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Gustavo Silikovich, River Plate General Manager, 5 years of growth!
Gustavo Silikovich, River Plate General Manager, 5 years of growth!
Gustavo Silikovich, River Plate GM
Gustavo Silikovich, River Plate GMWFS

Arnaud Drijard- Gustavo, our pleasure speaking with you! Before speaking about River Plate & Football, please let us know more about yourself?

Gustavo Silikovich- Thank you very much. It is a pleasure for me to have been given this space. To sum up, I have professional training in business administration and project management. I worked in private companies like Unilever, Tenaris, and McDonald's for almost 20 years, in different industries (retail, oil & gas, consulting) and in early 2015 I joined River Plate as General Manager, being a completely different challenge for me, since I did not come from the soccer industry, but knowing that the goal was to apply my professional management methods to help create a more modern organization, agile and with good results both on and off the field. Luckily in these last 4 years, more than 10 titles have been won, being the Latin American team that leads the ranking in that aspect, and we have been able to bring innovations that were then replicated by other clubs in the region.

AD- Tell us more about River Plate?

GS- River has always been the largest club in the country, for its history, for its stadium, for the number of sports that are practiced, for the number of members that are part of it, and for the number of titles achieved. However, it had to go through an unexpected event, the descent, which occurred in 2011, in order to re-invent itself and be able to return to its former glory. Having a good administration does not guarantee to be the champion, but having a series of bad administrations can send you to the descent, as happened in River's case. After that hard blow, a group of very professional people took over the management of the club, bringing very important changes on and off the field. The challenge was establishing clear management processes, regardless of proper names, to prevent something as sad as the descent from happening again. Luckily, 8 years later, with 11 additional titles, we can say that we are, once again, on the right track.

AD- River Plate most successful club of Latin America of the decade when it comes to titles, sounds like a good curriculum?

GS- There's a book that serves as a reference for everyone in this wonderful industry, written by Ferran Soriano, called "La Pelota no entra por azar" (The Ball Doesn't Enter by Chance). It is true that one must make at all times their best efforts to make the ball more likely to enter, but there is a reality that has to do with the players, who determine the success or not on the field. However, we have seen that the chances become greater when the infrastructure is very good, when the new technologies that arise are at the service of the performance, when it is possible to hire and maintain the talents that should improve the athletes, when these athletes do not need to worry about collecting their salaries, etc. In a few words, there are a series of objectives that from the back office must be religiously fulfilled so that the ball does not enter by chance, paraphrasing the City CEO. Managing an organization in such turbulent markets as the Argentinian, represents a double challenge, that's why the joy for the obtained successes is so great. As another example, in any league the team receives a very good income from broadcasting, representing between the 20 and 50% of the total income. In our leagues, these revenues are very low, without reaching the 10% in the case of River, so it forces us to think much more actively solutions to continue maintaining a competitive team, and to be able to prolong this virtuous cycle that takes almost five years, and hopefully will persist for much longer.

AD- When you started at River Plate, what was your assessment of the club and therefore the roadmap you had defined to grow the club?

GS- When I first assumed the role, my objectives were to professionalize the management, incorporate talents to the different areas of the club, improve the use of technology and be seen as an innovative club in the region. 4 years later we can say that we have a team of top-level managers, who could work in any company in the market, implemented SAP, to optimize management processes, improved the experience of our visitors at the museum and stadium, and we managed to generate a third of the club's income from digital platforms, incorporating processes without friction for our users.

As an example. we created “Somos River” digital community, which allows more than 55.000 members to obtain benefits and receive customized content. This stream represents almost 4% of the annual revenue of the club, and it is something completely new. I always ask myself why other clubs in Latin American region do not use this very successful membership model, considering that, in the case of Mexican clubs, they have a large number of fans living abroad, mainly in the US.

In the meantime, many managers have been tempted by companies and even clubs in the region and have left the club. That, far from being a problem, for me means we are headed in the right direction. I also recognize that much remains to be done since the culture of this sport in Argentina often does not allow to improve the experience as much as one would like. A couple of years ago we tried to advance with the e-ticket to enter the stadium, but the reality is that we were not ready to take that step. It's something that is taking place in the rest of the world and it makes me sad not to be able to implement it here in our country. That is a pending account that we have and hopefully, we will be able to cover it soon.

AD- Where is the club now compared to your expectations, great if you can illustrate with a few figures?

