KNVB's Head of Marketing on Sports Marketing and Tech

There is not a single person who didn’t at least once hear one of these names: Marco van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullit, Robin van Persie, Edgar Davids, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Edwin van der Sar. These are just a few names in a long list of legendary Dutch football players.

This game is a big part of the Dutch culture and the most famous sport here. The Royal Netherlands Football Association, KNVB for short, was founded in 1889 and joined FIFA in 1904 as one of its founding members. With Savage Marketing 2016 taking place in Amsterdam on the 1st and 2nd of June, we absolutely had to reach out to the marketers in this industry. We are so pleased that Edwin van der Sar, the CMO of Ajax and a legendary footballer, and Maarten Hoffer, the Head of Marketing of KNVB, accepted our invitation.

However, before you hear from them in June, we decided to catch up with Maarten and pick his brain on sports marketing and marketing tech. 

Marketers in different industries – be it banking, FMCG, pharma or energy – have their unique challenges and success stories. Even within sports marketing, the types of obstacles marketers face differ greatly. “One of the challenges of working in a federation is not having complete control over your product. We are working with both professionals and volunteers because of the unique Dutch football structure. This structure leads to great opportunities, as many people are extremely passionate about football in our country. But it also means that the football product is organized by others. For our kit sponsor Nike, for example, this is different as they control a lot of their own product,” shares Maarten. “Obviously, one of the biggest opportunities and one of the biggest challenges is the uncertainty of and dependence on results on the pitch. It can make or break your campaign,” he continues as we chat about the unique challenges he and his team face on a daily basis. “Finally, we work together with many stakeholders to promote the game positively. The media, for example, can have other goals as compared to professional clubs or federations. It’s great to embrace these differences, but still work together to help as many folks as possible to enjoy the game. In the end, that’s what we’re here for – enable the players, fans and volunteers to enjoy themselves, form bonds and friendships with others, stay healthy and develop themselves.”

Football is a dynamic sport: millions of fans around the world, star players, emotions, drive, competition – may often times feel like a complete chaos to someone handling its marketing, we are sure. Not if you employ the tools to help you manage and channel you resources, as we gather from our interview with Maarten.

“Technology plays an important role. It helps us to understand all football lovers in The Netherlands by combining big piles of data into individual profiles. And it helps us to tailor and segment our message as much as possible.”

However, the role of technology expands beyond that. “Technology also plays an important role on the pitch. In Europe we can still learn a lot from the US in the way they use analytics and game data. We can use these technologies to further engage with the football family as well as to improve football performances. In a couple of months we will launch the KNVB Campus, a completely renovated home of football in The Netherlands. Innovation and technical solutions are a big part of what we’re building here,” explains Maarten.

Marketing tech is a booming industry. We all heard about IDC’s prediction for the market to grow to $32.4 billion by 2018. The start-up market in this field is perhaps one of the most vibrant, unpredictable and disruptive. “I can’t wait to have a really usable, wearable and cost-effective solution to collect data of all the movements of 1.2 million amateur players in the Netherlands,” says Maarten as we continue talking about the vendor market. Based on the evolution of marketing tech over the past few years, he probably will not have to wait for long.

So where is marketing headed? What are the trends for the upcoming couple of years? One day it’s all about Social Media Marketing, the next – Video Marketing. Mobile Marketing is on the rise, yet marketers seem to be still struggling with getting it right. Some are still trying to figure out the best Inbound Marketing strategy. “Is there anybody who’s still comfortable in predicting the future of marketing in such a fast-moving landscape?” smiles Maarten as we ask him for some guidance. “My best bet would be on the ever increasing importance of data – not only to understand and monitor yourself and your progress, but also to use data to be coached to keep moving and improving. Content will become even more important. To borrow a phrase from Ruben Houkes, a former professional judo player and current Dutch sports marketer, ‘Less ads, more acts.’”

We are excited to hear from Maarten Hoffer at Savage Marketing 2016. “I’m always eager to listen to great marketers and learn the latest marketing developments. I was honored to have been asked to present here and hope to be able to stimulate others to keep progressing and developing by sharing some of our thoughts.” 


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