Women occupy less than 4% of all private sector directorships in the GCC – but here, we meet a Managing Director who is not only fighting the trend, but working in a sector that’s hitherto been a classic male preserve. Paul Godfrey speaks to Maite Ventura, the new regional head of the world’s top-performing football league, La Liga
Make no mistake: La Liga – properly known as the Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División – is big business. In the 2017-18 season, La Liga’s clubs posted revenue of €4.479 billion, with gross profits of €945m. Broadcast revenue also surpassed the €1.5bn mark for the first time, fuelled by a new, spiralling cluster of national and international agreements – and no wonder, because La Liga’s teams are simply the best in the business. In 2017-18, they crowned themselves champions of every official title at stake on the international stage. In fact, as La Liga President Javier Tebas Medrano comments: “In the past five years, all of the finalists – except one – of the three big cups have been La Liga teams and of the 15 titles disputed, all – except one – (93%) have been won by Spanish clubs.”
In other words, the brand equity of La Liga is at an all-time high – and with football long acknowledged as the most-watched activity in the world, there’s considerable responsibility on the league’s regional executives to take centre-stage as Champions of brand value, integrity and appeal. Enter Maite Ventura, La Liga’s new Managing Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Based in Dubai, she takes over from Fernando Sanz, and reports to La Liga’s International Director, Oscar Mayo. He role: to oversee the growth of the League’s brand value, its visibility and its fan engagement throughout the Middle East. As Jefa (‘boss’) of the soccer juggernaut, we spoke to her about Leadership, enriching fans’ experience – and La Liga’s take on gender opportunity.
How did you come to be at La Liga?
I joined La Liga in 2017 as part of the La Liga Global Network project, in which 50 people out of 12,000 applicants globally were selected and sent to key markets all over the world. I was selected to represent the UAE, and ever since then, I have been managing different projects in the region: from institutional, to sport-focused, and also socio-educational projects.
Tell us about some of your past roles before heading La Liga’s MENA division?
I have a background in Communications, but my working experience, which has been in Latin America and then in MENA, has been focused on marketing – and particularly on the promotion of international institutions.
How has your journey been in terms of consolidating your position as a woman in a competitive market?
I have been working in the market for five years now and I must say that I have never faced any problem in my job for being a woman. I am very proud to be working with a brand like La Liga which stands up for women´s talent globally. Currently, 30% of La Liga´s employees are women and 33% of the Board of Directors are women.
You mentioned that your company has a high percentage of women at various levels. How does La Liga look at inclusivity within the organisation and what special policies does it have in place for its women workforce?
When Javier Tebas was appointed President of La Liga in 2013, he vouched for women´s talent at every level of our organization. Back in 2013 there was only one woman on the Board of Directors and now, we have seven. I am very proud to work for a brand that strives and promotes equal opportunities for men and women not only on the pitch, but also beyond. The growth of women´s football and the fight for its professionalization has also been one of the biggest successes of La Liga in the last few years.
How important is the MENA region for La Liga overall?
Since La Liga opened its first international office in Dubai back in 2013, there has been an incredible growth in terms of audience, followers and – in general – the interest in our league has greatly increased. We are about to reach the 15M followers mark on our social media channels for MENA, in which we geo-target specific content for La Liga fans in the region.
Please give us a brief overview of the broadcasting rights agreements you have in the region?
Our official broadcaster for MENA is beIN Sports, which holds the exclusive rights not only for La Liga Santander, but also for La Liga SmartBank. Every matchday, it’s possible to watch all the matches from LaLiga Santander live as well as other interesting programmes such as La Liga Chronicles, LaLiga World and many other exclusive contents from the best league in the world.
How would the possibility of getting a player from the Middle East on board affect viewership of matches?
Of course, this is something that could boost the viewership. This is the case, for example, with the Chinese player Wu Lei playing for RCD Espanyol de Barcelona. Since he was signed, the official La Liga´s Sina Weibo account has increased by 82% and the Espanyol matches are more watched than El Clasico. There is also a big following of SD Eibar in Japan since the signing of Takashi Inui. Definitely, we would love to have someone from the Middle East playing at La Liga.
You mentioned that La Liga invests in the best TV technology – and that the viewing experience is as important as the match itself. Can you tell us more about the kind of investment put into the broadcasting efforts for this season and its budget?
