On 18 December, 2022, Argentina conquered the footballing world for a third time, ending a 36-year wait to call themselves World Cup winners once more. 

But whilst Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentine national team lapped the glory inside the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, the victory on the pitch that day exemplified the Argentine Football Association (AFA)’s work off the pitch, which has only found new strengths post World Cup victory. 

The groundwork for success was already cemented by the AFA prior to the tournament. The national football organisation had years prior established a new strategic commercial growth campaign to put Argentinian football on the map. 

That’s not to say that people across the globe did not know of Argentine football, because who doesn’t know Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona. This initiative was instead born out of a desire to match its standing on the pitch through sponsorship and other commercial agreements. 

Speaking to Insider Sport, Leandro Petersen, Chief of Marketing at the AFA, revealed that the process began four years before lifting the World Cup and hailed the victory as a consolidation of its work prior to arriving in Qatar. 

He said: “Regarding the World Cup, it is obviously very important because it was the consolidation of a project that began in 2018 and that saw the great coronation at the end of 2022, almost in its fifth year. The World Cup was the crowning of a process. 

“We arrived at the World Cup with more than 40 sponsorship agreements, if I remember correctly, we had almost 45. The truth is that today, we have several more, but the difference is not exponential. 

“We were already a number one brand in terms of development and commercial volume. In fact, we were the federation that arrived at the World Cup with the largest number of commercial agreements and with the greatest presence in all those markets that I mentioned.”

But the catalyst for this sponsorship proliferation was birthed out of a shared commitment from not just the officials at the AFA, but also FIFA itself. 

credit: Argentine Football Association (AFA)

Before the organisation’s ambitious commercial strategy, the world footballing organisation intervened on the AFA’s behalf, revealed Petersen. At that time in 2018, the Argentine national team had only seven local sponsors. 

Whilst local sponsorship is undoubtedly key – with agreements such as the one signed with McDonalds being crucial to identify with its fanbase back home – there was a lack of global commercial agreements that hindered the AFA from breaking ground on institutional projects, such as redeveloping its youth project. 

In light of this, and under new management which saw the arrival of Petersen, the AFA got to work on increasing the brand of Argentinian football tenfold. This led to sponsorship agreements in 2018 with Nissan and a hat-trick of sponsorship deals in China, which Petersen would describe as one of the AFA’s key markets. 

He revealed: “What we did was focus on the markets where we understood that there were great economic opportunities, due to the size of the population, the interest they expressed in the Argentine national team and in the soccer players of our national team, such as China, India, the Middle East and a little more later, the US.

“The markets where we are clearly experiencing the greatest growth are in China and India. In China, we have more than 10 regional sponsors, in addition to having e-commerce on the Alibaba network with more than 200 merchandising products of all kinds. 

“We are the number one federation in e-commerce sales in the last two years uninterruptedly every month, even before being World Champions. We also have an important agreement with Wanda Sports Group, which is obviously one of the largest holding companies in China and is a commercial agent for the national teams.

“In India we already have five regional sponsors, starting the operation at the beginning of 2021. In record time we added brands such as Amul, Xiaomi, ITC, which is the largest snack and beverage company in India; BKash, the number one payment platform in Bangladesh above all, but also has operations in India.”

In 2024, the AFA is eating the fruits of its labour. The footballing body continued to reach new markets and in new industries, with sponsorship agreements with the likes of FeedConstruct, American Express and Fanatics, with the latter two exemplifying its latest internationalisation push in the US. 

“Today, the AFA is the number one federation in the world, but not only because of the results, but because of the entire process of training female and male soccer players”

But the AFA is not only signing these agreements across multiple countries and industries to gain a further foothold in these markets, it is strategically working with companies who share similar goals that reflect their own. 

Petersen revealed that the current set up is in its sixth year, and to avoid stagnation and the team resting on its laurels, they are looking for entities that align with their goals of growth and innovation. 

“Today, the AFA is the number one federation in the world, but not only because of the results, but because of the entire process of training female and male soccer players,” Petersen stated. 

“The institutional stability that has been achieved (which we also see is not so simple, because there are many federations with problems from an institutional point-of -view) and the economic solidity that we have achieved will give support to the entire sports project. 

“We look for brands that are on this path: that want to grow, that want to open markets, that want to be present throughout the world, that accompany us at the same time in this process of global expansion that we have with a focus on those markets, but with a view to all over the world.”

credit: Argentine Football Association (AFA)

One country that has not been shy of displaying its commitment to being the best in every commercial way is the United States. 

Although often disregarded as a potential hotbed for commercial growth for those who shun the phrase ‘soccer’, the US hasn’t been deterred from embracing the sport. Football’s growth has been accelerating stateside, and will likely continue to do so over the coming years. 

With the 2024 Copa América and a large portion of the 2026 FIFA World Cup set to be held in the US, the AFA has recognised the country’s potential to grow its own brand in the country, which would have only been bolstered by the arrival of Messi at Inter Miami in the summer of 2023. 

Despite these events right around the corner, Petersen revealed that the AFA’s entrance into the US market started well before it was announced, emphasising how important the country is to the AFA’s overall strategy. 

He shared: “We started our path in the US before knowing that these events were going to be held in the country. That always gives us an advantage because we already have a long way to go. We are in the process of building two high-performance centres and we are going to do many more, not only in Miami, but throughout the US. 

“We have all our social networks in English, where we already have more than five million followers and where content designed for that market is made. They (the channels) are not translated content in Spanish, but rather, they are content designed for the culture and consumption logic of this market. 

“We opened our offices in the US with a very strong presence. At the event was the president of FIFA, CONMEBOL, the President of the AFA, and many figures from the Argentine National Team, such as Javier Zanetti, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Sergio Aguero. 

“We have a very clear vision that the US is a strategic pillar in the global development of the AFA, due to the size of the population, due to how soccer is growing, and due to the growth of the MLS, as well and due to all the Argentines figures there, not to mention now with the presence of Messi.” 

In the spirit of its goals of continuous innovation and deepening presence in open markets, the upcoming Copa América now provides the AFA with the platform to demonstrate its years of work to a global audience. 

The Copa América, which will open with Argentina’s game against Canada on 21 June, is another opportunity to expand on sponsorships such as with American Express and cement its position as a leading football federation in one of football’s most burgeoning markets. 

credit: Argentine Football Association (AFA)

Petersen revealed what the AFA has in store for the tournament and will directly serve US-living Argentinians through interactions both digitally and physically. 

“Regarding the World Cup, but specifically the Copa América, we are going to do a lot of actions with the sponsors that we have in the US and everywhere, but mainly where we know that there are the greatest number of Argentines, such as Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other places that we have identified. 

“We want to create different actions, activations, and experiences. Also, digital content for that audience and ways to interact in a more direct and friendly way not only with the Argentines who are in the US, but also with the American community that identifies with the Argentine national team, who are fans of the Argentine football players that play in the Premier League, in Spain, in Italy, and obviously of Messi. 

“We have a great challenge to think of a comprehensive plan to build loyalty among the entire American soccer community with the Argentine national team brand, with the team and obviously with the AFA, as a reference institution for the sports industry throughout the world.”

2024 and 2026 will prove to be pivotal years for the Argentine national team. They are the defending champions of both the Copa América and the World Cup, and winning both a continental and international tournament consecutively has proved to be unprecedented. 

However, if the national team has developed and strengthened on the pitch as the AFA has off the pitch since 2022, more glory to La Albiceleste may be on the horizon. 

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