“What we have done in football marketing over the last year is actually embarrassingly little. If so little can achieve so much, what would happen if it would be done seriously and systematically, and spend some money?”
Kuno Tehva, the chairman of the Nõmme Kalju board, promises to make unprecedented effort with the champions league club during the new season that would fill the tribunes with crowds. As a successful businessman, he does not think of staying in the league, but reaches for higher goals instead.
During the interview in Stereo Lounge that belongs to Tehva, he talks widely about the fate and the plans of the club as well as general problems of Estonian football, especially marketing.
He illustrates thorough discussions with colorful examples and the interview elongates to nearly one and a half hour. Due to that we will bring the interview to the readers in two parts – in today`s section the main discussion will be about general problems, and the second part will be more explicitly about subjects concerning Kalju.
Would you, first of all, tell about yourself? What kind of a man are you and how did you get into football?
Let`s put it this way that my arrival to football was quite accidental. When I was young, I trained with the Lõvid for a few years under Ubakivi (Roman Ubakivi – edit.). I`ve trained with Ints (Indro Olumets – edit.) and all the other boys for a few years and I know them all very well.
After playing with the Lõvid, I also played in a team Seveni, which later became MC Tallinn. After I left they even reached to either Premiere or Champions League once. I played there out of interest and for fun, but it was still a strict USSR period. At the beginning of the 1990s, life took me to America, where I stayed for seven years. When I came back to Estonia I played in such fourth or fifth league team like Rõõba, for fun. At some point, and I do not even know how, I ended up in a situation where I found myself at the same table with Uno Piir (former national team head coach), who was dealing with the development of Nõmme Kalju. For some incomprehensible reasons I was there too and one thing lead to another and somehow we managed to unite the two clubs. Then it quietly started, I was there helping and playing.
When was it when you joined Kalju?
I think it was approximately eight years ago.
And you were the leader from the beginning
Not a leader at all, more like the team captain. The board was Uno Piir and Anton Siht. Hiiu stadium did not exist back then, and hard work was done to make it come into being. It had been negotiated with the city for years. When it finally and actually came into being, hope evolved that there would be a stadium edifice and it felt like there is some kind of progress and perspective. Even I don’t know exactly how it happened, but during the time I was helping the club I acquired a kind of leading role. At some point I was proposed to join the board and then the board chairman’s position. That’s just how things go, when the snowball starts to roll, it rolls.
Do the stadium and the stadium edifice belong to Kalju?
No, they belong to the city, but Kalju has done much for it’s coming into being and for finding money for it. We did the majority of lobby-work and it has given results. As we are the first team of the district, we have some perks here. We have done so much for the development of the stadium and the stadium edifice that we have certain advantages and price concessions.
You can basically call it your home?
Absolutely. It is considered as ours and we have preferences there. We hold the time benefits and are prior to the others.
Of course, we have problems even today because we can’t very well forecast the growth and development because it has been greater than logic has let us think. We already have problems with stadium times and we are slowly growing out of it. We have many thoughts at the moment and it is not out of question that in the next few years we reach the point where we start to build our own stadium and indoor arena.
In Champions League, are you allowed to play on Hiiu artificial turf?
Few year ago the cover was removed and replaced with a hi-tech artificial turf, which is really soft. Kalju has developed a serious identity and it is such a domiciliary club that I believe that for the sake of football it is not beneficial to destroy what has been developed here. The highest leaders and major specialists of the Football Union, managed by Aivar Pohlak, have seen it and given hope that we will be met half way. Artificial grass is like, how should I put it … like skis! There are different kinds of skis – there are staves and kind of super-skis. And it’s the same with artificial turf. I’ve leg bone fractures and played on very bad artificial covers and the reaction has always been “damn artificial grass,” but I have been in Hiiu for a long time and I can say that it is not a problem there. I think that this artificial grass is better than some medium-quality real grass. It is good and I believe that it carries out just fine.
Do you invest your money into Kalju?
Yes, a lot.
How much of the total budget?
I guess, this year it might be about a quarter.
Don’t you feel sorry about the money?
I have many businesses that have derived from hobbies. Club Privé for example has also been derived from a hobby, as well as festivals, concerts – these businesses have all been hobbies. If you have a hobby that develops into a business, then you’re a happy person. You don’t need to watch the clock that it reaches six and you can go home. For me it does not make a difference – I can e-mail people at 2 o’clock in the morning and I enjoy it. It’s the same with Kalju, I don’t read money when I’m dealing with it. For years we did it with only our own forces and we are just lucky that very businesslike and progressive people have met in the board of Nõmme Kalju. They all represent different areas in life and they all seem to think the same way; not wanting anything else from it than just a positive emotion that carries us on. And due to that we can’t do it poorly, because if we do, we lose the positive emotion, and then the whole point of doing it disappears. This is the one and very simple reason why we have to make a big step forward every year and why we bring in foreigners, and why we promote it – to get this emotion and that is, in my opinion, very important in football.
Is Kalju strong enough as a club, that if you, for example have to leave, it could continue on the same level?
I think that there are no irreplaceable persons. Right now we have a cadre of people who do it knuckle down. However, some opportunities proceed from me, because I’ve been in the show business for more then ten years. For a person who is not competent in that area, putting some things into practice would mean a lot of uncertain and expensive activities, whereas to me they are quite simple.
