”
Here in the UAE, Technogym has had a presence since the mid-nineties, kitting out some of the country’s most luxurious facilities, including those at the Burj al Arab and Emirates Palace.
The fitness boom in the Gulf certainly shows no signs of abating and that is music to the ears of Mori and Technogym.
“The trends are always changing and we need to be on top of those, providing appropriate solutions. Classes have become really popular but still we are seeing a desire for people to make their fitness experience more intimate. So we’re talking about smaller classes or personal training, which have more interaction.
“Maybe you want to go into weights then you want to go into cross-fit; maybe then you will say that because everybody is trying to run a marathon I want to run a marathon or do a triathlon.
“The gym as we know it has changed beyond recognition. Now, the solutions are in our home, on the cloud.
“Fitness is now just one component now to be honest. In reality, it is broader and wider. That’s why we consider ourselves to be a wellness provider now.”
In terms of figures and reputation, the Italian fitness giants appear to be a picture of good health at present. Add a few Technogym-inspired gold medals in Rio to the equation and their rivals will not be able to hold a torch to them.
THREE KEY TECHNOGYM INNOVATIONS
First Generation Gym Equipment
“Arguably our most important contribution was the way we designed gym equipment at the very start. We made it look appealing, non-intimidating and sexy. We played a key role in making gyms are more welcoming place for people of all abilities. The equipment was, and still is, easy to use and makes the experience of training a smooth and enjoyable one.”
My Wellness Cloud App
“In this world of physicality and fitness, it is amazing that our most important development is not something that you can actually touch. The cloud infrastructure means that all devices and equipment are inter-connected. The interface is on whatever device you happen to be using and you can train for a marathon, set your goals. It really is totally personalised to reflect your own parameters.”
“A new innovation, it is a complete workout and is at the heart of our Olympic gyms. I can work on speed, stamina, strength and power and it is connected with the app, too. I can use it by myself or as part of a class, which is why it is probably our hottest product right now.”
Decision making in sports management has never been in greater focus. With revenues rising in the majority of the major disciplines, media attention sharpening and the choices made having a more profound influence on commercial, political and social issues, the importance of prudent executive guidance is paramount.
Against this backdrop, a role has gained prominence. Football, Formula One, rugby union, cricket, cycling, athletics and the world’s other great pursuits have all attempted to marry these often conflicting concerns together within the position of sporting director.
To pioneer tomorrow’s leaders who impact social well-being and economic growth, Visionary Sports Investment (VSI) have partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to produce the Masters degree in Sporting Directorship (MSD).
The aim is now to deliver this first-of-its-kind accredited qualification in Manchester for the UAE market, equipping sports and business professionals with all the skills and practical experience needed to progress their careers.
E-Sports managing director Gareth Mordey and Hamilton Aquatics chief operating officers Pippa Clarke have already travelled from Dubai, putting them on the same path as a number of high-profile fellow students since it began in 2013.
These include Lancashire head coach and former England spinner Ashley Giles, Manchester United’s head of athletic development Tony Strudwick, ex-Nigeria and Stoke City midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, Oxford United manager Michael Appleton, Audi DTM Rosberg performance consultant James de Mountfort and ex-Doncaster Rovers Belles assistant general manager Becky Easton.
“You are taken out of your comfort zone,” says Giles, who took 143 Test wickets from 1998-2006. “But I feel I have really benefited from the experience.
“The academic side opens your mind to new ideas, but as much as anything else it has been working alongside the rest of the group that has been really important. I have been able to hear and see how other sports deal with issues, and you can’t help but learn so much from their experience.”
Sporting directors provide a figurehead for the institutions they are involved in, helping twin business and competitive interests. They will work to give support to head coaches on the pitch, while often also taking responsibility
off the pitch for the commercial growth which underpins them.
Prominent examples include Monchi at Europa League champions Sevilla and Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford, while in the UAE ex-West Ham United and Watford administrator Guianluca Nani performs the role for Arabian Gulf League giants Al Jazira.
Manchester is placing itself as the global hub for executive education in sport, with this scheme at its heart. Crucial to this progress has been the strengthening of links with the UAE, exemplified by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s takeover of Manchester City in 2008.
Regeneration of the east of the city has been twinned by success on the pitch, developments which the vice chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, Profes- sor Malcolm Press, would like to re-pay by advancing sporting performance in the Arabian Gulf.
He says: “Sport is deeply ingrained in the DNA of Manchester. It is a particularly proud and exciting time as the city’s football teams prepare for a new season and Manchester-based British Cycling are hopefully set to aim for more Olympic glory.
“At a time when we all have to redouble our efforts to build new global alliances, it is fitting that business relations have never been stronger between the communities of the UAE and our city.
“The owners of City Football Group, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his family, have been instrumental in the regeneration of East Manchester since arriving at the club. Their legacy for the city is already written and we are hugely appreciative.
“We also want to give something back and believe that we can play a big part in creating a new generation of UAE sport leaders, educated by academic partners from Manchester and working closely with our colleagues from VSI.
“Three years ago, Manchester Metropolitan University launched what we consider to be the blue ribbon programme in elite sport leadership: a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship.
“Sport in the Gulf states has never been stronger and we would like to contribute our experience in Europe to educating men and women capable of leading sports to the pinnacle of world sport.”
The MSD is a two-year part-time course which teaches a unique curriculum, designed to give students all the skills required to meet the demands of leading sporting organisations. Covering sports leadership, personal development, masterminding innovation and change, sport governance and best practice – alongside a diverse range of hands-on extra-curricular activities – the course provides unrivalled preparation for the role of sporting director.
With remote study twinned with on-campus commitments, a significant opportunity exists for sports and business professionals in the UAE to gain all the skills and practical experience needed to take their next career step.
“From the conception of the programme we have had interest from individuals and groups in the UAE,” says Tony Faulkner, co-founder and VSI director. “Gareth Mordey from E-Sports in Dubal and Pippa Clarke from Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai are both on the programme in Manchester.
“We have visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi meeting with governing bodies in sport and potential future students. Sport creates a competi- tive mindset, everyone has the will to win but only the very best have the will to prepare to win.”
The course also aims to investigate the process behind sporting success, with the study of neuroscience key. MSD believes understanding the drives behind human social behaviour will lead to improved leadership and results.
Ex-England right-back Easton is convinced this knowledge will allow her to get the very best from herself and those around her.
She says: “Much of the course is underpinned by neuroscience and this on a practical level will really help me in dealing with people.
“Understanding how the brain drives performance is vital in any management position.”
The MSD is aimed for ambitious self-starters who want to take the next step, be that in sports or business. Mordey, of E-Sports, who provide a range of services for children’s sport and coaching, leisure and adult recreation plus corporate sports and events, is set to graduate this year. He is sure taking on the challenge will boost his career
He says: “The Masters in Sporting Directorship course has been a game changer for me personally and professionally. It has enabled me to better understand myself and once understanding myself then understanding others better.
“Professionally the learning, the theories and the models that we have learnt on the course have enabled me to better understand leadership and decision making.
“There is nothing like this in the UAE, the profile of person on the course, access to world-leading talent through pioneering and innovative partners like Manchester City FC, GB Cycling, Saatchi & Saatchi makes this a highly-attractive programme for leaders and potential leaders in sport and business across the UAE.
“I would think this is something the sports federations across the gulf should look into, as this will provide them with a world-leading platform to develop their people.”