Àlex Abella, marketing and sponsorship executive at the Andorran Football Federation, talks at Impulsyn’s Sports Talks about his experience on our University Master’s Degree in Sport Management
Our partner Impulsyn, a community for professionals in the sports industry that aims to contribute to the development of the sector, has recently released a series of podcasts entitled Sports Talks, featuring former students of Johan Cruyff Institute. Àlex Abella, currently responsible for marketing and sponsorship of the Andorran Football Federation after graduating from the University Master’s Degree in Sport Management, was in charge of inaugurating the ‘alumni week‘ of Johan Cruyff Institute. Here is his interview.
How did you come to Johan Cruyff Institute?
I wanted to be a professional basketball player and I decided to study sports science because at that time sport management was still in the process of development, and there were no specific programs like there are today. Because of my business background and tastes, I later looked for a specialization in sport management and chose to study at Johan Cruyff Institute and it fulfilled all my expectations.
I looked into the different types of programs available on the market and the Johan Cruyff Institute program suited me because it covers all the areas you need as a sport manager—event management, facility management, finance, marketing, sponsorship, etc.
How was your experience?
It was very good. All the teachers are professionals in the sector and experts in their field. What I liked most was sport sponsorship and I enjoyed the classes a lot with Cinto Ajram, who is a great professional and has been in the sponsorship world for many years. Another subject that surprised me a lot in a positive way was event management, with David Hidalgo, currently CEO of Grandvalira; he told us things with such passion that I became interested in this area and now I am passionate about everything related to event management.
In this search for sponsorship, activation is very important…
Absolutely. I remember that we worked on a project that linked the subjects of events and sponsorship and it dealt with activating sponsorships in a real project, making the spaces profitable, prioritizing the different categories of sponsorship, etc. This project brought me closer to this reality and I liked it so much that I continued my professional training in this field, and nowadays it is very useful in my day-to-day work.
“We worked on a real project that linked the subjects of events and sponsorship; I liked it so much that I continued my professional training in this field and nowadays it is very useful in my day-to-day work”
What is more complex, closing a sponsorship or activating it?
Closing a sponsorship is very complicated, especially in a market like Andorra, where the number of companies that may be interested in a sponsorship is more limited. Also creativity plays an important role in the activation, looking for KPIs and measurable initiatives that create an impact, a return and benefit both parties.
Do you remember any visit or presentation that surprised you in particular?
We went on different visits, mainly linked to the subject of facility management. We visited the CAR de Sant Cugat high performance center, the CN Granollers swimming club, the DIR Castillejos sports club, which is spectacular, and in each one of them, the professionals from each sector explained their reality and we saw very diverse and interesting cases. Also, the study trip we went on. Due to Covid restrictions, we couldn’t go to Amsterdam as planned, so we went to Seville. They took us to the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium, to the CAR of Seville, and it is surprising how different it is from the one in Sant Cugat simply because it is in a different geographical area. And we had many high-level presentations. I also remember the talk given in Seville by the head of the Betis eSports section, to cite just one example.
“We went on different visits and in each one of them, the professionals from each sector explained their reality and you saw very diverse and interesting cases”
Esports is a very interesting sector to attract a younger audience and build new relationships, isn’t it?
Yes, it is clearly a trend in the sports market and if you don’t jump on the bandwagon you will miss out on a lot. We are seeing this with many Primera División clubs and with LaLiga, which has its own competition. And even more so with how easy it is now to make strategic alliances. To give you an example, FC Andorra has allied with the IOC to create its esports team and they compete in the eLiga, but there are other cases where are creating teams for all sorts of video games.
Do you still keep in touch with classmates and do you know what they are doing now?
Yes, in my case I went back to Andorra and it is more complicated to have direct contact, but I know of several who are working in the sector and are doing very well—in Itik, a very important sports consultancy, in the Rafa Nadal Academy… In addition, my group was very international, with students from China, Latin America, from other parts of Spain, and in the end, it is a very cool networking relationship because we all go our own way, but that contact is maintained and you never know in the future what might be useful to you.
“My group was very international, with students from China, Latin America, from other parts of Spain… It’s a very cool networking relationship because we all go our own way, but that contact is maintained and you never know in the future what might be useful”
How does a federation like the Andorran federation coexist with a professional football club in the second division that was acquired by Gerard Piqué? Do you collaborate, do you go hand in hand in some actions?
The fact that there is a top-level football club in a country as small as Andorra is good for football. In the end, more football is consumed, there are role models and boys and girls who want to play football, and it is good for us because it develops football at a national level. We have a very good relationship with FC Andorra, we run the grassroots teams from the national school of the federation. The idea is to bring together the most capable and promising players in a team and make them compete in powerful leagues. This will be the basis of our Andorran national team. We are smaller than other countries, but this also gives us the possibility for players from different teams to work together, to get that necessary team dynamic that will benefit them in the future. It is a strategy that we are working on from the grassroots level so that in the medium to long term they can reach the first team of a more powerful national team.
“Our objective as an Andorran federation is to develop football at a national level; year after year we are becoming more important”
How does the federation contribute to the development of your sport?
We are a federation that may seem small or humble compared to other countries, but we manage all the grassroots football and futsal, both men’s and women’s, as well as the First and Second Division of both disciplines, which is becoming more and more important with the arrival of former players from the Spanish First Division or who have had their glory years in other leagues and come to Andorra and are surprised by the high level we have. Year after year we are becoming more important and this can be seen in the way they compete in the preliminary stages of the Champions League. In the end it is interesting because those teams that play in our league also play in European competitions such as the Champions League or the Conference League, and you can see that the level is getting higher and higher.
What kind of sponsors are you looking for in the Andorran federation and with what objective?
As a federation, we want to create synergies with entities that want to add to football and create a win-win relationship, in which both parties are participants in the process and fruits are obtained as a result of this collaboration. We are trying to avoid sponsorship by investing money in exchange for visibility. We are looking to go one step further with all the opportunities that each sponsor can offer us.
“As a federation, we want to create synergies with entities that want to add to football and create a win-win relationship, in which both parties are part of the process and fruits are obtained as a result of this collaboration”
Going back to development, what is your goal as a federation?
Soon we have the first match of the Euro2024 qualifiers against rivals such as Romania, Kosovo, Belarus, Israel and a great Switzerland team that performed very well in the World Cup. We will see how we measure up against them—in the end, we have nothing to lose, we are not the favorites and we can only surprise them.
Are there any players who are interesting to follow?
One player who has come out of this national school project and who has played for different teams is Berto, who is now playing for Betis’s second team on loan from FC Andorra. He is a striker who has scored a lot of goals.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the sports industry?
I give great importance—and this is something I was able to do at Johan Cruyff Institute—to gaining as much experience as possible through internships. They open the doors to the real world, and what a company is looking for when it comes to hiring staff is that you have work experience. That’s why everything that adds to that somehow, internships, volunteering, is good for your CV and gives you that push into the world of work, which is sometimes complicated.
“I made the most of the internship opportunities during the master’s degree and I worked at three sports organizations; great experts introduced me to this world”
Is that what opened that first door for you?
I made the most of the internship opportunities during the master’s and I worked at three sports organizations: Hub23, TRAM Barcelona Open tennis and Pirineos Cup. Great experts introduced me to this world, each in different areas, and I learned a lot. You see the reality that in the end is what companies are looking for, that you have practical resources. A master’s degree gives you theoretical tools that are also very necessary, but the practical part is the most important.