Infrastructure, Licensing, Soccer, Europe

Victoria Hawksley talks joining Legends, building the Real Madrid brand and sports retail’s future

After 14 years at Tottenham Hotspur, Legends’ new VP of international retail discusses the switch from North London to the Spanish capital and her immediate plans for Real’s merchandising operation.

by Ed Dixon
Victoria Hawksley talks joining Legends, building the Real Madrid brand and sports retail’s future

Announced in June, Real Madrid’s team up with experiential services agency Legends marked the latest phase in the Spanish soccer champions’ revised commercial strategy.

The first move from Los Blancos came after penning a monster €1.1 billion (US$1.3 billion) kit supply deal with Adidas in May 2019, enabling Real to take advantage of the new contract to reclaim full control of their retail wing from the German sportswear giant.

The La Liga holders initially tested the waters last season with global sports merchandise specialists Fanatics, who oversaw the club’s physical stores, but the omnichannel partnership with Legends represents the biggest step in Real’s retail shakeup.

The expansive agreement sees Legends tasked with relaunching three official club stores in Madrid, overhaul Real's ecommerce platform, which will be available in eight languages, and oversee a new flagship megastore at the team’s Santiago Bernabéu home.

Having been recently valued at €3.478 billion (US$4.111 billion), securing top spot in for the second consecutive year in KPMG’s European Elite 2020 report, increased retail revenues are the latest growth target area for Real.

Real’s goals are clear, but the state of play is now very different. The world may feel like a much smaller place amid Covid-19 pandemic, but it is a challenging setting from which Legends’ new vice president, international retail, Victoria Hawksley (pictured), believes there is an exciting opportunity to be had.

Appointed at the start of September after 14 years with Tottenham Hotspur, most recently as head of retail and visitor attractions, Hawksley’s remit will include will include the development of merchandising strategies for Legends and Real’s retail programme.

Speaking to SportsPro ahead of her move to Madrid, Hawksley discusses what drew her to the role, her plans to take Real’s behemoth of a brand to further heights, and what’s in store for the retail sector post-lockdown.

What attracted you to the role at Legends?

Being part of a team, part of a brand, and really being able to build something has always engaged with me. Being at Spurs over the last 14 years I've had the real privilege of working for the club I support and owning that brand. So, when you've just built the best stadium in the world then what do you do?

When Legends came to talk to me, what really interested me was our similar ethos about how important the brand is – not just their brand but actually the brands they work for. That's hugely important. Real Madrid is the brand in football, but Legends, through their culture and what they deliver, is also about brining real value and support to the brand and living that brand.

I enjoy that link between retail and the sporting world. It really is quite a fascinating combination of industries which I was keen to stay working in. The opportunity now to grow and deliver and to build something is fantastic. I've loved building the [Spurs] stadium and actually going in again to help build Real Madrid and take them wherever they need to go and be the person that can help executive and deliver that … why wouldn't you want to be part of that journey? 

Hawksley was involved with the construction of Spurs’ new UK£1 billion stadium

What will be your immediate priorities?

Real Madrid is massively important [for Legends], hence why I'm moving to Madrid. It's key that I can be there and get to understand them. Each club is very unique, it's very special in terms of where they're going. So, to be there on the ground and immersed in that is important in order for me to deliver the customer experience.

They're not just customers, though, they're fans. Actually getting an understanding of that is the biggest priority for me and to make sure that at the heart of everything I do for the supporters is Real Madrid and the customer journey. The people that love them make them the club they are. That for me is my ultimate starting point so I can make the right decisions to add to that value, add to their vision and help them deliver their vision.

What are you anticipating the biggest challenges to be?

Interestingly, the [coronavirus] pandemic, for retail as a whole, has really focussed the importance of omnichannel, of experience, of actually still being able to talk to your fans and your brand ambassadors. For me, the future is very much about where Legends is coming from anyway and actually where retail, and where it fits in in terms of an ongoing journey, is how do you really leverage that innovation online and omnichannel and speaking to people globally wherever they are?

I think for all of retail globally, how they change the way they communicate, activate and engage the customer base and then leverage that is what we're all having to work towards. Some haven't been set up to do that and it came too quickly for them to allow it. Those that had ecom, you've seen the success. So, actually, where Legends are coming from, in terms of what they can deliver, is absolutely key in having the innovation and capability to deliver a fully global online platform that links into the experience. That’s the challenge but it's really shown the opportunity in what is possible and what we want to go and do.

Real’s tie-up with Legends is a key part of the club’s new retail strategy

How will you refer to your experiences at Tottenham in your new job?

I've run retail at Spurs and every club is different in terms of how they operate that. Having the flexibility and agility to be able to move and change to deliver not just the retail side of things but the experience, the activation and engagement is massively important, as is showing the value of the brand and merchandise. I want to make sure we're engaging that.

What I've learned at Spurs certainly is having that strength of brand and having that care. You really are a custodian and it's important that doing that, having the product in the right place and the retailing aspect are all about having that great experience. It’s about having that revenue drive but also about that brand value. That is the key bit and I've learned that certainly at Spurs and have been very lucky and privileged to work on that project, particularly as well with the new stadium.

What Real Madrid are going to go through with their new stadium [redevelopment] that's massive for any club and I've loved going through that journey at Spurs. I'm looking forward to doing that again as well and bringing my experience to Real Madrid to help them go through that journey.

How would you describe the health of the retail sector at the moment and how do you see it evolving?

The challenges of the global platform and being able to unlock that piece is hugely important. So is ecom and how different markets respond in different ways to shopping. That’s not just ecom, it's still the bricks and mortar piece too and product.

The exciting thing is about the world becoming such a small place in terms of what you can get and the reach you can get. When you link that to global football brands like Real Madrid, the exciting bit I think for retailers is the global piece and how to connect to those people in those countries and territories. That's a real challenge for a lot of retailers and when you work in sport and you have a brand as big as Real Madrid what you've got is that network already there. So the exciting bit is how you engage with that. The fans want to connect. I think that's how everybody feels in customer and retail.

The content and experience piece of retailing is really important. We've seen that in bricks and mortar, and certainly in terms of the experience that I’ve had with building the Tottenham experience regarding the retail space. If you look at the leading lights in retail in bricks and mortar they're turning it into experientials. It's not just about coming in and having lots of product. It's about the feeling, the lighting, the atmosphere, personalising. I think that's the same online – it's about making the experience and the content, whether it's video, influencers, how you personalise the experience afterwards.

Those that can add the experiential piece in that, have that real engagement and activation, rather than just trying to sell will be the ones [who succeed]. That's how people feel and with the pandemic as well people feeling connected is really important. That’s where you’ve got to go in terms of being brave because retailing is often all about just having the right product, but actually it's got to be and feel more than that.