Rebuilding Rossoneri: AC Milan, now in good hands, have a big project for fans and brands
AC Milan were once a football titan, dominating the pitch and shaping the beautiful game through fashion and footwork. After a few years of obscurity, he made it his mission to regain his letters of nobility. As part of The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, we meet Casper Stylsvig, his revenue manager, who frankly explains how he’s rebuilding the Rossoneri. Can this savvy marketer be the hero San Siro needs?
The seven-time Champions League winners are back in the tournament for the first time since 2014, after languishing in mediocrity in the midfield. They last won the Serie in 2011. Some of its more hardcore fans weren’t even born back then. Stylsvig is the man tasked with changing that.
His football pedigree has taken him from FC Barcelona to Manchester United and Fulham for the past 15 years. He joined a struggling AC Milan in March 2019. The Dane says: “We control everything off the pitch, we don’t control performance on the pitch.”
Its mission is to “win football through culture” and “to attract a younger audience”. You can no longer rely solely on success on the ground, he adds. Fortunately, these improved quickly.
He looks back on “a few seasons of difficulty”. In 2017, Chinese businessman Li Yonghong bought the club from media mogul and triple prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose scheming ownership took him to huge highs and subsequent lows. Li’s mission was to make China even more in love with the club. It didn’t exactly happen. Instead, the team lost touch with the businessman and current owners, Elliott Management, took control of what the Financial Times described as an “asset in distress” – the club had need a clear goal and a good helper.
Stylsvig says the club are now “doing the right things for the right reasons” and building a solid foundation for a modern football brand. He oversaw a huge digital transformation project and exported the club to the Metaverse via Fortnite. He now manages an esports team called Qlash, hosts virtual concerts, is making waves in the fashion world, and has built a multimedia studio to meet growing demand from his partners.
Stylsvig says the club are finally ready to start carrying on their legacy in football’s top flight.
Football has changed since AC Milan was at the top.
Stylsvig says fans consume sports differently. He recalls his Danish childhood watching the full 90 minutes of not-so-glamorous English matches like Wimbledon v Crystal Palace. With limited media it was Probably the best thing on tv. In 2021, it may be the worst.
“The younger generation uses multiple screens when watching the game – some might focus on the highlights, so we’re changing the way we communicate with these young fans. They want to know everything. It’s not just about the game anymore.
As football clubs choose partners and become vehicles of attention, many have expanded their content production to expand the window of engagement between matches. Behind the scenes is proving popular – young fans “want to know everything, they want to know how professional footballers live their lives, how they train, how they eat, how they relax”.
He calls this strategy “Monday to match day”, with the aim of being relevant on a daily basis. Being in Fortnite, where the target audience spends a lot of time, was one approach. “The success we have seen in this partnership was simply phenomenal.” Even the stadium was filled with Fortnite characters.
And then there was a virtual concert a few months ago to showcase young talents. You will see a lot of young people springing up, from awareness to team building. He aims to have one of the youngest teams in Europe – with the exception of statesman Ibrahimovic, who is back at the club.
“We are a forward-thinking club, very focused on innovation. This is what brands want and this is what consumers want. We are a football club, but we are in the entertainment business. We have to give consumers what they want or we will become useless. “
Stylsvig on style
Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world, offers an almost unique opportunity for brands. Stylsvig admits AC Milan have a head start here, perhaps only matched by PSG.
“We see that there is a huge connection between the world of fashion and the world of sport. Many footballers are very committed to fashion, which prompts brands to take an interest in football. “
Last year AC Milan worked with fashion group Paper Planes on an exclusive collection. The club has just started pulling on this thread. “This was our first real fashion interaction with Paper Planes and we sold the line within 48 hours.”
Football, fashion and commerce work – no surprise to anyone who has gifted their favorite clubs a thick wad of cash all these years for a jersey. “The rest of the class is still sleeping, but this is a place we will be focusing a lot on in the future.”
Instagram is where the club sees most of its growth, and it’s apparently the app where most fans spend their time. TikTok is becoming more and more important and Twitch hosts a lot of activities, especially esports releases.
AC Milan is also pushing on seven Chinese apps, but Stylsvig reminds us that Serie A was broadcast on CCTV in the ’80s and’ 90s and that the club has always been important in China.
It should be remembered that the growth of social media in football is often linked to the players, who play a dual role of influencers. AC Milan are no longer a team of world-class superstars – Kaka, Shevchenko, Cafu, Dida, Nesta, Maldini, Gattuso, Van Basten, Pirlo, Inzaghi, Culpabilité, Weah and, undeniably at the top, Ronaldinho are no longer only a few. It is not a coincidence. “We’re taking a sensible approach here with the players we sign. Alex Ferguson used to say: “No player is bigger than the club.”
So, on and off the court, AC follows this mantra. On social networks, each player enjoys good exposure. “In player engagement, we never use the same person too much. We want to give everyone the same exposure. We believe that when you are a first team, you are all at the same level.
When AC Milan were last seen, the top players didn’t have so much power. Social media has changed that. When Ronaldo went from Real Madrid to the hated Juventus, he reportedly sucked in 1 million followers with him and half of the club’s Instagram followers. It is a risky strategy.
To have a chance in entertainment and achieve high income goals, content is essential. It’s cheaper and faster to do it in-house, hence the investment in a new media studio in early 2021.
During the pandemic, demand for content from partners increased. Meanwhile, when football fell silent and stadiums were strictly empty, the club had to find their audiences online.
“The pandemic has accelerated us, we had to be much more digital savvy. In one year, it doubled its content production and onboarded around 14 new partners during the lockdown. A campaign is now a widely distributed TikTok case study.
But when asked why a football club like AC Milan should be the benchmark of a brand, instead of a content or influencer agency, Stylsvig reflects. “We are consumers, but none of us like to be sold. If you use football as a platform to generate engagement, you might be able to convince the consumer. “
He adds: “We hope that brands will embrace our big plans and our innovation, and win people over through culture by merging the team with sport, fashion and design.
The strategy brings the club back to black numbers and out of the red after “a few difficult years”.
For now, at least, she will remain cost conscious and do whatever she can to generate income. Spending ‘silly’ money on gamers won’t be anytime soon, but longtime fans will likely be excited about the stability, and if not, then maybe the host of. new Fortnite content and skins.
Check out The Drum’s Sports Marketing Hub to learn more about how the marketing industry can achieve long-term success through association with sports.