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."

UPSET WINS

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