Speaking to AS, the FIFA president offered his thoughts on the Super League, calling for dialogue with the clubs but also saying he understands the potential need for sanctions
In an exclusive interview with AS, FIFA president Gianni Infantino answers questions on the European Super League (ESL) and major clubs’ conflict with UEFA, and discusses the issue of sanctions for the 12 breakaway rebels. He also talks about young people’s waning interest in football, clubs’ multi-million-euro losses and the need to control spending on transfer fees, players’ salaries and agents’ commissions, something he describes as “exploding to unhealthy levels”.
– As the former secretary-general of UEFA, you appear to be the ideal person to mediate in the conflict between European football’s governing body and the major clubs involved in the European Super League breakaway attempt. What can you do to help?
I am the president of FIFA and my responsibility is to defend football as a whole and all around the world. This includes small, medium and big clubs, leagues and federations of all over the world with different levels of development, all the players, coaches, officials and each and every stakeholder, always having in mind the fans, which are and should be at the centre of everything we do. I have been very clear in what is mine and FIFA’s position on this matter. We stand by UEFA in rejecting the Super League. We are against it and we will always be against any competition which is not part of the international structures of football and that threatens the unity and solidarity that should always exist in the football pyramid, which links grassroots and amateur level to the top stars. Having said that, it is also my duty to advocate that all the parties should enter into a profound and hopefully constructive dialogue in search of positive solutions. Our duty as the world governing body is to have our doors open to everyone, we need to face the problems in football together.
– It’s a conflict that has been bubbling away for years, because each side has its arguments: UEFA because it organises the competition, and the clubs because they’re the ones who pay the players. What solutions would you propose?
Our game is so incredibly successful also because there is a bond, a link between the bottom and the top of the pyramid. Between a girl or a boy playing in school or on the streets and a professional player scoring a goal in the final of a big competition. The clubs are an essential part of that pyramid but there are also other structures to ensure that everyone is united and there are solidarity and control mechanisms put in place in order for the less privileged to benefit, even if just partially, from the success and popularity of the most successful and powerful ones. As in everything in life a fair balance needs to be sought so that everyone’s interests is defended. As I said, in FIFA, our interest is the defence of football as a whole, from grassroots to the big stars, and all around the world, not only Europe but also in the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Oceania. We, for example, proposed and have approved a competition which we think fills a gap in this particular context. With a proper new Club World Cup, which will replace two competitions (the current annual Club World Cup and the Confederations Cup) so it won’t be an extra burden to players, and for which several big clubs will qualify, a new revenue stream will exist with benefits not only for the participating clubs but also to all the entire football pyramid. In fact, FIFA will not keep one single dollar from this competition and we will make sure that a percentage goes to non-participating clubs, leagues, federations, youth and women’s football all around the world. Speaking of which, we will be announcing soon the creation of a women’s Club World Cup which I think will be also a great success. We need to find solutions together and I have been proposing an extensive and in-depth debate on where we are today and how we can move forward stronger and better prepared for situations like the one which occurred with the pandemic.
– You have said you prefer dialogue rather than sanctions for the clubs; some have considered this an attack on UEFA and its president.
Let me be very clear on that. FIFA and me personally support UEFA and its president against the Super League. I think we need to think carefully on the next steps because this is a complex matter and goes well beyond a single competition – it is about the entire global football ecosystem. As for the sanctions, there are independent and competent bodies that should analyse what can and should be done in this respect and it is therefore not for me to comment on this. Obviously I don’t exclude therefore that sanctions are implemented at national, continental or a world level. I said it once and I say again very clearly. Either the clubs want to be part of the football structures, or they will have to face the consequences. This is obvious and I am sure they know that. By the way, since we are talking about it, let me clarify that when I said that a leader has to think on why we are where we are, I wasn’t referring to the UEFA president. I was calling on all football administrators to come together and reflect on the context we live in. I would like all the parts to get together and have a constructive dialogue to find the best solutions to everyone. A peaceful solution is always better than a conflict. I repeat, this goes beyond a single competition. This has a global impact as for example there are players from all over the world playing for these clubs and FIFA needs to protect global national team football. In any case, I believe everyone should be entitled to say what he thinks, in the best and most effective format possible with all the stakeholders present, not just a few. Many are willing to enter into a dialogue and of course FIFA’s doors are always open to everyone in football, having always at heart the superior interests of football. One thing has to be very clear though, we won’t accept proposals that represent a contradiction of the values of our game like sporting merit, solidarity, integrity and the fair access to competitions.
