Writing exclusively for Influence, NK Domžale’s PR Officer Grega Krmavnar shares the story of how his Slovenian Premier League football club found themselves on the internet front pages of the biggest European sports papers from L’Equipe to BBC Sport, because the club signed a professional football player by posting an ad on LinkedIn. Grega covers why they used the platform to recruit a player with specific characteristics, the background which led to this decision and why this could be the start of a recruitment and social media trend for sports teams across the globe.
The majority of social media platforms were initially intended for ordinary individuals around the world. They had fun posting their thoughts, adventures and connecting with other people in a parallel – digital world. Extreme popularity of social media, especially Facebook, attracted the companies from all industries to use these platforms mostly for branding, promotional and customer service purposes. However, as a PR officer of a football club I also use Facebook for most of my basic communication with our players, coaches, management board and also journalists. With the development of smartphones it is by far the easiest and fastest way to do it.
On the other hand a lot of football agents and professional or amateur football players are using all possible digital platforms to sell their services to football clubs around the world. Through e-mails and Facebook messages, NK Domžale daily receives at least five proposals from professional and amateur players from all over the world. Because of all the coverage from media all over Europe this number increased significantly in last few days. However, we have never signed a player using this option.
On a European scale, NK Domžale is a small club with budget of approximately 2 million Euros per year, half of which is used for the first team. Our football youth academy has been the best in the country for several years and now has a lot of international successes (among them 3rd place at 2013 World Nike Premier Cup finals in Manchester). We have a great production of young players but the most talented ones are often transferred to bigger European clubs before they have played for our professional team. That’s why we are forced to recruit other Slovenian players and players from abroad.
With a tight budget we cannot afford to buy established players with prominent careers. Our aim is to find free agent players who are young and willing to develop, or experienced players who want to change their environment and are trying to put their careers back on track. We have a good overview of market in Slovenia and most nearby countries. After we lost the team captain Nejc Skubic, who was transferred to Turkish top division side Konyaspor, we pulled all our strengths to find a suitable replacement. When we have exhausted all possibilities our coach Luka Elsner decided to post an ad on LinkedIn where he has created a network of many football agents from all over Europe. It was one of our last options to find a proper right side full back and it was successful. One of the agents who saw the post, contacted Álvaro Brachi (first Spanish player in club history), who doesn’t even have a profile on LinkedIn, and told him of this option.
Why did we use LinkedIn? It is a platform that unites professionals from variety of industries. Football recruiting isn’t developed yet, but after this case it could and should expand. We received around 150 responses and most of them were worth our attention. Surprisingly for us the offers were totally different and far more serious from the ones we are getting daily through e-mails or Facebook messages. This case shows that LinkedIn has the potential to be one of the possible platforms for football recruitment.
However it is (almost) impossible to find a new Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on social media. All the biggest and also medium sized clubs (on European scale) have massive scout networks which follow the most talented players all over the world. They don’t need help from social media, since they are not as limited financially as our club is where we mostly have to work with transfer fee-less free agents. Recruitment over LinkedIn could be an option for small size clubs which cannot cover the market with their own people in the scouting service. On the other hand it is also an opportunity for free agent players and their agents, who don’t have contacts in financially weaker countries. NK Domžale also uses other payable platforms to recruit players, but in this case they failed to produce results in the time period needed. It was the first time we turned to LinkedIn and I am sure it will not be the last.
Grega Krmavnar started his career as a sports journalist at the biggest Slovenian commercial television station, Television Pro plus. After five years he took over the place of PR Officer at NK Domžale, two-time Slovenian champions. As a freelancer he also worked as sports journalist, deputy editor and commentator of football matches at Slovenian TV stations Sport-TV and Planet TV. He is a member of the Committee for Public Relations at the Slovenian football association.