The history of Johan Cruyff Institute, from its unique method to its enclaves in the Netherlands, Spain, Mexico and Peru, told by Cristina Palés, who, after 14 years with the company and previous roles in communication, sales and international relations, is now marketing manager and a member of the management team
The philosophy and mission of Johan Cruyff Institute have remained unchanged since the first day of its creation. Athletes are the primary reason for the institution’s existence. The athletes to whom Johan Cruyff wanted to give the key, through academic training, to transitioning successfully to the business world when they retire. In its 23 years, the institution has committed to being inclusive and training, in addition to sportsmen and women, all those who want to make sport a better industry.
During this time, methods have changed within the organization itself. Tenacity has been rewarded with the incorporation of new resources to make it a globalized international organization that offers academic training at all levels and in all areas of sport management. We were recently contacted by football agency Proneo Sports to learn more about the history of Johan Cruyff Institute. The following is the result of a conversation with Cristina Palés, marketing manager and member of the management team.
Let’s start by introducing our protagonist. Who is Cristina Palés and what is her role at Johan Cruyff Institute?
With a degree in communication sciences from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, I began my professional career in the Canadian diplomatic corps, first as press officer at the Canadian Commercial Office in Barcelona and later in the commercial department of the Embassy in Madrid.
After working for PRISA Group in the marketing department, I created my own audiovisual production company, studied translation and began to collaborate in the organization of international events.
On my return to Barcelona, I started working at Johan Cruyff Institute, where I have worked for 14 years in communication, sales, international relations and marketing. I am currently marketing manager and a member of the management team.
Amsterdam, Barcelona, Mexico City and Lima. Why these four cities?
Amsterdam and Barcelona for obvious reasons. Johan always lived between these two cities and it was natural to have these two locations.
It all started in Amsterdam more than 20 years ago, with Johan Cruyff Academy, with an official degree in sport marketing, in collaboration with the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. We started with a small group of 35 elite athletes and that initiative has developed into what we are now, a globalized academic organization offering university education and vocational training not only in sport marketing and sponsorship, but also in sport management, football business and coaching.
Barcelona became the headquarters basically because it was Johan’s place of residence. Why we opened in Mexico DF and Lima was because it was an organic extension to Latin America, being based in Spain.
After more than 14 years in the organization, how would you define Johan Cruyff Institute?
We are 100% sport, the academic legacy of a great sportsman. That makes us different from any other university or business school.
Our approach to education has a lot of Johan’s DNA: agile, curious, creative, direct, practical, competitive, but at the same time approachable and with a strong sense of collaboration, as well as professional and demanding, and we believe in the effectiveness of teamwork for the benefit of all.
Nothing teaches you more than real life and our experiential learning is based on real cases from sport. It is continuous, challenging training that puts the student at the center of their learning process so that they are ready to go out onto the field with a valuable network of contacts. We are a big family that continues to grow.
“Our mission is the same as the one Johan had when he founded us: to train through sport for sport”
Your brand has a mission, a vision and values. What are they?
Our mission is to professionalize the sports industry through academic training. The values I mentioned in the previous answer. As for our vision, it is the same vision Johan had when he founded us—to train through sport for sport. He always asked the question: “Who better to lead sport organizations than someone who has the heart of an athlete?”
As specialists in sport management, sport marketing and sponsorship, football business and coaching, what do you think are the keys to success?
Johan used to say: “Choose the best players in each position and you will have, not the best 11, but the 11 best players in your team.” That is the key to success, to have the best professionals, people who work in sport on a day-to-day basis, and to tailor the study programs based on what the market demands, accompanying the students through experiential training.
“Having the best professionals is the key to success. Johan said: “Choose the best players in each position and you will have, not the best 11, but the 11 best players in your team”
In this regard, we are particularly interested in corporate sponsorships. How important do you think this type of collaboration is in the business success of an organization?
Our business model does not contemplate sponsorship; we do not have sponsors, but we do have collaborators. And these collaborations are key to the development of our activity.
What is the business model of a company like Johan Cruyff Institute?
