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What: We talked to Rahul Kadavakolu, Executive Director of Global Marketing & Branding at Rakuten Group, about why the Japanese e-commerce company chose FC Barcelona as a key partner to pursue the objective to globalize its brand.
Why it matters: Rahul Kadavakolu will be participating in next week’s Portada Sports Marketing Forum on September 13 in New York City. Kadavakolu and Carlos Perez, CEO of La Liga USA, will discuss the enormous appeal of European soccer leagues in the U.S. and provide insights to sports marketers.

At the end of 2016, Rakuten signed an agreement with FC Barcelona valued at nearly $260 million to become its Main Global Partner, along with Nike, for the next four seasons, as well as its first Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner. The agreement started over a month ago when Rakuten made its debut during the “el clasico”  match Real Madrid-Barça, played in Miami during the ICC Tournament on July 29.

We are a global organization and soccer is as global as it can get.
Rahul Kadavakolu
Rahul Kadavakolu, Executive Director of Global Marketing & Branding at Rakuten Group.

“We are a global organization and soccer is as global as it can get,” says Rahul Kadavakolu, Executive Director of Global Marketing & Branding at Rakuten Group. When the company decided that it wanted to incorporate sports marketing as part of its expansion strategy, soccer’s global appeal made the sport an obvious match.

“Once we chose soccer, we looked for a partner, with a similar philosophy to ours in order to provide a community driven and positive  message,” he adds. Rakuten decided that a FC Barcelona sponsorship would fit the bill.

With the FC Barcelona partnership, Rakuten’s main objective is to generate brand awareness through a global reach. “In Japan, our brand has a presence in almost every household; now we want the same thing to happen in the rest of the world,” says Kadavakolu.

According to the executive, Barça is a team that has focused on boosting its relationship with technology. “Barça is very technological—this lets us really leverage on what they already have and work on new communities.”

In Japan, our brand has a presence in almost every household; now we want the same thing to happen in the rest of the world.

Rakuten GlobalFrom communicating with their fans on social media, to their own websites and mobile applications, the team’s platforms offer a good opportunity for Rakuten to optimize its investment through exclusive content.

“We don’t see this relationship as a sponsorship, but rather a partnership,” explains Kadavakolu. Among the more than 70 services offered by the Rakuten Group, its online telephony platform Viber is at the top of the list of what the company wants to promote with the FC Barcelona partnership. Viber is the official communication channel for the team.

Kadavakolu explains that in addition to some recent activations in stores and around the Barça game, the brand will take advantage of its base of more than 1.1 billion users to offer them exclusive team content and bring together Barca fans with Rakuten’s customers. “We have a lot of data from our users and we want to take this knowledge to the fans,” says the executive.

We have a lot of data from our users and we want to take this knowledge to the fans.

Eye on the Hispanic market  

Rakuten is also very interested in going after the Hispanic consumer. The company’s streaming platform, Viki, has been very successful in the Latin American market, mainly because of its portfolio of Korean novels.

Kadavakolu is confident that soccer content will become another major driver for Rakuten to engage U.S. Hispanic and Latin American consumers.

What: Portada spoke to JP Carter, CMO at SOCCER.COM, about the soccer-ecommerce site’s new image and why now was the right moment to renew its look, before the 2018 World Cup marketing strategies start.
Why it matters: Las week SOCCER.COM launched its newly revamped website, a platform that highlight’s the company’s core values to inform, inspire and innovate in the sports industry. The new offering intends to capitalize on soccer’s increasing popularity in the  U.S.

J.P. Carter
JP Carter, CMO at SOCCER.COM            (Photo: LinkedIn)

Portada: Why was now a good moment to redesign your site?
JP Carter, CMO at SOCCER.COM: “Our customers deserved a better digital experience. We are committing to always continue to improve that experience and this was a perfect time and opportunity to prioritize that before the 2018 World Cup.”

Portada: What is the market environment that made you renew your image?
JP Carter: “The primary driver for us is  the fact that this is a mobile world. We wanted to enhance our entire presentation, but the driving force was that we wanted to give that same high-level experience, regardless of device. Our mobile engagement figures since we flipped the switch are showing us that this is a move that is very well received by the core customers of our brand.”

The primary driver for us was the fact that this is a mobile world.

Portada: What challenges do you face?
JP Carter: “With every new site, there are technical hardships, but nothing that we were not prepared for, challenges such as coordination with all of our vendors and digital marketing partners was a task our team was thrilled to take on.  However, every transition presents challenges.  Something as simple as a new site layout can be a challenge for customers to get acclimated towards, but the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we are thrilled to have shared this with ours.”

Portada: Do you promote via social? How?
JP Carter: Social media is one of our strongest marketing channels. We are rapidly approaching 4 million followers on Instagram and our other channels have great interactions as well. This is a channel that we focus not only on the e-commerce side of the business, but also where we spend a great amount of effort to reinforce who we are as a brand, and how much soccer really means to us.

We are approaching 4 million followers on Instagram and our other channels have great interactions as well.

Portada: Do you sell third party advertising on the site?
JP Carter: “This is something that we are very protective of.  We do sell advertising space in many of our primary marketing channels; including our catalog, emails, social media, as well as on our site.  As an industry leader in the soccer specialty industry, we are very picky with who we sell that digital real estate too.  It has to be based on the game of soccer and speak to our customers who live the game.”

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Portada: What trends do you see in sports e-commerce?
JP Carter: ‘Sports are life, and soccer, in particular, is not just a game to our consumers.  As we speak with our customers, we understand how much this game consumes every bit of their day.  From their home life to school, to obviously on the field, this game is everything to people around the world. With that being said, we need to treat it that way from a business perspective. We put the same passion into the e-commerce portion of this business as our fans do into the game so that we can provide a world-class experience with our new website.”

We put the same passion into the e-commerce portion of this business as our fans do into the game.

Portada: How are you getting ready for the 2018 World Cup opportunity?
JP Carter: “World Cup 2018 marketing starts for SOCCER.COM in June of 2017.  This event requires an “all hands on deck” mentality for us and we are thrilled about it. From an editorial content perspective, we will be a leader in learning everything you need to know about the history of the tournament, the locations, the teams, the players, and of course, the equipment that will be used.  We will carry every team’s jersey, the footwear that all the stars will be wearing and the balls that will be used in the tournament as well.  We are very excited about next summer and what it will mean for the beautiful game.”

Sports Marketing will play an Important Role at Day 1 of PortadaLat: We have added new Ticket Types to Meet Your Needs!

GENERAL PASS: Attend the overall PortadaLat event on June 7 and June 8. All sessions, keynotes, networking, food and beverage included! (US$549)
VIP ATTENDEE: Meet up to 5 high-level brand, agency or media executives of your choice attending or speaking PortadaLat. These 10 minute meetings will take place in a separate room during the first and second day of PortadaLat and are designed to help you build valuable relationships. General Pass offering is included. (US $ 1,999).
DAY 1: SPORTS AND TRAVEL MARKETING DAY (June 7):  
The first day of PortadaLat will focus on how technological innovation is impacting key segments of business and marketing with emphasis on Travel and Sports. All sessions, keynotes and marketing-tech showcases are included as well as light food, sandwiches and beverages. (US $199)
DAY 2: BRAND INNOVATION DAY  (June 8)
The second day at PortadaLat will celebrate Brand Innovation and showcase how leading companies are boosting brand equity and increasing their relevance in a disruptive environment in Latin America and the U.S. Breakfast, Lunch and Evening Reception Food and Beverages included. (US$ 549!)
Secure your spot and start the PortadaLat journey!