– What do you make of the fact that of the four Champions League semi-finalists this season, three – Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea – have been investigated for Financial Fair Play breaches? You were one of the major champions of FFP – don’t you think that it is no longer effective and that it could be one of the reasons for the creation of the ESL? Because it’s clear that UEFA’s control mechanisms have failed and that the ESL seeks peer oversight.
UEFA has independent bodies to deal with those cases and I shouldn’t comment on them. When FFP was introduced, it was done in agreement with all the clubs and there was a consensus that these rules were necessary. In 2011, European clubs were having a net deficit of 1.7 billion euros and, after the introduction of the FFP, in five years, also thanks to those rules, the losses were reduced to less than 300 million. It’s true that with time, things change, and the covid-19 crisis also showed us that we need to adapt. What was effective and adequate 10 years ago might need to be revisited to see if it still makes sense and if it works, but I think football will always need transparency and control mechanisms at all levels.
– In the UK, many supporters took to the streets to protest against the ESL, but none of the Premier League clubs who signed up are British-owned. Their owners are Arab sheikhs, American billionaires and Russian oligarchs. Does football really belong to the fans?
Fans have to be at the heart of everything we do. Without fans and their passion, football wouldn’t be what it is and we need to keep that in mind all the time. Football is and should be essentially for the fans and we have to find ways to protect their interests. Investments in football should be welcome but, as I said, as long as they are transparent and there are control mechanisms to ensure a competitive balance as well as a healthy and sustainable industry.
– Of the world’s biggest clubs, there are only two that continue to follow the romantic ideal of being exclusively fan-owned: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Do you understand why they feel like Asterix’s village?
There are some other examples like in Germany and other countries, but I understand your question, which should also be put into the context of the legal framework where sport fits. Sports and football have a specificity that everyone needs to understand and respect, including political authorities because we don’t live in a bubble. Football has to respect laws and systems in the different countries and regions where it’s integrated, and those laws should allow that the sports regulations can implement several measures ensuring our industry is solid, transparent and respected.
– What can FIFA do to reverse the trend shown in the latest Global Reach of Football report, which found that almost half of young people between 15 and 24 are losing interest in football?
The world is evolving fast and what was always a formula of success for us might not be the right one for the future. There are some things we can’t and shouldn’t compromise. The beauty of football is also its simplicity. On the other hand, maintaining everything exactly as it is might not attract young audiences as much as in the past and that is why I think a large and frank debate must take place on if we can have less but more meaningful games, maybe new formats of competitions, maybe more play-off stages. I think the huge investment we are making in women’s football will be a great way to bring more fans, for example. I am sure there will be plenty of other good ideas and that football will continue to be a universal source of joy and entertainment for billions of people.
– One of the world’s most prestigious clubs, Liverpool, has announced losses of 50 million euros in the last 12 months. Among the 12 ESL clubs, losses of between 1.5 billion and 2 billion euros are forecast. Not every club has a state behind it to solve its problems. Can you understand where they’re coming from in that sense?
As I said, financial control mechanisms are very important also to ensure a balanced and fair competition. I have been saying a few times that we should think if we can introduce some sort of salary caps, transfer fee and squad size limits and other rules that can help to control a spending spiral which is harmful for the game even if we live in an ever more globalised world. Of course the controversy over the Super League took over the debate but this should really be an opportunity to focus on the key issues of football and its future. Concentration of power and money in fewer and fewer. Competitive imbalance getting worse and worse nationally and even much more internationally. Salaries, transfer fees and agent fees exploding to unhealthy levels. Growing imbalance between national teams and clubs due to the inappropriateness of the international match calendar for the new global football landscape. Women’s football growth.
– You know Spain and UEFA well. In all honesty, what would a Champions League be without Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus? How much value would it lose? 50, 60… 80%? UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin also knows that. Isn’t it a bluff when he threatens these clubs with a ban from the competition?
Everyone in football knows how important are those big clubs that make so many millions of fans in their home countries and around the world vibrate but we also need to take care of the not so big clubs, leagues and federations which are not at the top of the pyramid but ensure that football is played and promoted all around the world. UEFA will decide what is the most suitable action to take on its competitions. Of course, we need to be strict and ready to take firm actions not losing sight of the possibility to try and find common solutions for common problems.
– What real chance is there of holding the men’s World Cup every two years instead of every four years? Far from putting a strain on the fixture schedule, don’t you think it would lighten it by putting an end to many less prestigious continental competitions that attract less interest?
