Spotlight: Interview with Patricia Rodriguez, SD Eibar Executive MD

Spotlight: Interview with Patricia Rodriguez, SD Eibar Executive MD
In this Soccerex spotlight interview, Patricia Rodríguez, Executive Managing Director at SD Eibar, explains how a club with a stadium capacity for 7,085 spectators, promoted to LaLiga’s First Division at the end of the 2013-2014 season – a division the squad has stayed since – and has grown internationally to reach 10,000 shareholders in 69 countries.

Hi Patricia, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview.

First of all, what did it mean for the club and the citizens of Eibar to be promoted to the Spanish First Division at the end of the 2013-2014 season?

The promotion of SD Eibar to the first division has meant that the city of Eibar is known worldwide. And not only Eibar, but also in the Region, it has its repercussion both in the media and in the atmosphere that is generated in each game played in Eibar. This, has helped to resurface the feeling and spirit of self-improvement that characterize the Eibar population. Football has become a driving force.

After the promotion, despite Eibar operating with no debt at the time, the Spanish Law of Sport forced the club to make a capital expansion in a short period of time to be allowed to play in LaLiga’s Primera División. What was the strategy of the club to obtain the capital and where are your shareholders from?

We did a marketing and a crowdfunding campaign called “Defiende al Eibar”. We explained to people our situation. Spanish Government obliged us to increase our capital in € 2 million to compete in first division, even if we had no debts. We sold shares in 69 different countries. The top five countries in which Eibar has shareholders are Spain, USA, China, UK and Germany but we also sold shares in places like Canada, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Singapore, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia or Uruguay.

You joined Los Armeros (The Gunsmiths), the term by which Eibar are popularly known, in September 2014, as Finance and Human Resources Manager. Prior to this, you had worked at PwC for over 9 years. How was your transition from auditing and consulting to the football industry?  

It was a significant change. I made the transition from a large multinational to a company with a a very small structure that was beginning to become professional. The challenge was as big as it was attractive. That's why I decided to change.

PwC was a good place to start my career. It taught me to be resilient and independent, and it helped me build connections. Work was tough but once I got past that, I gained the sense of achievement and self-satisfaction.

I love challenges. I like being able to improve myself continuously and joining Eibar was an opportunity to start something new. It was a different job and that attracted me.

Los Armeros beat Real Madrid by 3-0 this season in Ipurua

Since promotion, the squad has stayed in the top division and kept improving its performance - 18th in the first season, 14th in the second, 10th in the third and 9th last year-, impressive considering the club has one of the lowest budgets in LaLiga. What is SD Eibar’s objective for the 2018/ 2019 season?

The objective for this season is to avoid relegation. That´s important to be able to continue with the plan for growth the Club has. However, I want to highlight that each season we try to improve our performance. 

What is Eibar’s youth academy approach?

We consider the youth academy to be an excellent way of teaching children all kinds of human values such as fair play, team spirit and tolerance and that´s the main objective that the Club has in this field.

Additionally, we have a strategy to increase the development of the youth academy in the new training camps.

One of your most important players to date was Japan’s World Cup star Takashi Inui who has now signed with Real Betis. His presence and good performance in the team in the past few seasons attracted great media coverage for the club in Japan. Did this translate into business opportunities for Eibar in Japan? How can Eibar keep this coverage despite Inui no longer playing for the club?

When I first took on my functions as SD Eibar Managing Director in 2016, I was sure to take advantage of having a Japanese player in the team because Japan is a country where the interest in football is increasing a lot and we also had the Japanese player who has played the most minutes in LaLiga.

Japanese star Inui at Eibar

Having Inui playing with us provided benefits in three areas. On the one hand, the performance of the Player in the team, since he has been one of the players who has played more minutes in each of the seasons that he spent in the Club. On the other hand, it has been a great contribution to work on the impact of the brand in Japan because it was a direct way of making us known in Japan. Finally, the most direct and obvious part is the achievement of revenues from sponsorship of Lawson last season and Hikoki this season.

I have talked about the three areas in which we have obtained a benefit from having Inui playing in SD Eibar and from those three areas but I would also like to underline the development of branding in Japan. Despite Inui no longer playing in SD Eibar and in order to continue with the branding strategy in Japan, we have signed an agreement with Tokyo Verdy.

