From local Panini madness to global football glory

As published on Pub Magazine on June 18, 2014. Smart sports marketers around the globe and in every single country indulged themselves in the football fever. While FIFA is selling the apogee in Brazil, an unimaginably wide range of products is being sold to any man (or woman, of course!) who wants them, probably also in the aftermath of Rio. The heroes of the green pitches do not only score for their nation but also for the brands they work for.
Ball-skilled men are everywhere these days. And their portraits have become part of our living rooms. The Panini sticker madness is unprecedented! Gathering 640 football stickers to fill an album is a challenge accepted by thousands of families, friends, amateur football teams, colleagues… The cape of selling 100 million stickers globally was rounded over a month before the World Cup. And the collection fever turned out to be the most impactful here in Belgium! Even in football nation Italy, also the home of Panini, they do not really understand what happened in Belgium!
 
We are simply going crazy, do you mind?! One thing is for sure: it is not only the children who are sticker-crazy. Adults reached deeply into their pockets at swap-meets and auction sites so they can score their last stickers and sell on their overload of ‘doubles’, hopefully with a bit of a profit. They searched for the hero within, they dwelled in youth sentiment, they were looking for a hobby anyway, they could not resist their friends with their collections or they simply love football to the extreme.
Whichever it may be, today’s gods sell like hot cakes and Panini, PepsiCo, Nike, Heineken, Albert Heijn, ING… were smart as to jump on the bandwagon. But apart from selling the football celebrations and the many articles and attributes at the sidelines, there is a third main aspect in ‘marketing discipline’ that should not be forgotten: promoting the sports to the larger audience so as to increase the participation among the general population.
When Vincent Kompany (Captain of the Belgium National team & Captain of Manchester City) sticks that League Cup in the air, it does not only result in new season tickets for Manchester City (‘Marketing of sports’), soft drinks for PepsiCo (‘Marketing through sports’), but also simply in football (‘Grassroots sports marketing’). As no other, Kompany understands that many football talents are required to have 22 top players for the next generation of Panini sticker books.
Our Red Devils’ captain was discovered at the age of 8 by RSC Anderlecht scouts, playing football on the Noordwijk squares. He evolved into one of the main talents of this generation. And Kompany never lost track of his roots amid this Kompany cult creation. He is investing in the future of the Brussels youth, through his very own football club BX Brussels.
We chose the name BX, which refers to what the Brussels youth call their city. Furthermore BX also perfectly fits with our other criteria: short and powerful, international simple and ‘to the point’“, Kompany declared on Twitter.
The Royal Belgian Football Association (KBVB or Koninklijke Belgische Voetbalbond) also understood very well that the current football momentum should be welcomed with open arms in order to lay the foundations today for the ambitions of the future. The best Belgians are getting noticed playing for football kings such as England, but the ‘smaller’ footballers also have great dreams when playing on the Belgian pitches and squares.
In 2014 the KBVB (founded in 1895) represents no less than 2,000 Belgian football clubs in all leagues. Every season they organize no less than 300,000 football matches and their main task is to properly manage the sporting, administrative and extra-sporting aspects of the events. After all, a game of football is not just about 22 (young) players kicking a ball and then chasing it again. There is so much more to it. A decent environment is equally important for ‘first-year players’ as it is for ‘first-league players’.
Which is why one of the KBVB’s and their partners’ priorities in the list of strategic projects is the reformation of the youth competition. This reformation will be started in the season 2014-2015. If we hope to be world champions in 2030, we should indeed already start sowing the pitch grass today.
In order to increase our level of talent, we need to improve both sideways (attract an increasing number of players) and in-depth (guiding them better in the development of their talent). The KBVB is focusing on both aspects to reach specific goals: by 2016 they hope to have 440,000 member-players (which was ‘only’ 412,000 in 2012). A certified coach for each team should improve the quality of the coaching.
Since Steven Martens’ appointment as CEO at the KBVB in 2011, a wind of change has been blowing through an organization which was in dire need of innovation (follow #newkbvb on Twitter). One of the main spearheads was to set up a maximal connection with the supporters. A logical next step in this spirit of innovation and change was to maximally involve those who actually stand on the pitch in the co-creation of the reformation of the youth competition. And that is what happened.
Stimulated by Bob Madou, KBVB’s Business Director, a collaboration was set up with InSites Consulting, which resulted in the 12th man’ community. 99 actively involved people from our 10 provinces were interviewed and involved in the future of our youth competition, from coaches to management, from local to national level, aged 16 to 65, men and women, fathers and mothers.
 
During the 3-week community the KBVB posted 27 subjects. The participants spontaneously added another 45. There were no less than 1,600 reactions, which means 350 A4-sheets full of passion, laments, wishes and ideas to do even better tomorrow for their little heroes.
An important conclusion which emerged from the community concerns the worries about constantly keeping the balance between relaxing and fun on the one hand and competition and performance on the other. The Vincent Kompany of the future is out there somewhere, he just needs to be discovered. But if it is simply not fun enough, then maybe Vincent will swap to athletics instead of fighting for his place in the football world.
Today we are working actively with the insights of the ‘12th man’ community; the first changes will already be introduced in the new season. Nobody ever learned how to play football by not playing. So we will force the coaches to give all young players at least 50% of play time. The pitch sizes will also be better adapted to our young players’ ‘dimensions’. After all, you wouldn’t want to play on a 175m-long pitch, would you?” says Thibault De Gendt, National Competitions Director at the KBVB.
We’re proud of getting to the quarter finals with our Red Devils (after all our last World Cup participation dates back to 2002) and whichever the Red Devils’ will result in the future, the KBVB is building a story which turns football into a leisure time activity which may inspire many young children to becoming a Panini sticker one day.
May the best team win the global football glory this weekend! #GerArg

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