I think you are referring to Arsène Wenger’s idea of having the World Cup and the Euros more frequently. I’ve been reading with interest several opinions about the international match calendar and I think football should reflect on why so many people, namely the fans, consider that in many parts of the world, the qualifying phases are not exciting and interesting. Is it worth interrupting the domestic season so many times? Are we really using national team football the best way we can? Again, I think all the stakeholders, including players, coaches and fans, should come forward and bring their ideas to see if there is a better option for everyone.
– What do you have to say to those who say FIFA can’t be impartial in the conflict between UEFA and the ESL because it’s working with Qatar, the World Cup 2022 hosts, and the emir of Qatar is the owner of PSG?
It’s the first time I hear that but it’s interesting because I saw a few persons, including here in Spain, saying the opposite… that I was benevolent with the clubs who were promoting the Super League. My interest and FIFA’s interest is that football develops sustainably and in a healthy way all around the world – not only in Europe. We need to have an overall perspective and we will only manage to achieve something better than we have now if everyone in good faith is ready to discuss openly with no taboos but having as first priority the interest for our game, not only their own interest. I understand for example that the big leagues defend their competitions as they are the biggest, and I want them to become even bigger. But at the same time I want other leagues all over the world to grow as well and become real competitors to these big leagues, so that everyone wins at the end because we would have a much healthier and more sustainable global football ecosystem. And because ultimately – and this is the most important element in the equation – the fans, all the fans from all over the world, are everyone’s most important stakeholders. And we need to work in the interest of the four billion football fans all over the world. I’ve just come back from a trip to Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. I’ve visited schools there and witnessed the extreme needs but also the hope and dignity that football can bring to millions of children.
This article was originally published in Spanish newspaper Diario AS. The author of that article is Joaquín Maroto (@AS_Maroto)
Q&A with Jennifer Riley, Customer Services Director at 2mee
Q: Are affiliates making the most of their website real estate when it comes to promoting operator brands and driving engagement/conversions?
A: I think it has become obvious that the majority of affiliate listing pages have become very busy and cluttered, with hundreds of brands and clashing banners pushing various promotions and offers. Brands listed on these pages are locked in a constant battle to stand out from the crowd, and this is why the affiliates need to do something to help partner sportsbook and casino brands drive greater engagement and achieve higher conversions
The digital advertising space has been dominated by banner ads and more lately aminated rich media graphics, but the problem here is that everybody is using the same medium to try and grab player attention. There are some levels of differentiation in terms of size, placement and the holy grail that is the website page takeover, but on the whole, I think the CTRs they deliver reflect the battle to break through the noise for advertisers – a battle most are currently losing.
Q: What are some of the challenges they face when it comes to maximising this real estate? Can you share an example?
A: Affiliates have limited website page real estate on which to list their partner brands and squeeze in banner ads and graphics. The majority of this space must be given to editorial content, especially for affiliates that are genuine media outlets. Many also have commercial agreements already in place for where certain brands are listed on pages, so it becomes increasingly difficult to open up additional advertising real estate. This is certainly the case when users are accessing websites from mobile, where the reduced screen size sees banner ads disrupt the UX and make them almost impossible to read.
Q: How can affiliates overcome these challenges? What products are available that they can use to make the most of the promotional space they have on their sites?
A: It is actually a very difficult challenge for affiliates and publishers to overcome without totally redesigning their websites. This is something 2mee is looking to address with the launch of our HoloAd product, which lets publishers allow their operator partners to deploy hologram messages anywhere on their website pages without impacting the user experience or replacing the existing listings or banner ads they have in place.
Q: How does your HoloAd product work?
A: HoloAd is a simple tool that delivers engagement that is 5x higher than banner ads or text. Affiliates can use our platform to allow operators to deploy their brand ambassadors and influencers as hologram messages directly on their sites to promote offers of the day, tips, sign-up specials, etc. Based on our powerful, market-leading HoloMessage solution, with HoloAd operators can be sure their holograms will grab the attention of players, driving conversions and revenues for them as well as their affiliate partners.
Q: What makes holograms so effective for affiliates? Can you share any performance stats?
A: There is nothing more powerful in marketing the generating a human connection between brand/product and the consumer. Holograms do just that, allowing affiliates to offer their operator partners a new channel through which to be heard above the noise being made by their rival brands. Our affiliate customers are achieving incredible CTRs of between 28% and 36% and when you consider that on average banner ads tend to deliver CTRs in the low single figures, you can see why affiliates and their operator partners are keen to use our HoloAd solution.