We are a private business school dedicated to academic training in sport management. Our business model, like any private business school, is based on selling our programs. To facilitate access to athletes and sport managers, we have developed a system of agreements with sports organizations through which we offer academic scholarships and discounts and we have set up a scholarship fund aimed at helping athletes to have a dual career, especially in minority sports.
Within the business model, how important is the company’s communication work?
It is fundamental. Communication is essential in any type of organized activity. Any human activity is developed through communication. And in the digital era, in which social networks allow interactions at breakneck speed, corporate communication takes on much greater importance. It is a vital strategic tool for the company to position itself in the market.
“The technological evolution is unstoppable; we have gone from working with spreadsheets to having a CRM, an automated e-commerce solution, a corporate website and 23 landing pages with domains in several countries, and a presence in almost all social media networks”
In recent years, communication has become a fundamental part of most companies. Has this technological/communication progress been noticed at Johan Cruyff Institute?
Of course it has. I have been working at Johan Cruyff Institute for more than 14 years and the evolution has been impressive. We have gone from working with spreadsheets to having a CRM that integrates with different tools, from having only one payment method to having an automated e-commerce solution, from having one corporate website to having more than 23 landing pages with domains in several countries and different languages, from using one social network to having a presence in almost all of them. It has been a continuous and unstoppable evolution.
“Our former students are our best ambassadors and for us they are the base, the most important thing”
In this communicative evolution, the role of streamers and influencers has grown exponentially. What relevance do they have in Johan Cruyff Institute’s strategic plan?
If we consider influencers to be those who help us to promote our work—students, former students, partners and teachers—their role is fundamental. But above all, our students and former students are our best ambassadors and for us they are the base, the most important thing.
Looking through your online profiles, I came across The Magazine. What does this publication contribute to the company’s corporate identity?
Having a good content strategy is fundamental for any company and, in our case, we represent knowledge and a source of talent. The Magazine allows us to explain what we do and how we do it, to inform about where we are, about the initiatives we undertake and support as an institution dedicated to sport management, and of course, to offer a platform to publicize all the contributions of our alumni and partners to the sports industry.
In terms of social media profiles, you are present on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and Pinterest. How do you manage the content on these platforms?
And now on Instagram, too. The truth is that we are a very small team that manages the networks—we schedule the content using different tools, always trying to combine posts that show life in class or visits and lectures by and for our students, as well as what our former students, partners, professors and collaborators are doing, along with current news and relevant information of interest to the industry.
Our agency specializes in futsal (a minority sport). Do you have any type of action focused on this type of sport?
We have a collaboration agreement with the Spanish Futsal Players Association. Thanks to this agreement, different professional players have studied with us with a discount, and also with partial scholarships of 50% for the master’s degree. For example, Jose Antonio Guillamon “Chispi” from Jimbee Cartagena is currently studying, and Amelia Romero recently finished her studies. Sergio Lozano is also an alumnus.
In addition, an important pillar of our CSR program is The Cruyff Athlete Fund, a scholarship fund that allows professional athletes from minority disciplines and those athletes about to make the transition to management positions in the sports industry to take our postgraduate and master’s programs.
“Being small doesn’t mean not wanting to do things right; we have hundreds of partnerships with the sports industry that enrich both parties”
What business opportunities are there to help minority sports grow?
Knowledge is very important. Being small does not mean not wanting to do things well within your possibilities, and incorporating new knowledge into organizations is a good way to achieve that. We have agreements with national, international, regional, public and private sports organizations that ask us for students to do internships or present us with real cases that need solutions and that are worked on in class, as final projects for master’s degrees, for example. There are many ways of collaborating that enrich both parties.
“We are and want to be a boutique institution, which accompanies its students in all their diversity and is closely linked to the sports with the sports industry, with the primary objective of carrying on Johan Cruyff’s academic legacy”
What are your corporate goals for continued growth?
To remain faithful to our mission of professionalizing the sports industry and helping athletes to have a dual career. We are and want to be a boutique institution, which accompanies its students in all their diversity and is closely linked to the sports industry. Our primary objective is to continue the academic legacy of Johan Cruyff.