Minas Lysandrou used to be President of the Greek Super League and CEO of AEK Athens. Since May 2021 he is leading OFI Crete FC as their new CEO. For this interview, we discussed how FBIN Football Network member OFI wants to develop and what goals the club and its CEO have.
You have a lot of experience in Greek football – as President of the Super League and as CEO of AEK. What are your goals with OFI?
The main activity of a football club is playing football in the pitch. So, the first and primary goal must be connected to the good performance and the results of the team. It’s extremely important to build a strong mentality under which all the people involved in the club, will work hard and with positive energy for the “90 minutes” of every game we have to play. Whatever we do outside the four lines, even if it’s extremely successful, at the end of the day is not enough if the team does not perform well. But that doesn’t mean that, especially in modern professional football, all the other activities of a football club are not crucial. On the contrary, in my view, they are also of high importance, since they set all those elements which, at the end of the day, define the value of the club both on a strict/technical and a wide sense. And this is an important goal that I have set, beyond the clear and self-evident goal of good football performance: to define first and then to increase the value of the whole organization and the brand OFI Crete FC.
What the most important bullet points on the task list?
If you want to succeed, you must first understand, respect and finally apply the fundamental principles of football and its market. And these principles are dictated by the game itself. One of them is “targeting”. Therefore, my first action was to consolidate a strong and clear mentality, by instilling to everyone in the club, the setting of specific and measurable goals at all levels.
Furthermore, a key priority was the digital transformation of the club. Apart from the fact that nowadays, especially after the pandemic of Covid-19, the transition to the digital age became obligatory and fast in all areas of life, the digitization as a priority of the organization’s operation is strongly connected to two main goals: the production and utilization of rich and high-level content, and the effective management of any kind of information within the club, since only then correct and effective decisions can be made.
A third but also important task is the upgrade of infrastructure and facilities. We have already made the first steps at this direction, but there are more and important things yet to come.
What is going on in the non-sports part of the club – the marketing, commercial, communication departments?
We are at a very good level, we are growing, but there is always space for improvement. As I’ ve mentioned, all the areas outside the four lines of the pitch are also of great importance and they are a significant chapter of the club’s general strategy. In particular, we have a complete sponsorship programme, which includes agreements with both, some of the biggest brands of Greece and local sponsors who support and want to be a part of the new era of OFI Crete FC. Furthermore, our club has one of the best CSR programmes in Greek sports. Moreover, this season we are implementing a strategic plan of upgrading and enriching the club’s social media accounts, and we are already seeing the first satisfactory results.
How is OFI doing off-the-pitch compared to other clubs in Greece? Are there areas where you are ahead? Where do you need to catch up with others?
The best answer is the 9 awards our club won at the “Sports Marketing Awards 2022” last month, among which was the “Sports Club of the Year 2022” award. But at the point we are today as an organization, we do not feel that we are competing anyone when it comes to issues outside the pitch. We just want to be focused on our own targets and on implementing our strategic plan in every level. First you have to get stronger and reach a significant level based on your strategic plan, and then enter the market with momentum and measure yourself with the other “players” of the game; we are currently “building” on a daily basis, but we are close to consider the first fundamental circle as completed, and proceed to the next stage.
What are the biggest pain points of OFI you need to tackle?
I would like to highlight two points. The first is connected to the mentality of the stakeholders of the club, who need to feel that they share the same vision and serve the same mission. The term “stakeholder” includes every person or entity who has an interest in the club’s success and evolution. It’s not only the owner, the shareholders, the players, the coaches, the administration, or the employees, but also the supporters, the journalists, the sponsors, the strategic partners and all those who fall under the term “stakeholder”.
At the moment, we are trying to find a common ground and define ourselves as an organization, having in mind, on the one hand, the significant and rich history of the club and, on the other hand, the current position of the team in the wider environment of Greek sports. We are on the right track, but I think we should try harder in this area, in order to get to a point, where success will be the target and, at the same time, the result of an overall effort based on common goals and coordinated positive thinking by all stakeholders. And it’s the job and responsibility of the top management of the club to promote this process and inspire everybody involved.