Q: Do holograms and your HoloAd product spell the end for banner ads?
A: Not at all – HoloAd is deployed in such a way that there is also space for existing banner ads and boxes. Of course, affiliates can offer HoloAs as the premium centre of focus that every operator will wish to secure once they see the CTR stats and conversions they achieve. There will never be more than one HoloAd on any page at any one time and that allows affiliates to charge a premium price for the space.
The future of the gaming industry: brand loyalty and retention, Exclusive Q&A w/ Achille Traore, CEO of White Label Loyalty
The gaming industry is highly competitive. Game developers only have one chance at making a user’s experience memorable. If a gaming company fails to capture user attention, customers will likely move on to another game or platform. Achille Traore, CEO of White Label Loyalty, discusses the opportunities awaiting gaming brands to create more loyal customers.
What are the main goals and objectives of brands in the gaming industry?
Most brands in the gaming industry are striving for the same thing: customer retention. The industry is well known for high engagement rates, but it’s also well known for low retention rates.
Player retention is important for gaming brands because existing customers are very valuable in the long run. It’s much easier to upsell and cross-sell to loyal users. Plus, the cost of acquiring new customers is becoming more and more expensive.
The gaming industry faces a number of challenges. What are they?
The first challenge is about engaging casual players and persuading them to play more frequently. And while there are many factors that contribute to this, including the quality of a game and the ability to market it effectively, gaming brands ultimately need to have a deep understanding of their customers.
The second challenge is knowing how to add value to a customer’s gaming experience. Not all users will find value in the same things. For one user, the value of a game may lie in the ability to customize characters with exclusive skins. For others, the value may lie in joining a community to meet other gamers.
Finally, gaming brands need to know how to break the barriers for people who haven’t gamed in a long time, or have never tried gaming before.
When it comes to gaming, how would you define loyalty and engagement?
A user that is truly engaged will spend a significant amount on in-game purchases.
Another way gamers show their loyalty is by engaging with communities via social media or forums like Reddit.
Loyal players can also become ambassadors for gaming brands. These players are more likely to engage with a brand outside of the game – they’ll spend money on equipment (such as a new console or PC), merchandise, and event tickets.
How does a gamer become loyal?
Loyalty often forms as a result of rewards. Players want to be rewarded. Whether it’s for completing a time-bound challenge, or unlocking different levels in a game, rewards add to a feeling of competition and accomplishment.
Gaming companies that reward customers for engagement can build real, long-term loyalty.
In order for gaming companies to better understand and engage their customers, what can they do?
Gaming companies must collect detailed data about their users to understand what drives them. Brands can use this data to build specific audience segments, which allows them to personalise and tailor marketing strategies to each customer profile.
Loyalty programs are an effective way to gather detailed information about user behaviour, needs, and preferences. When a gaming brand understands its customers, they can create customised rewards for each player segment, resulting in higher engagement and retention rates.
What are the best ways to reward players in the gaming industry?
With the right software, gaming brands can reward any kind of activity. For example, rewards could be given to streamers who refer games to others. Rewards could incentivise new customers to pick up their controllers again. Or, rewards can simply be used to show appreciation for those who dedicate their time and attention to a game.
Playstation Stars, a new loyalty program in the industry, rewards players for engaging with specific campaigns. Campaigns range from simply playing a game, to earning specific trophies or getting first place in a league table in your local area. Sony announced that the program uses a new type of reward – digital collectibles: “digital representations of things that Playstation fans enjoy, including figurines of beloved and iconic characters from games”.
What other opportunities await gaming brands?
With rewards, gaming companies can drive whatever specific behaviours they would like to see more of. For example, if a gaming brand wants to focus on new customer acquisition, they can build referrals into a rewards program. A fully-rounded loyalty program boosts acquisition as well as retention. While customers can do this on their own via social media or word of mouth, loyalty technology makes it as easy as possible for them to refer a game to family and friends.
There are so many different ways rewards can be used. From early access to a game, to free in-game currency, rewards help make a user’s experience more memorable and keep them engaged long-term. But rewards won’t be effective if gaming companies don’t understand what their customers actually want. That’s why it’s vital to start with data. Then, build a loyalty program that is based on what gamers find truly valuable.
Q&A/Twitch bans gambling streamers w/ Michael Pedersen CCO at Livespins
What do you think of Twitch’s decision to ban casino sites from being streamed on its platform?