I think it is not easy to achieve this level of brand recognition but we have taken advantage of Inui having played for SD Eibar and that has opened many doors in the Japanese market. This has enabled us to introduce ourselves, to make known who we are and what we do.

We have created strong long-term relationships, like the strategic collaboration agreement signed with Tokyo Verdy which enable us to build projects together and to create synergies, with a view to mutually strengthening the clubs' sporting and commercial departments.

In addition to Japan, which markets outside Spain is Eibar looking to exploit the business opportunities that arise for being a LaLiga club? How does LaLiga Global network help you in these countries?

I am a strong supporter of internationalization of clubs and I agree with the strategy of LaLiga in this field and the project launched called “LaLiga Global Network”. This project has allowed us to hire a person to work in the Club in this field.

At this moment, we are focused on Japan, China, India, USA and Indonesia. In each of these countries there is a special reason and specific strategy to make Eibar known there.

I already explained the reasons to work in Japan and China so let me talk about the other regions. In the case of India, last season, when LaLiga President Javier Tebas announced that Facebook bought the rights to broadcast LaLiga games in India, we decided to hire an Indian student for an internship to help us to develop a media plan in the country.

In the USA, football is now the second most popular sport to watch among millennials, relevance within the US market is increasing each year and we expect that to continue. We are working through LaLiga and the agreement signed with Relevent Sports.

The case of Indonesia is a little bit special because we know that there is a great interest in football, but first of all, we are interested in helping the country after the natural disasters that Indonesia suffered last summer. For this reason, in the match that we played against Real Madrid, we decided to wear the logo of the Football for Peace charity project of the Uni Papua Foundation in the back of our team jersey in order to raise awareness for this Foundation providing visibility to both the Uni Papua Foundation and the Football for Peace project.

When we met at Soccerex China in April 2018, you mentioned that you were positively surprised by the amount of businessmen and women who knew Eibar in the country. What made this possible? Do you have any strategic partners in this fast-growing football market?

It is true, I was very surprised. I did not expect that the news of the crowdfunding campaign carried out in 2014 would have had such an impact in China. In 2014, many Chinese shareholders travelled to Spain in 2014 to the see our team play against Real Madrid in Ipurua and everyone seemed to know this.

The President of China loves football and he is trying to popularise football in the country. He has an ambitious project as a consequence, we are designing a strategy to work in China.

Eibar is a club that promotes gender equality at multiple levels in a region of Spain where women have historically been very valued, especially in sports. Spanish and international media emphasized that many women, including yourself, are working in management positions at Eibar. In addition, the club’s women’s first team is now in the Second Division with a great chances of being promoted to the top division this coming season. How important are the women’s team and having female management leaders for the overall strategy of the club? 

We have made a firm commitment to soccer played by women and we have increased the investment in this project. The objective for the women's first team is to be promoted.

Amaia Gorostiza, President of SD Eibar

On the other hand, we are increasing the notoriety of the women's first team in the different media campaigns.

In addition, in the case of the strategy of internationalization in Japan, the women's first team has become a key piece as we have two Japanese players.

I am personally committed to promoting gender equality, especially in the field of senior management positions, and due to that, I participate in several projects and initiatives to promote gender equality and contribute to other women's access to decision-making positions.

Last year, SD Eibar hosted an eSports draft at Ipurua Stadium with players of Rocket league, Clash Royale, FIFA 18 and League of Legends. What is the potential for football clubs to enter the eSports market and what is Eibar’s strategy to take advantage of this global phenomenon?

Esports have become immensely popular and events like the one we organized in summer are becoming a massive industry. I consider that there is a significant potential in this industry and we must work hard to achieve the monetization of both eSports and social networks. And when I say work, it means also investment. The ARPU in the eSports industry is much higher than in the sports industry.

Eibar will be attending Soccerex USA in Miami this November. After your experiences at the Soccerex Global Convention 2017 in Manchester and Soccerex China 2018 in Zhuhai, what are your expectations for Soccerex USA? What can European clubs and leagues learn from the American sports market? 

I believe that an event such Soccerex is necessary for the football industry because the media tend to report the sporting area, however, they do not pay attention to the repercussion and the economic and social impact of the sector. For that reason, Soccerex is the perfect showcase to make it known and to learn and grow as an industry through new knowledge and alliances.

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