Shareholder: Mallorca to tap into tourist trade

MADRID, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Utz Claassen well remembers the day his interest in Real Mallorca was first piqued, a fascination that led this month to the German businessman and management professor buying 10 percent of the Spanish club.

"The first time I saw something really, really exciting in football here was about 10 years ago when I saw a very, very young and unknown striker called Samuel Eto'o," Claassen told Reuters in an interview.

"I said to my wife: 'I have never seen a striker of that quality'," he added of the Cameroon forward, who went on to star in Champions League triumphs for Barcelona and Inter Milan.

"So let's say since that day I have observed quite carefully what's happening here," added Claassen, who first spent a holiday on the Balearic island popular with his compatriots more than 30 years ago.

Claassen, a former president of Bundesliga side Hanover 96, has served on the boards of a slew of leading German firms, including utility Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg, and written a best-selling business book.

He now wants to use his expertise to help Mallorca to boost revenue by exploiting the millions of tourists from Germany, Britain and beyond who visit the Mediterranean island each year.

Real Mallorca have suffered from the financial problems afflicting many La Liga clubs in recent years and the Hanover-born 47-year-old will present a plan to the board on Dec. 20 that he hopes will allow them to tap Mallorca's thriving tourist industry.

"I believe that Real Mallorca offers a tremendous opportunity, not only on the sports side but also on the branding and marketing side," he said.

"On the sports side I am very, very optimistic about what they can do.

"On the financial side, I believe that in earlier years the potential of a football club was defined by its surroundings.

"Today we live in a world of bits and bytes and air transportation and logistical interconnection and people can travel by plane for 50 euros across Europe.

"Mallorca has millions and millions of tourists each year and, behind London, has probably the best logistical connections to any large city in Europe.

"From almost anywhere you can be in one, two or three hours on the island. So I think there is a great, great potential to establish a pan-European brand with a regional tradition and heritage."


Under coach Michael Laudrup, a former Danish international who played for Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Mallorca have exceeded expectations this season with a squad of young and relatively cheap players.

With 13 of 38 matches played, they are sixth in the standings, have claimed upset wins against Valencia and Sevilla and are the only club to have taken points off La Liga giants Real and Barca.

Claassen, who counts tennis world number one and Mallorca native Rafa Nadal among his fellow shareholders, said his business plan aimed to create a presence for the club in the larger European markets such as Germany and Britain.

It would focus on developing distribution channels for merchandise and on forging cooperation with other clubs, as well as airline and tour operators.

After the cash problems of recent years, which led to UEFA excluding the club from this season's Europa League, there will also be a strong emphasis on sound financial management.

"From now into the foreseeable and long-term future we never want to fall back into a policy of spending more than we take in in revenue," Claassen said.

"At the end of the day financial stability is always the basis of long-term sporting success."


Mallorca's exclusion from the Europa League and the promotion of Villarreal in their place denied the club a lucrative continental campaign and Claassen said he did not understand UEFA's decision.

"Generally UEFA is right in trying to ensure that football not only provides fascinating sport but we also have financial stability," he said.

"But in the specific case of Mallorca I have not understood UEFA's arguments and I personally have doubts that the same criteria and conditions have been applied over time and across different clubs.

"Mallorca is far from being the club with the highest debt in Europe. If UEFA were to apply the same conditions and criteria to everybody then I believe quite a number of other clubs in the past and present could and would have been excluded."

Claassen does not have a full-time role within the club but said he contributed something more or less every day.

He declined to set any sporting goals for Laudrup.

"The impression that I have - and this is what I really like - is that game after game they go for as much as possible without putting unnecessary pressure on the team," he said.

"On balance what the team has achieved so far this season is far more than could have been expected. Where they stand at the moment and what they have within reach is, I think, very promising."