GS- We have grown into a large number of variables that depend on us and that are key to measuring 

performance in this industry. River is among the top 10 clubs in the world in number of members. We are in the top five in America in terms of interaction and engagement in Social Networks, and this is an achievement considering the size of the country in relation to giants of the region as Brazil and Mexico, with clubs with many more followers as Flamengo, America or Chivas. We have also succeeded in having the most innovative sports museum in Latin America, with virtual reality spaces and touch screens dedicated to the millennials. As I mentioned before, a third of the income comes from digital interaction with our fans, and without a doubt it is a goal to reach almost a 50% in 2020. We are currently trying to improve the connectivity at the stadium to make the customer journey even better and also in this way, link us with more brands, which may have a presence before and during the matchday. This is the key to increasing revenues in the upcoming years.

AD- The business of football is evolving, so does the world. What do you think are the key trends that will impact the football industry in the nearest future?

GS- From a performance point of view there are more, and more real cases of the use of big data to decide which players to buy, which players to use at which matches, which players should be stopped for a possible injury issue, and the application of sports science to improve athletes. River created five years ago the area of neuroscience for the professional level, and since last year also for the juvenile level. The sooner the brain of the athlete is trained, the more chances of obtaining good results. We need to develop talent. We all know the example of the Dortmund, with "footbonaut", the German machine to improve precision, reaction, control, etc. I am convinced that the money is not the entry barrier to buy the machine but the fact of having the right people who can understand this data and present it to the team coach in an effective and efficient way.

At a club management level, I am seeing that the sports business is growing at an accelerated pace, and with no doubt, this next decade will bring astronomical growth in revenues for this industry. A few months ago Marc Cuban (CEO Dallas Mavericks) said that if he were to buy shares of NFL or Esports, he would without hesitation purchase the latter, because of the acceptance it has among the millennials.

I also see that more and more clubs are talking about the customer journey and how to generate experiences without friction for fans, and thus increase monetization both in the pre-match and during the event. That would be one more thing to be developed in the next few years.

And I also would like to mention blockchain, which is becoming a new paradigm in the sports industry. I see many possible uses of blockchain, from direct investment in athletes and clubs by fans, who are rewarded with that athlete or team’s future earnings, as well as blockchain-based live sports betting and fantasy sports platforms, which can take on a global, decentralized aspect as a result. Other potential uses for blockchain technology in sports management include a decrease in illegal or counterfeit ticket sales; and a general reduction in middlemen through automation to make match attendance more affordable.

AD- In an always more global and competitive “sportainment” economy, what will be the challenges for clubs like River Plate to keep growing?

GS- The great challenge for Argentinian clubs is improving the product, making it demanded in more countries and thus increasing income from TV. Without that, the clubs would still depend on the players sale to survive. If we want to grow, the right way is to bet on the Professional Super League, which started a couple of years ago and is already giving good results. If clubs continue to focus on professionalizing the structures and can act in a coordinated way to improve the Argentine football brand, I think there are opportunities for growth. I must say that I am not very optimistic, given that we have missed many opportunities in the past few years. Besides, from a football point of view, we were lucky enough to have Maradona and Messi in eight World Cups, and were only able to win one. The cultural problem we have is wanting to make one person Superman and solve all problems alone. What happens in society obviously translates to football, where many times the worst miseries arise.

AD- If you had to give an advice to future leaders of football, what would it be?

GS- I think one of the keys is to do a lot of benchmarking with football clubs but also with other sports organizations. The NBA, for example, is a model of innovation on a global scale. Many things can be copied and even tropicalized and have very good results. A few weeks ago we set up the "Kiss Cam" at the Monumental and it was very well received, even with a sponsor who participated in the activation.

I would also recommend investing in continuous training, related to new technologies, as it is the only way to captivate fans, at times when there is much more competition than ever before in the field of entertainment.

And finally, don't be afraid to reinvent yourself, trying not to just have a look inside the industry. It's good to have different visions. For that, I recommend working in different organizations within the industry: a club, a federation, a TV network or an OTT, and even acting as a service provider or independent consultant.

I have no doubt that it is an industry in full growth and there will be a lot of opportunities to incorporate talent that allows us to keep professionalizing the different clubs and federations. 

Vincent Gaillard, CEO at EPCR - European Professional Club Rugby.Google
Jeese Lovejoy at Beyond Innovation SummitBeyond Innovation Summit
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