La Liga is always trying to get the best viewing experience for Spanish clubs´ worldwide fans, so any innovative opportunity is examined and applied in order to offer the most amazing viewer impact during the show. VR experiences are a good example.
Can you briefly explain the role that VAR technology has played overall in decisions during matches?
Since the implementation of VAR in La Liga last season, this technology has ensured that better and more consistent decisions are being taken across the league – and therefore, it also benefits the clubs and their players. The use of VAR improved the “correct decision rate” from 91.5% to 96.92% and players have acknowledged that better decisions are now being taken. More than 100 mistakes from referees have been corrected last season, hence, the use of VAR was useful. For this 19-20 season VAR is also successfully working in La Liga Smartbank.
What type of cameras and audio recording devices will be employed for La Liga Santander?
The broadcasting of all La Liga games will witness a big improvement, as the number of cameras in the stadiums has been increased. This will include more super slow-motion cameras in all broadcasts, such as the Steady Cam. Additionally, starting from this season we will have implemented goal line cameras not only in La Liga Santander but also in La Liga Smartbank.
In terms of audio, and with the aim of giving the audiences the best possible sound quality, this season we’ll continue to incorporate cutting-edge technology into our broadcasts, such as Dolby Atmos and LAWO – the latter uses tracking data to give viewers more realistic sound from live matches.
This season you’re broadcasting two matches a day in 4K, can we expect a transition to 8K, probably next season?
With the 4K technology and the HDR system we offer greater contrast and brightness to the colours from the broadcasts. La Liga will keep improving all of its broadcasts by adding new technology when it becomes available so that viewers can enjoy the game in more detail and better quality, thus improving their overall entertainment experience.
Give us an overview of the technologies La Liga is looking at currently?
La Liga is constantly seeking out new technologies in order to best represent the spectacle of La Liga on screens across the globe and this season we’ll consolidate our position as a competition which offers innovative broadcasting.
For example, we have installed goal-line cameras in all of the stadiums to support the introduction of VAR as well as Beauty Cams at the highest points in Clasicos and Derbis´ stadium, providing an aesthetic view of the pitches to support the pre- and post- match programmes. Also, since the 2017/18 season, all of the team analysts have had access to a tactical camera which offers a wide-angle view of the game, providing the ideal panorama to analyse the tactical development of the match. In the lead-up to games, broadcasting will be through DSLR cameras, which offer a cinematic aesthetic and will bring added emotion to La Liga matches.
Additionally, up to thirteen La Liga stadiums will have installed Aerial Cams during this season and eight of them are already offering 360-degree replay technology.
Can you tell us about your leadership style?
Leadership is all about bravery. It’s how brave you are to take on a big challenge, to do what no one else will, to embrace change, face a difficult situation, and to not give up. The finest leaders create a culture where everyone feels inspired, where diversity drives fresh thinking and innovation.
Do you believe woman have equal opportunities at workplaces? If not, what must companies do to encourage women to take tough roles?
Creating a work environment that is not only diverse, but also inclusive, is an integral part of lowering the gender gap. Organisations must take bolder steps to create inclusive cultures so women, and all employees, feel supported at their workplace. A diverse and inclusive company results in a higher employee engagement, creativity, financial returns, and market share.
What are the most challenging aspects of your current role? How have you learned to turn your challenges into opportunities?
I believe everything in life is an opportunity. Of course, there will be challenges along the way, which is normal in every new role that you take. I’ll embrace every opportunity that I can and learn from all my previous experiences to do the best job possible.
According to you, how important are women leaders in the industry? What do women bring to the dialogue?
The football industry has traditionally been managed by men and until few years ago it was nearly impossible to imagine that a woman could have the power to be president of a football club. However, with La Liga, it has become a reality. Big bold steps have been made in the last years worldwide, and with hard work, effort and professionalism, we can show that we are moving forward in terms of gender equality not only in society but also in football specifically.
Tell us how this market is different from Spain?
In terms of markets there may be some differences, but it’s incredible how similar Spanish people are to Arab people, especially in the way we watch football, the sheer passion of celebrating a goal, and the enthusiasm and support we give to our favourite teams.