Nicolás is a sports and media executive currently serving as VP of Strategy and Business Development of LaLiga North America, a joint venture between Relevent Sports Group, a multinational media, sports and entertainment group, and LaLiga, Spain’s top-flight soccer competition and professional association. LaLiga North America was founded in 2018 as a first-of-a-kind partnership featuring the world’s best soccer league with internationally recognized clubs and players that aims to cultivate soccer culture in the U.S. and drive the league’s growth in the region.
Previously, Nicolás served as the Head of LaLiga Global Network – a multicultural international project composed of 50 people spread across 44 countries, the first endeavor of its kind at this scale in the sports industry. In this position, he was responsible for launching the project and selecting and developing all talent. Once established, he managed the team and its budget in order to develop opportunities and projects as well as spearhead actions to promote LaLiga abroad. Since its inception, the Global Network has improved LaLiga’s international brand value and created commercial opportunities to increase media rights globally.
Before starting with LaLiga, Nicolás was a high-performance athlete with the Spanish National Taekwondo Team, competing for Spain internationally for over 10 years. He was a Silver Medalist in London Olympic Games in 2012.
Nicolás holds a degree in Architecture from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and an Executive Master´s degree from Centro de Estudios Garrigues in Madrid.
USEC had an opportunity to hold an exclusive interview with Nicolás, a member of our association, to discuss the experience and strategy of LaLiga in the US as well as his own background as an elite athlete who has developed a successful career as an international executive.
1) LaLiga, the top professional soccer league in Spain, is 90 years old but has only recently attracted a global audience. What are the strategies that have worked best to introduce it into the US market?
We understand the complexity and diversity of a market as big and well established, especially in the sport and entertainment sector, as the U.S. market. That’s why, after two years testing the market with a small office, we decided, in August 2018, to sign an agreement with Relevent Sports Group to further our presence in North America. Relevent Sports Group organizes the International Champions Cup, a tournament that showcases Europe´s top soccer clubs every summer in a series of friendlies across the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Tapping into their understanding of the market and leveraging our knowledge about soccer we have defined a four pillar strategy based on the following:
- TV Promotion: Working in collaboration with our main broadcaster we are trying to expand the brand of LaLiga and all our teams.
- Digital Strategy: We need to be able to deliver the content our fans want to consume no matter what platform or format they use.
- Soccer Development Projects: In order to increase the awareness of LaLiga and its clubs, we need to help soccer grow in the U.S. starting at a grass root level.
- Events and Activations: We need to be closer to our fans, that´s why through watch parties for some of LaLiga Santander matches we are able to engage with our audience in a really interactive way. Also, we organize other kind of events such as Breakfast with LaLiga series where we showcase to media and business partners the stories of different LaLiga clubs.
2) Last year a decision was made to establish a local office of LaLiga in the US, specifically in New York City. What was the main motivation for this decision and how has it impacted the overall goals of your organization?
As I´ve said before, we had an office in NY from 2015 to 2018 but we realized we needed a bigger push in terms of promotion and resources, which led to the joint venture with Relevent Sports Group.
The U.S. is our second largest market in terms of TV rights after Spain. The main motivation of establishing an office here was that we needed an on the ground presence in order to understand the complexity and diversity of the market so we can execute our strategy the right way.
3) Traditionally, soccer has had a difficult time attracting a lot of people in the US due to the strong presence of well-established sports like football, basketball, baseball and hockey whose regular seasons leave little space for other major sports. Issues mentioned regularly about soccer include lack of breaks for commercials on TV, which may limit its potential revenue. What are the main obstacles found while developing La Liga’s presence in the US?
Soccer is growing here more and more every year. A recent survey from Gallup (https://news.gallup.com/poll/4735/Sports.aspx) shows that soccer is the only one of the top 5 sports (football, basketball, baseball, soccer and ice hockey) that has grown since 2004, with the others staying stagnant or declining.
