Hailing from Oakland, California, Keegan Pierce fell in love with football during the 1994 World Cup in the USA. In 2020, he opened the LaLiga UK office, with Spain’s professional football league aiming to bolster its presence in the territory.
LaLiga has more than 158 million followers across 17 platforms in 20 different languages. Pierce has overseen the launch of LaLigaTV as a 24/7 linear offering, as well as its distribution via Amazon Prime Video Channels. In January, he was appointed managing director for UK and Ireland.
One of the fun things in communications is that there is no part of the organisation that you aren’t privy to. I was an entry level PR guy and through a series of circumstances was named director of communications and broadcasting at Chivas USA, a new Major League Soccer (MLS) side.
You need to be aware of all aspects of the club and ours was a particularly dynamic setup. The club was owned by investors from Mexico who had purchased the rights to launch a franchise in MLS in 2005. It catered to the interests of Hispanic fans in North America.
Chivas USA had a ground-sharing agreement with the LA Galaxy. We were around at the same time as David Beckham and we were seen as the new kids on the block. The media we were in contact with were in the US but also plenty in Mexico, who were coming with a different cultural approach and levels of interest in what we were doing. We were under scrutiny from all quarters.
I was given the opportunity to travel with the first team and sit in on team talks, to be on the coach and on the plane. We had a number of managers in that time, including former USA, Egypt and Swansea City manager Bob Bradley.
He was manager for a year and had a reputation in MLS as being a CEO-style coach, who looked after every single aspect of a dressing room and paid attention to all the little details.
I remember on the first day of his presentation press conference, he asked for me and the comms team to sit down with him. He said, ‘Welcome guys to the inside. One of the key things of our dressing room thriving is the idea of the inside and the outside. There will always be distractions from the media, fans and the business side but from the inside we need to know how we work, respect and challenge each other and by virtue of your job you guys need to be on the inside.’
I learned a lot about his man management in terms of one-on-one conversations, developing relationships with every player but also sending messages to the entire group. Not only are you as strong as your weakest link, but you’re only as good as your weakest link is willing to challenge the rest of the group. It was a powerful message.
Bob is an extremely smart guy, had been coach of Princeton University and was accustomed to working with athletes who would challenge him from a sporting perspective and intellectually. He has a strong work ethic, but there was also an understanding that as one manager you can do only so much to improve things.
The first year of the club didn’t go according to plan as the club finished last in the league. With no relegation, there was still pressure to make the club competitive and make it likeable to fans. And so Bob came in and tried to change the culture and integrate the investors to have a strong Mexican and Hispanic face to the club.
We managed to make the MLS play-offs and we continued to do it during my five years there. Part of that was down to the bedrock of culture that Bob instilled in charge (Chivas USA later folded in 2014) before he became the USA team coach.
In many ways there are parallels between then and now. In MLS, I was promoting a Mexican-style of football to a North American audience in the US. Now my role is overseeing the business interests and brand presence of LaLiga in the birthplace of football, which is the UK.
I had seen people who came from a comms and broadcasting background going to take on wider and bigger roles in the industry; I know some people had a hard time branching out. To better prepare myself for these roles I enrolled in an MBA at Esade Business School in Barcelona.
When I finished, I certainly didn’t even know a role representing LaLiga overseas existed. Today, we are a lean team with just two staff on a full-time basis in the UK, but with support from our agency partnerships and in our Madrid and Barcelona offices.
Our challenge is to continue promoting where fans can see LaLiga in the UK and discover the moments where they have the time and inclination to do so. Our strategy together with our partners has been around creating destination viewing on Saturday and, particularly, Sunday evenings when pretty much everything in the British game is finished.
One of the advantages we have is that the UK sends more visitors annually to Spain than any other country. It means understanding the story behind some of our greatest rivalries in LaLiga is quite accessible for fans here. It’s about telling the stories and getting more people tuning in.
The one management tip I would convey is that there is no one right way to communicate a message. It is a question of tone, timing, whether it’s written, verbal or leading by example. There is nothing wrong with mixing channels of communication. Any effective messages need to be sent through multiple channels. If you expect to influence people’s opinions on a topic, you need to take a multi-channel strategy to get the message through. And very often that starts with leading by example.