Spotlight: Interview with Domingos Soares de Oliveira, CEO of Benfica Group

Spotlight: Interview with Domingos Soares de Oliveira, CEO of Benfica Group
In this exclusive Soccerex Spotlight, we talked with Domingos Soares de Oliveira, CEO of Benfica Group, and discussed both his role within Benfica Group as well as the success of the club as a whole; the future of the club's women's team; and the role of Benfica on an international stage.

Hi Domingos, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. First of all, you joined Benfica Group as CEO in 2004 and although most people are familiar with S.L. Benfica's reputation as one of the most decorated clubs in Portugal, they may not know what happens behind the scenes at the Benfica Group. Could you explain what your role as CEO of the Group entails?

As you mentioned, Benfica has a strong reputation in terms of Sports results.  In Football, we have more than 80 trophies, including 36 national league titles and 2 Champion League trophies. Of course, most people are also aware that we are the biggest Portuguese club and one of the biggest in the world regarding membership with more than 220.000 active members.

What is less well known is that we are also a big group, with 10 different companies, more than 1.000 people working with us, that our annual turnover this year will be close to 300 million euros and that Benfica SAD is an Euronext listed company.

Before clarifying my role, I have to explain to you that Benfica members elect the President and 8 Vice Presidents every 4 years. For historical reasons, those who are elected by the members cannot collect a salary. Most of them have a job outside Benfica and for this reason, in 2004, the President decided to create a professional structure that would run the day to day operations, while supporting the President and the VP’s on the definition and implementation of a coherent strategy. My role is to lead this professional structure that includes Football, Youth Development, Business Development, Support Areas and Infrastructures.

Before joining Benfica, you were the CEO of the Portuguese and Spanish divisions of Capgemini. With the football industry becoming more reliant on technology and digital media to facilitate interest and business, how do you think your international experience in a technological services-based company has assisted Benfica throughout the years?

Today, everyone agrees that technology is a key part of the football industry - we use technology in sports, for example with predictive models that are used to prevent injuries, but also as a fundamental piece to increase revenues by implementing a smart digital strategy.

15 years ago, this was not so clear and my role at the time was to convince our different stakeholders to move is this direction and to start implementing those systems before our competitors. Due to this early approach, we have today a strong data lake, regarding for example players condition and fans behaviour, that are used, mainly for the our predictive models that I just mentioned before.

You have been with the club for 15 years and in this time the team has enjoyed incredible success, not only on the pitch with 6 Primeira Liga wins, but also on the business side of the club as well. In those years, how do you feel the club has developed and how do you see it continuing to evolve from this point forward?

In 2004 our revenues were close to 50 million euros. As I said in the beginning, we expect this year to be close to 300 million euros. This strong performance is, in any sector, an incredible performance and we are all very proud of it, but increasing revenues is only a small part of our biggest achievements. For the last 6 years we have always been very profitable whilst at the same time, we have invested in infrastructures, technology, innovation and international development.

On the sports front, we have a very good performance at national level but also with 2 Europa League finals in the last five years and on top of it, the work done in our academy is well recognized by all clubs, with a set of young players that are performing at the highest level, not only in our squad, but also in the most successful clubs in Europe.

The main challenge for the future is to keep Benfica with a strong performance at European level. We have to continue our youth development strategy, we have to be able to generate enough revenues to retain our best talent players, we have to be every year in the elite clubs list that play the Champions League. As I always tell my colleagues, we have the privilege to be part of a small group of clubs that have a global recognition. The challenge is to stay in this group and this can only be achieved if we perform well at European level.

Speaking of Benfica's successes, your women's team debuted this season, with an incredible 28-0 victory against Ponte de Frielas. Looking forward, how is Benfica planning to build on the success of the women's team?

Regarding the women’s team, we decided to start in the second division but with a team that is prepared to compete in first division. This year is important to gain experience, and to prepare the team for new challenges in 2019/2020. Of course, with our strong performance in men’s teams, it is mandatory that in the near future, we have a good performance at European level.