With people between 18-34 years old, soccer is tied for second with basketball as their favorite sport. The only sport ahead of soccer is American football, which means that we have a young fan base that is interested in our sport and engaged with our content (ref https://news.gallup.com/poll/224864/football-americans-favorite-sport-watch.aspx).
Having said that, I think there are still a lot of things to do from our side to position soccer as one of the biggest sports in terms of following. Given that American football is struggling with concussion problems and baseball has an older audience every year, soccer is becoming more and more attractive to young sports fans. This is the perfect scenario for us to grow. Young sport fans value time more than anything and that´s why soccer is interesting for them. Soccer is an incredibly fast sport with minimal interruptions. Everything is decided in 90 minutes and each regular season match is important.
4) Hispanics are now the largest minority group in 191 out of 366 metropolitan areas in the United States. The projected Hispanic population of the United States for 2050 is more than 130 million people, or 30% of the nation’s total projected population. Hispanics seem to have a much higher interest in soccer than the rest of the population in the US. How is this helping La Liga’s growth in this country?
While the long-term goal of LaLiga is to reach general market sports fans in the U.S., we can´t ignore the natural connection LaLiga has with the Hispanic audience. Because of this, our digital strategy in Year 1 started with Spanish language content designed for first generation Hispanic Americans whose preferred language is Spanish. In our second year, we are aiming to reach second and third generation Hispanic Americans who prefer to consume content in English. This is all laddering up to our long term-strategy in connecting with the general market.
The cultural link along with the number of current and former Hispanic superstars in LaLiga makes us a really attractive league for Hispanic American soccer fans. This is helping us a lot as we grow and raise awareness of LaLiga and its clubs in the U.S.
5) Women’s soccer has been very popular in the US, its team has won four Women’s World Cup titles. Is women’s soccer considered by LaLiga’s future development plans in the US?
Of course it is! Even if the women’s league in Spain is not managed by us directly, we still work in close collaboration with the different women’s clubs, especially those who have ties to LaLiga Santander clubs and collaborate with them to promote their brands and players. Our goal is to work with them to build awareness around the world but particularly in the U.S. and Canada.
This year we will have Atlético de Madrid playing in the ICC Women’s tournament and are working closely with other clubs in order to find opportunities for them to activate in the U.S.
From a digital perspective, we have created some pieces of content showcasing some of the best players in the women’s league in order to increase the knowledge about the competition and its clubs.
6) As an Olympic medalist (silver medal in men’s welterweight division at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London) and current executive, we would like to ask you about the connection between top performance in sports and business. It seems like there is a strong link, as shown by the high number of successful CEOs and entrepreneurs who played sports in their youth, as well as the numerous former star athletes who have built a fruitful career as business couches. Which are the main skills developed as a top athlete that you have found are highly valuable in the business world?
I don´t consider myself better than anyone else. It´s true that high performance sports help athletes to develop skills that are extremely useful in a business environment, but it also leads us start our professional career (outside of the arena) later than the rest of the population.
Having said that, I think some of the skills that I´ve developed as an athlete that have helped me the most in my business career are:
- Working under pressure: When you’ve dealt with the stress of having six minutes to prove all of the work you’ve done in the past four years, little can phase you after that – especially not day to day situations in the office!
- Goals achievement: Every single training, everything you do as an athlete has a goal and a purpose, that´s why athletes are really goal oriented. We’re willing to do whatever we have to do and put in immense resources and efforts in order to achieve these goals.
- Teamwork: Even if I was competing in an individual sport, it´s impossible to succeed if you don´t have a sparring partner that helps you every day. That’s why athletes, in general, are good at teamwork and understanding that each member of the team has a role and a responsibility.
- Decision making: When you are on the field of play, you have to make really quick decisions and more importantly, you need to get used to failing and making mistakes, forgetting them and continue focusing on the greater strategy. I´ve seen a lot of people complaining before starting a complicated task and saying they are not going to have enough time to complete them instead of starting the project and working to achieve what they need to do.