Clubs from across ECA’s 620-strong family gathered in Madrid for the first-ever ECA Club Connect as the association continues to set new milestones in the development of European football.

Over 350 directors and operational leaders from more than 200 clubs met at the Meliá Castilla Hotel over 24-25 April to hear some of the latest initiatives from two of ECA’s eight workstreams and to share crucial insights, and expertise.

This first edition of what will become an annual event, focused specifically on ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Commercial & Innovation’ and was declared a huge success by organisers and delegates alike. The event also offered networking opportunities, breakout sessions, and insightful panels, all centered around those two pivotal workstreams.

Jérémy Cottino, ECA Membership Project Leader, hailing a first of its kind for the ECA Family, said: “The event proved a big hit with club representatives. They seemed to appreciate that this is another step forward in our efforts to grow and create value for clubs.

“We see ECA Club Connect as key to underscore our role at the ‘Heart of Football’ and fundamental to our mission of being a strategic convergence of minds and shaping the future of European club football.”

After the ECA Family Networking Party on 24 April, the following day saw club representatives have the opportunity to connect with peers, share experiences, create new alliances, and broaden their professional network during dedicated networking breaks.

The event gave ECA the opportunity to formally unveil Its Sustainability Strategy after last year saw the constitution of ECA’s first Sustainability Working Group.

Gaia Pretner, ECA Head of Sustainability and Niclas Carlnén, Lead of the Sustainability Working Group outlined the growing importance of sustainability to ECA and its clubs, with delegates hearing that sustainability in football was no longer an optional or a philanthropic, ad-hoc endeavour; it must be integrated into the core strategy of organisations and clubs, addressed as a key business opportunity.

Niclas Carlnén said: “Establishing the ECA Sustainability Strategy marks an important moment for us. It not only shows our dedication to joining the broader shift towards sustainable and responsible practices but also serves the objective of ECA to act as a role model for its member clubs.

“Our focus will be to continue offering support and guidance to the ECA members and other stakeholders, and this strategy highlights our commitment and willingness to effect positive change at industry and club level while we ensure club interests are safeguarded and promoted.”

Gaia Pretner added: “ECA’s approach is to lead by example in sustainability, inspiring and empowering clubs to take action. Our top management prioritised sustainability as one of ECA's eight key pillars for our upcoming strategic cycle. We have provided comprehensive sustainability training for our entire ECA workforce and extended this education to our member clubs through six highly attended joint webinars with UEFA on the topic.”

Delegates heard that ECA has social, environmental, and governance objectives as part of its strategy. Social objectives include combatting racial discrimination, ensuring fair treatment and inclusion for all, making football accessible to people of all abilities, safeguarding the health and well-being of football participants of all ages, supporting refugee integration and championing dignity, and respect and equal rights for everyone.

ECA’s four key environmental objectives are optimising the consumption and life cycle of products, taking climate action, shaping events to minimise environmental impact, and providing guidance on infrastructure sustainability.

Finally, four governance objectives are set to ensure an effective implementation of the strategy: risk management, transparency and accountability, training and capacity building, and communication.

Delegates also took part in a session on ‘How to kick-start your sustainability practice’ followed by an interactive and playful session delving into different aspects of environmental sustainability in football.

Attendees were given the opportunity to customise their experience by selecting from technical breakout sessions, each delving deep into the two ECA Workstreams. Alongside the sessions on Sustainability, others were held on Commercial & Innovation including a live conversation with the Unofficial Partner Podcast discussing the new commercial landscape of European club football.

Michael Short, ECA Head of Commercial Affairs said: “We really covered new ground with our commercial content at this event. By giving a platform to a diverse group of clubs within the unique Unofficial Partner podcast we showed that we can give a voice to commercial experts from across Europe and facilitate bespoke, positive storytelling from our members. We also explored how ECA can develop into being a centralised hub for ensuring clubs move at pace with new technologies in an an ever-changing club environment. Meeting suppliers from the industry is a different experience when you know you have the support of ECA and your fellow clubs guiding you and offering support for decision making - and that is what we’re building here”

ECA also presented its new Brand Protection Service, which is brings ECA clubs together to leverage economies of scale and knowledge-sharing to stop counterfeits and brand abuse online. The collective brand protection service allows clubs to prevent counterfeiters from stealing clubs’ merchandising market share and damaging the brand good-will. Through an effective brand protection approach, clubs can protect their fans, improve relationships with their partners and licensees, uncover new revenue opportunities and save money.

Michael Short, added: “We’ve already seen a range of clubs be early adopters of the Brand Protection Service, including our Board Member clubs of PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Celtic, and we are receiving many demo requests each week. The bottom line is that clubs would see hugely improved results (for less time and effort) if we can catalyse, within ECA, joint efforts and collaboration in fighting counterfeit products together. This Service proves that point, whilst also saving clubs money, which means every club can see a benefit, immediately.”

Paul Dicken, Director of Brand Protection at Liverpool Football Club was at the event and said: “Protecting our supporters, partners and licensees from counterfeit products is hugely important to LFC. By being an early adopter, and current member of the ECA Brand Protection project, and collaborating closely with other Clubs, we are able to do this much more effectively and at a much lower cost.”