The second point is the home venue, the club’s stadium. If we want to upgrade the match day experience, implement the fan engagement methods we have in mind and increase the match day revenues, we should have a home stadium which will be an ally and not an obstacle to our plans. We are working on that and I’ m optimistic that we will come up with the best possible solution.
In which areas do you see the biggest potential for developing the club?
As from 2018, OFI Crete FC was characterized as a purely “football project” in progress by its new management. Therefore, the development of football players and their utilization is the cornerstone laid by the inspirers of this effort, including the development of the club’s academy as a logical result. In addition, our club could be the reason of turning Crete into an attractive sports destination, by investing in and taking into advantage specialized sports facilities.
What role does the digital transformation play at OFI? How advanced is the club in terms of digitalisation?
This is one of the top priorities of the club. We have made the first steps, but we are not on the desirable level yet; we are working on it. The investment in digital marketing, or the digital channels of selling tickets, are some of the practical examples of the club’s new digital identity. But, at the same time, both the sporting department and the administration have started using digital channels via specialized platforms, in order to be faster and more effective on a decision-making level. During the current season 2021/22, we proceeded to an internal reorganization of the club, mainly by using digital means; the goal was to connect digitally all the departments involved in the everyday operation of the club, since we are not based in the same building (i.e. some departments are based in the headquarters, some at the stadium, and some others to the training center). The best way to eliminate distance and bring everybody together, is the digital path.
The digital transformation of a club is very crucial nowadays. In my view, the tricky part is not to detect possible problems that you have to solve via digital solutions, or even to find the correct platforms, channels or methods to implement a strategic plan of digitalization. Besides, there are plenty of good ideas and solutions in the market which cover the needs of almost all sectors of the operation of a professional football club.
The tricky part is to identify the skills, the experience and knowledge of the existing force of the organization, to understand what they are willing to accept and, at the end, to “convince” the whole system to support the new digital machine, because it will be for the best. Digital solutions are great, you can manage human and financial resources much better, but ultimately a human being will press the button.
So, before proceeding to a digital revolution, it’s very useful to map the organization, discuss internally and encourage people to be actively involved in the change process. Otherwise, the digital transformation will not bring great results. Therefore, its implementation should be done gradually and with the speed that each organization can withstand, depending on its needs and its people. I feel lucky because almost everybody involved in OFI Crete FC are familiar with technology, are open to the digital transformation of the club, and are always willing to participate and support this specific effort.
What impact had the Covid-19 pandemic to OFI?
I can focus mainly on two things: the financial damage and the weakening of the connection with the club’s supporters in some cases, due to their physical absence from the stadium on match days. But I think that these are the same problems that the organized football faced on a global level. The sooner we leave the pandemic behind us, the better for the sport we serve and love.
Finally, what are the medium and long-term goals of OFI? Is there a certain strategy that builds the framework for future developments?
Back at 2018, a new era for OFI Crete FC started, after the takeover of the club by the Greek-American businessman Mr. Mike Bousis; a new era based on the administrative stability, the financial capability and the technocratic perception of the development of both the football team and the company of OFI Crete FC. In my general view, the whole organization must grow and progress every season, in order to move forward and look higher, having reasonable ambitions and specific measurable goals.
At the athletic level, the team must perform well, based on a solid football philosophy, permanently fighting for its participation in the playoffs of the Greek Super League and in the final phases of the Greek Cup. In this way, it will be ready, when the timing is right, to catch the opportunity and claim something more.
At the same time, the upgrade of the brand’s value, combined with the increase of the company’s revenues in order to reinvest them in the club’s growth plan, should be a permanent priority in the club’s corporate agenda.
All the above-mentioned goals will be achieved more effectively, as soon as the club acquires a stadium worthy of its dynamics and history. And this project is definitely a non-negotiable goal of the entire OFI Crete FC family.