Twitch’s decision to ban remote licensed online casino sites from being streamed from its platform has made waves right across the industry. But at Livespins, we have long expected this moment to come, and what is now certain is that gambling on mainstream media platforms is, and likely always will be, volatile. That is why it is important for the industry to control the space and provide a healthy, highly engaging and, most importantly, sustainable solution. The opportunity that sits at the intersection of gambling and streaming is far too big for us not to.
How has this situation come about? Has the writing been on the wall for a while?
The ban comes in the wake of a campaign to oust gambling from the platform after top-tier streamer ItsSlicker admitted to having a gambling problem. It’s fair to say some sort of ban was already in the works with recent events likely to have forced Twitch to act sooner rather than later. For us, the writing has been on the wall for some time now.
You just have to look at the surging popularity of slot streaming, the increased competition among streamers and the lengthens they have been going to grow and retain their following to see things would have to change. Many streamers were opting to play with increasingly large and unsustainable bet amounts as well as partaking in sometimes offensive studio behaviour to generate clips and moments that would gather attention online – behaviour that was also starting to gather the attention of industry insiders, watchdogs, and regulators.
More worryingly, to afford these large bet sizes and increased hours spent gambling, many streamers were becoming sponsored in one way or another and not disclosing this arrangement to their audiences. This meant they were essentially misleading their viewers to think that their gambling was being done with their own funds when the reality was very different. Add into the mix the recent ban on the use of gambling links and ads within Twitch streams and it was clear to us that the house of cards was about to come tumbling down.
What impact will the ban have on online casino brands, slot studios and of course slot streamers?
It is going to take a little time for the true impact of the ban to be understood. Twitch has been a touch ambiguous when it comes to exactly who the ban applies to – online casino brands that hold a licence in the US, or from another reputable jurisdiction, can continue to use the platform while the ban appears to only apply to online casinos and not sportsbook, etc. Streamers that have built their brands on slot streaming will also be heavily impacted for obvious reasons. I think it’s fair to say Twitch will be off limits for most operators, slot studios and streamers for quite some time, if indefinitely.
Does this spell the end of the relationship between streaming and online gambling?
Not at all. Livespins was founded on the insight that a significant player segment clearly loves the slots streaming concept and the opportunity to engage with a community of like-minded individuals, the authenticity of streamers over more rigid live dealers and the overall organic nature of the streaming entertainment experience. We wanted to retain all of those features but leave behind the unsustainable behaviour that we have seen on Twitch. Our platform does just that – it integrates directly into the online casino game lobby with our team of superstar streamers playing slots from our roster of approved studio partners.
How does Livespins allow casinos, studios, and streamers to leverage the tremendous popularity of slot streaming?
We bring all three parties together in one powerful, responsible, compliant solution. For licenced operators, the Livespins stream takes place directly within their casino and allows them to generate revenues from the bet behinds that players can make via our unique system. For studios, they gain high levels of exposure among players but in an environment where said players can wager directly on the action happening in the game. We also pay studios to be on the platform, opening up an additional line of revenue. For streamers, we provide a platform for them to be able to do what they love while earning a living and the security that comes with being an employee and part of a big team.
But let’s not also forget viewers and players. Livespins allows them to not only watch the explosive action taking place across the reels, but also get involved in a direct way by betting behind each spin. This creates a group bet and a shared experience, but with each player able to select their own bet amount and number of spins. They can also interact with the streamer and each other throughout, as well as add reactions and emojis. This takes the foundation of what they could experience on Twitch and supercharges it.
How does it do this in a responsible way?
Livespins brings the streaming entertainment we know to be so popular and puts it in the hands of the operator – those that are working diligently to create safe and sustainable play for their customers and who have the tools to do so. From the very beginning, we at Livespins have also worked relentlessly to deliver pure sustainable entertainment to players all over the globe. Our streamers are recruited by us, vetted and trained for months on content and responsible gambling. And, we ensure moderators 24/7 making sure we are building a healthy community.
What does the future have in store for slot streaming?
Some might consider Twitch banning online casino from its platform as the end of slot streaming, but we see it as just the beginning. Livespins is the platform and product to allow operators, studios and streamers to unlock the massively untapped potential on the table here and to do it responsibly and compliantly. The appetite for slot streaming content is only going to increase, and we are here to help all stakeholders leverage this and provide socially-charged, highly entertaining experiences to their players.
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