La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves looking to spread sporting technology, innovation in MENA

La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves looking to spread sporting technology, innovation in MENA
La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves looking to spread sporting technology, innovation in MENA

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - La Liga’s Deportivo Alaves looking to spread sporting technology, innovation in MENA

On May 16, 2001, Deportivo Alaves of Spain’s La Liga were involved in one of the most famous matches in the history of European football.

In an epic battle that was settled by a “golden goal,” the underdog team from Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque Country lost 5-4 to Liverpool in the final of the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League, at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund.

Alaves are yet to reach those heights again, but having gained promotion from the second division last season, the team are now establishing themselves in the top tier of Spanish football. And they are doing that via new and creative avenues.

“Deportivo Alaves aims to reach the highest competitive standards through technology and innovation by trying to control all information possible around football and players: from injury prevention, recovery, scouting, performance analysis and much more,” club CEO Haritz Kerejeta told Arab News from La Liga’s offices in .

It is a methodology that not only serves the club’s ambitions, but one that Alaves hope to export to the region through partnerships with Saudi and other teams in the Middle East.

“As Deportivo Alaves, we have the vision of promoting our values, our identity and our club across all MENA (Middle East and North Africa), where we understand that the fanbase for football, and more specifically for La Liga, is huge,” Kerejeta added.

“We are working on a set number of projects, and of course partnering with MENA-based sport properties is always a possibility for us.”

These are ambitious steps for a provincial club that was established 103 years ago.

The football club is part of the Baskonia-Alaves Group, which includes basketball team Saski Baskonia (established 1959), four-time Spanish champions and a founding member of the EuroLeague.

The group’s objective, according to a promotional video, is “to transform the sports industry through excellence in business management and the competitiveness of our teams, as well as through the promotion of talent, innovation and new technologies.”

Borja Txasko, chief commercial officer at the group, said: “Alaves is very important for the city, for the community. It’s a social (institution), involved in the economic field, innovation, sustainability. Baskonia means a lot for the territory, for the Basque Country.

“We have more than 700 employees in the group, that is a huge amount of people, and that means a lot for the economy and the region.”

The football and basketball teams inevitably attract valuable customers to local businesses, according to Txasko, adding to the economic and social growth of the territory.

“During game day in the city, there are a lot of restaurants and bars, and the atmosphere in the city is (great),” he said. “There are a lot of people present and a very good percentage of funds go to the stadium.”

To help achieve this growth, the group, led by President Josean Querejeta, has established The Faktory, a center of excellence that acts as a strategic platform for the needs and challenges of all teams under the Baskonia-Alaves umbrella.

“Because we are really ambitious and we want to improve and grow and grow, we think we have to do different things to compete with other teams,” Txasko added. “Not only in sport, not only through football, so we try to think different, to do things differently.”

Kerejeta summed it up: “Alternative business and innovation is the way to improve and to grow.”

The idea is to forge relationships and alliances with partners interested in the development of science research and technology, including clubs in the Middle East.

La Liga this year celebrates the 10th anniversary of opening an office in Dubai, and it recently announced expansion into Saudi Arabia, with a view to spread the brand in the region.

“We are following (the same path) as La Liga,” Txasko said. “To get exposure first: We are Alaves, we are here, we are in La Liga. And then bring people to our city and generate business.”

Kerejeta pointed out that it is not just the football team expanding its horizons. “Now there is a big opportunity because it seems that a basketball franchise is going to be created here in Dubai, to play in the EuroLeague, to play in European competition,” said the CEO.

“It gives us an (opportunity) to come here, because we will probably in the future be competing against the Dubai franchise.”

As for direct partnerships with regional clubs and institutions, that should come through the “sharing and development of science, research and technology,” according to the club’s objectives.

“We have different consultancy projects,” Txasko said. “Sport consultancy, sports management.”

The net is cast wide in terms of locations around the world for the Baskonia-Alaves Group.

“We will be working with countries like Japan, France, Finland, Ecuador; and Alaves owns a team in the first division in Croatia, so we are also competing there,” Kerejeta said. “It will be a good choice to find a partner here to continue to develop the product.”

The CEO added that Baskonia-Alaves are also developing a strategic relationship with the UAE Basketball Federation.

Currently, Deportivo Alaves have two Arab footballers on their books: Algerian forward Abde Rebbach and Moroccan defender Abdel Abqar.

While that number could potentially increase in the future, Kerejeta says that the club will not favor one region over others when looking to unearth talent.

“We try to scout all over the world, but we don’t trust our strategy on one (nationality) anywhere in the world to develop the brand of the club, either in basketball or football,” said the CEO.

“We think that it must be about the players. So we don’t think that we should sign a Japanese player just to develop the Japanese market, for example, because in the future if he goes to another club, this is a short-term strategy.”

At present Alaves is 13th in the 20-team La Liga, a healthy position that could act as a launch pad for the club’s wider ambitions.

“For sure, we want to keep the team stable in La Liga, we are ambitious, our target is to compete in the Europa League or Europa Conference League,” said Txasko.

Certainly fans would welcome the chance to recreate the heroics of 2001. But at home, how the smaller clubs can compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona on the pitch remains Spanish football’s eternal question.

“The gap is very big, but I think it’s smaller than before,” said Txasko. “Different teams have recently been getting closer, for example Sevilla, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, and Osasuna was close last season. And we think we can get closer.”

When asked if the clubs mentioned, and Alaves, are closing the gap on the big two, Kerejeta’s answer was an emphatic: “No. The gap is still very big, from Real Madrid and Barcelona to the rest, Atletico, Valencia, Sevilla, Betis, the gap is too big.”

Finding alternative ways to compete economically is the club’s target. “For example, last season we opened our own university,” he said.

“Our main goal is to try to diversify our business, not to depend only on football and basketball for our income.

“(Having) the university and the sports facilities will create new incomes that can bring resources to the club, increase the budget, help us be more competitive and decrease that gap.”

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