Almost one year ago, Ajax opened up an office in New York City in order to gain ground in the North American market. Commercial Director Menno Geelen travelled to The Big Apple this week together with General Manager Edwin van der Sar, and closed on several nice deals. “In this past year, we’ve laid the foundation, and now it’s time to make it work.”
Menno, you’ve been to New York with Edwin van der Sar. What can you tell us about your trip?
“The most important is that we’ve closed on great media deals with ESPN and Bleacher Report. These are hugs parties which can help us diffuse Ajax content. This is how we tap into a new target consumer group: all football fans, who hopefully feel connected to Ajax. For our partners, it’s also important that we become more visible through these deals. For example Bud, adidas, as well as Mercedes-Benz or Hublot.”
“We can work with ESPN and Bleacher report in making content that is specifically targeted to the U.S. market. The most important is to broaden our reach. Through these external platforms, a new target group becomes accessible to us. Making content together with ESPN and Bleacher Report, and having access to their platform will help us tremendously in achieving what we want.”
“This is the same strategy we had in China, despite the fact that the approach obviously differs. There, we also focused on increasing our reach, achieving better contact with our fans, and creating better content for the market. But the beginning was harder in China. There, we created and funded the content ourselves, and the media partner there only made the content visible on the right platforms for our fans. Later on, this changed and we started creating content and funding together. This has now become a good source of income, as we’re selling our content in the Chinese market. We see this in the U.S. also. Although we are already a step ahead of where we were when we started in China, and we’re already creating the content together.”
What else has been on your agenda in the past few days?
“We’ve visited our co-workers who live and work here, as well as some of our globally active partners, such as Bud and Suitsupply. We’ve also had several inspiring meetings with Google and YouTube, Relevant Sports, and we’ve been allowed to take a sneak peek into the workings of the NY Knicks and the NY Rangers. It was nice to hear from the YouTube people how well the Ajax content performed last season.”
Next to that, Edwin had a few media appearances at ESPN FC, Sports Illustrated, Men in Blazers, and we were guests on Seth Meyers’ talk show. He’s a big Ajax fan.”
Ajax opened its New York offices on November 13, 2018. How do you look back on Ajax’s first year in the U.S.?
“We celebrated our office’s opening with a huge billboard on Times Square. That was an amazing image and gave us a lot of buzz. After that, we had a few star-up issues, as it took quite some time for all of the permits were issued and Ajax USA Inc was officially inaugurated. When all of that was sorted out and we went from 2 to 3 employees in New York, the wind was back in our sails.”
“We organized a few Viewing Parties and these were pretty popular thanks in part to our Champions League success. At the Viewing Party for the semi-final game agains Tottenham, we had to put up a ‘fully booked’ sign at the door. Same thing for the championship game against De Graafschap. It was amazing to see hundreds of Ajax fans in a fully packed bar in the middle of the day, and see the championship celebrated in the heart of New York.”
'Growth has to come from abroad. If we want to continue being a player in Europe, international growth is a must'
Why is it so important to be active in the U.S?
“Growth has to come from abroad. If we want to continue being a player in Europe, then international growth is a must. Amsterdam is our home base and that will never change. But the Netherlands is relatively small, and in fact, we consider that the whole world is our playing field. Football is still the fastest growing sport in the U.S., which is why this market is so interesting for us.
Isn’t the first year mainly about investing?
“Definitely, especially of time and energy. Next to the Viewing Parties, we also organized Ajax Camps in five cities. This way, local players could get acquainted with Ajax and our philosophy. Our goal is to roll this out to 14 cities by 2020. During the winter break, Ajax 1 participated in the Florida Cup, where we played against Sao Paolo and Flamengo. At the same time, we organized a Legends Trophy in Universal Studios in Orlando. Our legends, including Denilson, Rai and Zico, were playing In the middle of the attractions park.”
“By creating locally relevant content in cooperation with media partners, we’ve grown our number of American followers massively. The same is true of the number of American fans in our database. A great example of this were the ‘Win a Trip’ activations around the Champions League matches.”'We know that we need a specific approach for American fans. Our partnership with ESPN and Bleacher Report will be invaluable for this.'
“American fans are very different than Dutch or even Chinese fans. In this first year, we’ve learned a lot from Barcelona and Bayern Munich’s New York offices. We’ve also learned alot from other (sports) organizations. We know that we need to approach
American fans in a very specific way. Our co-operation with ESPN and Bleacher Report will be invaluable for this. The foundation has been laid, now we need to go for it.”
Have Ajax jerseys been selling well in the U.S. after our successful year in the Champions League?
“Merchandise sales have increased a lot since January. After the Netherlands, the U.S. was the market where we sold the most jerseys when the 19/20 home jersey was launched. And this happened without even having a complete distribution network for Ajax merchandise in the U.S. We’re going to expand that network now, so that it will become much easier for fans in the U.S. to purchase Ajax products.”
What are the goals for the coming year in the U.S.?
“Our main goal is still to remain in touch with our fans in the U.S. We can do this by offering this group good and relevant content, convenience and ease of purchasing merchandise, and local events and other activities. Our current partners are pleased with our activities and of course we hope to find new partners so that we will be able to do even more in the U.S.”
“There are also many requests from associations and clubs for us to share our knowledge. We are talking to several parties about this. Finally, we’re actively seeking other sources of revenue, and there are definitely many possibilities for this in the U.S.”