AC Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis has once again outlined the club’s strategy off the field and the way that the leadership aim to get the Rossoneri brand back among the very elite in European football.
Gazidis gave an exclusive interview to Gulf News on the eve of a headline event at Expo 2020 Dubai, and the former Arsenal chief began by discussing the importance of the Middle Eastern market.
“Over the years, Dubai has become an important region strategically for us, as demonstrated by the many partnerships we have here, including principal partner Emirates since 2007, official hotel partner SIRO, official partner Expo 2020 Dubai and official local partner Jeeny,” he said.
“Being here not only gives us the opportunity to meet with all of these amazing partners, which allow us to be closer to our local fan base of 2.5 million people throughout the year, but it also gives us the opportunity to showcase the potential of the AC Milan brand on the Expo 2020 global stage, promoting the positive values of football at the event.”
Christopher Lee – the managing director of Populous, who have been chosen to design the new Milan stadium – will join Gazidis to talk about the role of football in society and what sustainable architecture can offer.
“This is something that, as a club, we strongly believe in, as demonstrated by the plans for a new Milan Stadium, which will be the best and the most sustainable stadium in Europe and will also be key for the future development of the club, the city of Milan and Italian football in general.
“Hosting this event during a platform as powerful as Expo is a great source of pride for us, and is in keeping with our overall ambition to set the standard for others in our industry and beyond when it comes to important topics such as innovation and sustainability.”
Milan will also have an academy present, which will remain active for the duration of Expo and has ‘so far seen over 650 girls and boys receive one-to-one coaching from a qualified AC Milan coach’ as per the article.
“The overall growth of Dubai has not gone unnoticed and sports want to be a part of it, which is why so many national and international competitions are being held here in so many different disciplines, attracting visitors from around the world,” Gazidis added.
“It is, of course, a huge market and we are delighted to be making our contribution to the development of Dubai as an international sport city by being present at Expo 2020 Dubai with an AC Milan Academy.
“Being present with an academy is a great source of pride as it gives us the opportunity to welcome all the children who experience the academy into our community and share with them the values which are important to us on and off the pitch.”
Gazidis is aware that Milan are more than just a football club, but rather they are an identity for many people and it is a badge that can reach to all four corners of the globe, connecting people from various backgrounds.
“It is a huge community and a family made of over 500 million people globally. AC Milan belongs to everyone within that community and it is therefore our responsibility to put the fans at the centre of everything we do,” the CEO added.
“We are well aware of what being an AC Milan fan means because everybody at the club shares that love and passion for the red and black colours, which is why we are so proud of being in Dubai representing AC Milan this week.
“For us as a club, the UAE is certainly an important area which we have visited many occasions over the past few years, not just to play football, but also on more institutional trips such as this one, which give us the opportunity to be closer to our local fanbase of over 2.5 million people, meet with our partners and establish new relationships which can help to deepen our presence in the region for the long term.”
Milan have also had a long-standing relationship with the airline Emirates that stretches over a decade, and they are obviously a company with significance in the Middle East.
“Emirates has been a fantastic partner for the club since 2007 and since the 2010/11 season, it has also featured on the front of our jersey, bringing the brand to prominence in the hearts and minds of our over 500 million Rossoneri fans.
“It is ssomething we are incredibly proud of, and one that allows us to be closer to our local fan base of over 2.5 million people in the UAE alone, as well as building connections with our audience on a global level.
“Both AC Milan and Emirates are two leading premium brands with global ambitions and with this partnership, we know that we have had an ambitious partner that truly embodies the international nature of our global fan base.
“At AC Milan, one of our main areas of focus is to build and reinforce our bond with our global fan base. We know that the club is nothing without the loyalty and support of its fans. We are conscious that not all of our fans will have the opportunity to get to the San Siro and see their favourite players in action, which is why over the past couple of years, especially on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been investing heavily in the digital space.”
Gazidis also spoke on the importance of having a stronger digital presence, which has seen Milan go down the path of having more channels on social media, more immersive entertainment experiences and greater access overall.
. “If we look at the Middle East region, we have a very strong relationship with our fans here, especially in Dubai, given the strength of our long-term relationship with Emirates, which is certainly a valuable asset for us when it comes to engaging with the local community.
“I believe we are lucky to have one of the most recognisable brands in the world of football and we have a clear global strategy to continue developing its full potential. It is imperative for us to understand where football is going and continue to evolve accordingly.
“We realise that the football fans of the future, and young fans today, are not connecting with football in the same ways that we did, which is also why we have been investing in the digital space. This is a challenge for us and for the whole football industry, but it is also a massive opportunity for us to progress.
“We have to embrace these changes and look forward with creativity, invention and open-mindedness to make sure we can always be relevant to our existing fan base, while attracting new fans as well.”
Of course, the big battle for a CEO of a football club is to ensure that they are successful on and off the pitch, not only in the short but also the long-term, which raises a lot of difficulties.
“My management team and I understand that we are not just running a business, but are also stewards of a very important social institution. We have to balance the need to be successful on the pitch, financially sustainable off it and building the foundations for a club that fans can continue to be proud of for generations to come,” he noted.
“We see ourselves not just a football club, but also, in part, as an entertainment company. In this direction, we launched the new ‘Studios: Milan Media House’, which allow us to manage the entire production and distribution process for our video content and to be more effective in reinforcing the bond with our international fan base.
“Overall, it is all about understanding where football and entertainment are going, anticipating as much as possible what the fans of the future will want, and being able to adapt to their needs.
“During the pandemic, we immediately recognised the need to be able to adapt and be more digitally advanced to engage with fans in a time when football in stadiums was halted. That is why we have developed our presence in the digital world, a process that was, and continues to be, a continual evolution, but that was accelerated due to the pandemic.”
Gazidis was also asked what the future of football holds and how it may end up adapting further in the future.
“Football is constantly evolving. It is not what it was 20 years ago and 20 years from now it will be different again. The game today is becoming much more diverse, more women are following the game and women’s football is growing quickly. Young people are connecting to the game in very different ways.
“My kids, for example, are watching games with at least two screens and interacting with their friends as they watch. Clubs therefore need to evolve and as brands they also need to be able to move into other sectors, such as entertainment, lifestyle and fashion. We need to be able to connect globally, but engage personally.”
Finally, Gazidis also battled throat cancer last year, but his recover is going well.
“I was lucky, I had no symptoms and I found out about it during an excellent routine checkup in Italy, “ he said. “I am lucky to have a positive diagnosis and am glad that I am now able to be back focusing full time on my duties to the club.
“I will never forget my first game back at the San Siro. It meant so much to me and my family that the fans welcomed me back very warmly with a banner that read “Courage and Tenacity, a Warm Welcome Home” and chanted “One of us” before the game. It was a very emotional moment for me, and one which goes beyond football.”