As Soccerex celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015, the Soccerex Global Convention returned to Manchester Central Convention Complex on 7th September for the first day of the three-day conference.
As delegates filed their way into the Manchester Central Convention Complex on the first day of the Soccerex Global Convention 2015, the immediate draw card was an opening session with HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, where many were expecting an announcement on his intention to once again stand for the Fifa presidency.
Prince Ali had also been present to open proceedings when the Soccerex Asian Forum returned to the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre by the Dead Sea in Jordan on 3rd May, when we were still awaiting the outcome of the Fifa presidential election. With Blatter having announced his decision to resign despite defeating Prince Ali in May's election by 130 votes to 73, an extraordinary presidential election is set to take place on 26th February and Prince Ali is expected to once again run.
And indeed the very first question put to Prince Ali by the moderator, Soccerex senior consultant David Davies, asked him to clarify his position. Alas, Prince Ali remained coy on the subject, telling Davies and the packed room of delegates and press to "stay tuned", stating he was busy talking to various national associations, but refusing to confirm whether he would be in the mix come February.
Of the currently confirmed candidates, which include Uefa chief Michel Platini, former players Zico and Diego Maradona, and former Asian vice-president Chung Mong-joon of South Korea, Prince Ali said he was not confident that current front runner Platini is the right man to lead Fifa forward. Prince Ali said Platini's introduction into the world soccer federation came as a "protégée" to Blatter and added that while he has "huge respect" for the Frenchman, he was not convinced after talks with Platini that he really believes in reform, and suggested that it is necessary for someone who has not already been a part of Fifa for a long time to come in if there is to be a "new beginning."
When asked by Davies how damaged the Fifa brand is, Prince Ali said: "It is extremely damaged. I think that we have to take a stand", believing that it is repairable but that "the whole world wants to see a better Fifa and we have little time to do it."
He said it was "a sad thing" that "we base more on debate and the necessity to get support," and that "a change of leadership is needed to bring about a Fifa that is respected worldwide."
Prince Ali, a vocal proponent of women's soccer, was full of praise for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015, saying he though the tournament in Canada was a "wonderful event". But he was also keen to point out the things that it raised, most prominently the issue of finances and the inequality between the men's and women's game. "You need to increase the value", he said. "You base it upon what what is coming in from marketing companies and sponsors; that should go back into women's football."
The future is social
Over in The Academy on day one, the post-lunch sessions were all about social media and the future of how fans consume and interact with sport. "TV and sport go really well together; TV, sport and Twitter go even better together," said Alex Trickett, head of sport at Twitter UK.
Trickett discussed the values of Periscope, the video streaming app purchased by Twitter in March: "It's rough and it's ready and it's raw and it's immediate. It's a 'I've got something to say right now. I'm somewhere you'll be interested in and here it is', Trickett said, adding: "It's the immediacy and power that people have really embraced on Periscope."
Following Trickett in The Academy was SoLive's Vincent Pereira, who was joined by Julien Jalouzet, Paris Saint-Germain's digital marketing manager, to give insight into some of the social media campaigns SoLive - a social publishing tool dedicated to the sports industry - worked on with the French Ligue 1 champions during the course of last season, among them a Game of Thrones style hype video which previewed the final few weeks of the Ligue 1 season.
For years Spain's top two soccer sides, Real Madrid and Barcelona, have received a disproportionate share of revenue compared to rival Spanish clubs through broadcasting agreements negotiated individually. This year a new law, which was introduced by the Spanish government, has brought about collective bargaining for broadcasting rights and saw Telefónica acquire the domestic rights to La Liga for Mediapro €600 million, while Mediapro has been busy selling the rights internationally.
La Liga president, Javier Tebas, was on stage in The Studio in the afternoon to discuss the impact the collective broadcasting negotiations will have on Spain's top two professional soccer leagues, with Marca's chief editor Oscar Camplillo in the moderator's chair.
Tebas said this decision to move to collective bargaining signalled a "new future for Spanish football" and insisted that it was a decision which was widely supported among the clubs in Spain's top two leagues - pointing out that just one of the 42 clubs from the Liga BBVA and Liga Adelante was against the change; and this club wasn't one of the top sides.
"The objective of the centralised sale of TV rights was to achieve a better share of the money. We all believe in the collectivised sale of rights. Next year the difference will be 1:3; in 2010 it was 1:13. We are going to grow together," Tebas said.
Tebas also discussed the need to "look after our fans all over the world", saying they were looking at how to expand their reach and interaction in markets like China and Africa; where fans are increasingly watching soccer on their smartphones, and said he disagreed with Michel Platini's view on investment funds, stressing that it's important to allow these in Spain to ensure smaller clubs can continue to compete financially.
"The mentality that he (Platini) has with regards to investment funds is not a business mentality. They are good because they benefit the smaller clubs." He said the investment groups can help prevent the vast TV revenues falling into the pockets of the rich few, notably the clubs in the Premier League. "Investors will help us to make up the difference with the Premier League, otherwise it will become the National Basketball Association (NBA) of football, whereby all the good players will go there from other countries and other leagues."
To finish, Tebas was asked about the Qatar World Cup in 2022. He said that while he was happy that the tournament would take place there, he was not happy with the change of dates from summer to winter. "This is very damaging to the leagues in Europe. This change needs compensation for all the leagues. Only about 50 of the 550 players in La Liga will be involved. What about the players that don't go? Do we send them on holiday for the two months?," Tebas said.
On day two: the super agents, the football league in focus, and meeting the needs of the modern fan.