FC Rijeka’s marketing executive: “Croatian Football League has a big potential, but it has to solve the image and infrastructural issues.”

After eleven consecutive titles, the most successful Croatian football club Dinamo Zagreb will most likely finish in second place of the Croatian Championship. Five matches before the end of the season, Football Club Rijeka has 8 more than Dinamo, they haven’t lost a single game throughout the entire season, and they are playing great football. Much better than Dinamo, which has problems not only with their current form and squad, but also with the prosecution of its leadership which allegedly took millions of dollars from the Croatian club with by far the most trophies.

“The Rise of Rijeka” has started several years ago. In 2012 they were almost relegated from the Croatian first Division. Only a few months leter, the Italian-born Nigerian businessman Gabriele Volpi purchased the club. In the past several years, Rijeka has won the Croatian Cup and Supercup, three-times finished second in the league, and had two (quite successful) appearances in the Europa League. They built a small auxiliary stadium Rujevica on which they are playing their home matches. They are planning to build a new Kantrida, one of the most specific stadiums in the world (well, the construction of the stadium has been stopped, and the question is whether it will be built, but that is not the topic of this blog post).

NK Rijeka

Founded: 1945.
National League (Yugoslav 1945-1990/Croatian First League 1992-2016):
Runners-up (5): 1998-99; 2005-06; 2013-14; 2014-15; 2015-16
National Cup (Yugoslav 1945-1990/Croatian First League 1992-2016):
Winners: 1977-78; 1978-79; 2004-05; 2005-06; 2013-14

Thanks for the congratulations, but they are still premature!

Matjaž Kek

Head coach , FC Rijeka

The topic of this article is Rijeka’s marketing which is one of the best in Croatian sports. Croatia sports marketing cannot be compared with sports marketing in the United States or Western Europe, but we are seeing big progress in last several years. Today, we have five private clubs that are doing great marketing – three football clubs (Rijeka, Hajduk and Osijek), one basketball club (Cedevita) and one hockey club (Medveščak).

We also have an example of significant marketing efforts and business from one amateur futsal club, Futsal Dinamo even though the club has a really small marketing budget and its marketing and communication departments are running volunteers and supporters of the club.

Football Club Dinamo is a special story. They “scored a lot of marketing own-goals” in their recent history, but their marketing is becoming much better in recent years even though it doesn’t have much effect, mostly because of its allegedly corrupted leadership which has ruined the club’s image.

So, because of a great result that FC Rijeka is having in recent history, we have decided to talk with their marketing executive, Uroš Stanić from Ajdovščina, Slovenia. Before coming to FC RIjeka, Uroš has gathered experience at marketing departments of the Slovenian FA, as well as FIFA and UEFA.

Overtime: Since you have experience from Slovenia and Western Europe, how would you compare sports marketing between Croatian, Slovenian, and Western European clubs and football associations?

Uroš Stanić: At this point my focus is more on clubs and club football where players and the game are definitely on the side of the Croatian clubs. But, from the marketing perspective, the Slovenian league is better than Croatian – the games are broadcasted on national television which has better ratings than Croatian private television which is broadcasting Croatian league. Slovenia’s stadiums are much more modern than Croatian, and their national league is better at communicating on digital platforms. Croatian league has a much bigger potential, but first, it has to solve the image problems and infrastructural issues. They also have to be better in some basic media and marketing issues.

Overtime: Premier League clubs, which are considered to have the best marketing in the football world, have between 20 to 100 people working in their marketing and communication teams. How many employees are in Rijeka’s marketing and public relation departments and how are you compensating the lack of staff (compared to the Premier League)?

Uroš Stanić: Rijeka has two people in marketing and commercial departments, two in the communication department, one external associate for design and one for video production. I think that we are quite advanced in the field of production and distribution of recorded videos and live streaming. We invest heavily in club’s brand, and we are trying to maintain two-way communication with our fans on social media. We are also growing in the sponsorship segment, but our market is limited, so our marketing teams are incomparably smaller than those of the Premier League clubs that are relevant globally. Some of them are particularly strong in Asia.

Overtime: We are witnesses of significant changes in sports marketing, especially in the field of digital marketing. Classic marketing is not in the frontcourt anymore. Individual approach based on digital marketing comes first. In what ways is FC Rijeka adapting to new trends and how do you use social networks to follow your games?

Uroš Stanić: We emphasize the importance of production and distribution of videos that proved to be (at the moment) the leading format on social media. During the match, we try to transfer the great atmosphere at the stadium to the homes of our fans, and we try to cover behind the scenes moments to comply with some football rules.

Overtime: Dinamo Zagreb has played great in the national championship for the last decade; it was the sovereign ruler of Croatian football. But Dinamo has problems with most of their fans who disagree with the actual management of the club from Zagreb. On the other hand, Hajduk Split, the second biggest Croatian club, has the opposite situation. Their results are not good, but they have great support from their fans and local community. Rijeka’s position is somewhere in between. You are behind Dinamo and Hajduk when it comes to number of trophies, and behind Hajduk when it comes to number of fans. How would you position Rijeka’s marketing in relation to your main competitors, Dinamo and Hajduk?

Uroš Stanić: Rijeka has marketed itself as a fresh, attractive, laid back, ambitious and successful story. If we win the championship, this season could give us an answer whether we will grow from the likeable regional club to one of the market leaders in Croatia and the wider region. We have that potential because we are better organised than Hajduk, and have a much better image and relationship with fans than Dinamo. However, we have to admit that Hajduk is an example for everyone when talking about membership, and Dinamo has top youth facilities and school that guarantees them a viable business model.

Overtime: FC Rijeka is a regional club. It is not, like Dinamo and Hajduk, national or even an international club (both Dinamo and Hajduk have fans in all countries of former Yugoslavia and beyond). Can Rijeka outgrow its local frameworks and what is the situation with your fans in Slovenia since your long time and popular coach Matjaž Kek is from that country?

Uroš Stanić: Besides Croatia, our reality is countries from the region, especially those whose players are playing for Rijeka. Of course, Slovenia is currently the most prominent country of them, largely because of Matjaž Kek. But, a big step forward could be expected if we won the domestic Championship and qualified for the Champions League.

FC Dinamo's national championships

FC Hajduk's national championships

FC Rijeka's national championships

Overtime: Do you have particular requirements for Rijeka’s footballers in regard to marketing activities and sponsorship activations? Is it difficult to include your players in such activities and do your footballers know how to behave on social networks, in private life?

Uroš Stanić: Rijeka’s footballers positively respond to actions organised by the club or some of the sponsors without exception. But, I have to admit that the sports obligations have an absolute advantage over marketing. We are constantly looking to find a balance between commercial and sporting needs. Unfortunately, the business model of the clubs from this area of Europe is based on selling players and international results, so the value of media and sponsors is relatively small.

Overtime: How do you intend to raise the quality of club’s marketing? Which are your short term and long term goals?

Uroš Stanić: We have recently achieved one of our strategic goals, which is a three-year contract with the club’s primary sponsor – Sava Osiguranje (Sava Insurance). Rijeka has traditionally had some commercial partners from B2B area, so we are now more oriented to the classic branches with greater marketing potential. We hope that, through advanced partners joint sponsors and especially digital activations, we will follow trends and continue to bring added value to our fans and spectators, as well as all of those who follow us on social media.

If you have examples of sports clubs with an interesting story, contact us, and we will “investigate” it 🙂

Niko Rukavina

Niko Rukavina

Overtime Sports Marketing

If you have any questions about sports marketing, feel free to contact me at niko@promoovertime.com

Photo sources:


Uroš Stanić Twitter profile

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