In 2017, you became a board member of the European Club Association. What do you feel is the role of the ECA in European football and why is it necessary in today's football landscape?

ECA represents the top clubs of European Football. The former President, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the new President, Andrea Agnelli have done a tremendous job in putting the clubs at the heart of any strategic decision regarding football in Europe. Clubs are the ones who support the investment and take the risks, therefore it is impossible to define the future of the industry without our involvement.

Today we work closely with all stakeholders, mainly with UEFA and I am sure that the football industry future is much more protected with our involvement.

As well as your success on a domestic level, Benfica have always held a strong reputation on the international stage, from hosting the 2014 Champions League final at the Estádio da Luz, to competing in two Europa League finals during your career at the club and qualifying for the last nine editions of the UEFA Champions League, alongside holding sponsorship deals with European companies, Adidas and Emirates. How important is this strong European presence for Benfica's international marketing strategy?

As you know, Portugal is a small market, with 10 million inhabitants. In order to continue to develop our business, we need to go abroad. We have identified our key markets, mainly China and United States and the strategy is on its way with dedicated people to every single region.

Being at the highest level in Europe is fundamental to have the right brand recognition. This is why we have to deliver a strong performance at international level. But we have also to participate every year in friendly matches across the globe. Our presence in the ICC tournament is part of this strategy.

At the same time, 9 of our 10 most important sponsors are coming from outside Portugal and they are an important piece of our strategy. You mentioned Emirates and Adidas, but I could add the Heineken group, Repsol, Huaway, Leaseplan and the Chinese Fosun Group just to mention some important partners. In many cases, our strategy is shared with them and they are involved in our plans. We are proud of this group of sponsors and I am sure that they are proud of us.

In recent statements, you've mentioned that you are not in favour of the idea of a European Super League, which could be useful to raise Benfica's international profile. First of all, do you think there is a real chance for this tournament to be formed and if so, what do you think would be the effect on the European football climate?

I am sure that the concept has been under discussion in some talks between some of the big clubs. It is normal that those clubs studied different approaches to increase their sources of revenues and the Super League would probably allow them to go on this direction.

Today, as recently announced by Mr. Alexander Ceferin, the Super League is dead. And I see it as a strong commitment between UEFA and ECA regarding the big family of European clubs, big, medium and small clubs, but all of them, part of a single family that is all European football clubs. Also, I have to say that during some informal discussions, I saw some of the big clubs mentioned before supporting the concept that we have to stay together. This is excellent for the clubs that eventually would not be part of the Super League.

Portuguese teams have always been known for developing local talent but also for scouting well in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, and this is something that you discussed last year at Soccerex USA, during the session "The Evolution of the Transfer Market in the Americas". How important is it for a club like Benfica to find the right balance between experienced players, Portuguese grassroots and international transfers, and what strategies do you have to do this successfully?

Part of our very recent success is due to the arrival of very talent players coming from our Academy, but we understand that those young players need the right environment to perform, the right coach to succeed and the right experience in the squad to growth. This is why we think that the right mix of local and international and young and experienced will allow them to increase their performance.

Regarding our strategies, we would need an additional hour to talk about it and there are some areas and ideas that I cannot disclose. Let’s just say that although the Youth Development Department and the Scouting Department are separated, they work very close to fulfil the needs of the squad for the next 3 to 5 years.

Looking forward, Soccerex Europe will be debuting in 2019 with the event being held in Oeiras, in Greater Lisbon, Portugal, only minutes away from your stadium. What do you think having an event like Soccerex will mean for the football business in Portugal?

Portugal is a country with strong passion for football. The performance of our national team and the Portuguese clubs is well recognized. The level of professionalism in the industry is increasing every year.

Being myself, part of the Soccerex family for many years, knowing the level of speakers and content that is shared in every session, I am sure that the Portuguese community will benefit from this event hosted in our country. Definitely, a strong push for the future of football business in Portugal!

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