I do it with ease, besides my duty time. What we have done in marketing football over the last year is actually very little. It might seem as if Kalju is doing a lot, but it’s actually awfully, shamefully little. If there is such a result with so little effort, what would happen if it would be done seriously and systematically and spending some money? Then the situation that people have little interest in football and tribunes stay under-crowded would not be possible. I’m sure that it is just work that hasn’t been done. Absolutely sure.
So next year full speed ahead?
Absolutely, my plan is to motivate other clubs and federation also, I’m not doing it for Kalju only. I want Kalju to be a role model for other clubs, who are still doing nothing. For Kalju, things can only get better when others are active, as well. I want to so-to-say pull others into the same boat to create confrontation.
You are also connected with the EJL top-class football committee. For you, is the development visible?
The development is absolutely there, but in my opinion the roundtable should be taken to the next level. Very many of those involved do it next to their main occupation and perhaps the interval of the meetings is not frequent enough. It should be more intense.
I’ve been involved with it for a couple of years and I remember that the first time I was there I had strange impression, because several representatives of the clubs oppose each other and there was no communication. At that moment it seemed like a waste of time. At this point we must thank Are Altraja who, as the committee’s leader, has managed to bring people together and made it clear that we are all after the same thing. Rivalry and exchanging blows will definitely not promote Estonian football. I believe he has succeeded and almost everyone in it is interested in doing it and progress there is visible. What is missing in Estonian football is that we have a lot of football specialists – everybody knows how to play football, how to arrange football, how to arrange the work of the judges, what the stadium has to be like – but no one has managed to make football and our leagues into a product. The marketing side has been non-existent and that is a very important side of football. We as Nõmme Kalju have been tagged with many labels like FC Hollywood but if we take a look at world football, it is all entertainment. When there are hundreds and thousands of people on the arena, it is all show and entertainment. Football is entertainment. It is hard work, but 50% of it is entertainment. When there is no crowd on the stadium, there is no money, no sponsorship and no public interest.
So what is the problem? Top-class football committee is working, there is progress, but …
One thing, for sure, is that we are lacking tradition. Everyone likes to say this and that traditions are not born overnight. The second reason is that competent marketing people haven’t dealt with football.
Many think that the level of the Champions League corresponds with the public interest. With the standard being to low …
I think this is silly. This is really silly. This is Estonia’s level, I don’t think it is so low; this is the top level in Estonia, but that doesn’t mean that football, as a game, is not interesting. One could find an interesting and opposing game even in the third league. I’ve come all the way from the fourth league to the Champions League and seen the problems and I say that it is not an issue of level. It is an issue of marketing and selling.
As Estonia is so small it is very easy to sell something here if you deal with it and create confrontation. I’ll give you an example on, let’s say, boxing. There is Holyfield, there is Tyson, they are weighed; both have promoters, men hustle and say ugly things to one another. Arises discussion, arises war. Behind the curtain the guys might be best friends, but publicly there is a confrontation – arenas are sold out, TV forecasts are sold out, the crowd runs like a madman, everything is working. That is entertainment!
It has to be sold; it has to be made in to a product. In every FC there have to be local stars. People don’t want to see some team X with unknown players – no one cares about it. What they really want to see is what we really have – our local stars in each local team.
Maybe the clubs are a bit of afraid that they don’t have enough opportunities, but many of them do. It is simple mathematics that if you are a big club you hire yourself a marketing specialist, hire him! The simple mathematics shows that the number of people who come to the stadium as a result of his work will pay his fee. It is as simple as that and I see it happen with Nõmme Kalju and I just don’t understand why other clubs don’t do that.
Do you have any information on how many clubs actually do have marketing directors? Flora has, you of course …
I don’t know, we have no marketing person; we do it ourselves. We are still a small club that is growing. We do it ourselves and don’t get paid for it but we know how to do it. We do it better than ordinary because I live in that business and that is my area of expertise. We have a lot of partners and good friends in media, good partners in other areas also. And everyone supports us, because some guys came who started dealing with football, their eyes shining and just doing it. We are independent, started from a clean sheet and we want to get along with everyone, that’s why we receive support. That’s why we are successful.
Give and example, what are you going to push next year?
We greatly respect the development of our fans. To my surprise even we have gathered a loyal group of people who come to the stadium not just for fun, but who really care about it. The beginning of fan action has evolved and we will definitely invest into it. Maybe we have a little advantages, also, because I own the nightclub Prive and via have emerged some 30 000-40 000 people who have registered on our website and who visit our club.
But something more specific …
We are very active in social media, Facebook for example. Also we have big out-door advertisement campigns and radio promotion for Nõmme Kalju, thanks to our media sponsors. Also what we are doing extensively and now consistently is our newspaper “Nõmme Kalju Football News”. We are very active in district of Nõmme where Kalju is from. We are goint on regular bases to schools, kindergardens etc. to promote Kalju and football in general. We want to reach to the point where for the inhabitants of Nõmme, Saturday is the game-day, not just a Saturday… It should be as a holy mission for everyone in Nõmme to come to the stadium and support Kalju, the club establisehd back in 1923.
More about marketing – are you happy with the Football League actions? Should it be their task at all?
I can’t say that I’m unhappy with it because it is a new area for them, but my proposal is that as it is their product, their league, they should definitely take on a bigger role in marketing. My opinion is that the “Meistriliiga” Football League must take a bigger role and take action to promote their product. In addition to that, all the clubs who are participateing in the league should put in an equal effort as well. We need to do it together and professionally. We can not take shortcuts in marketing of the league, we must make a difference and give results. Kalju wants to become Estonian Champions in football and we also want to be the best in marketing!
What year was it that you declared you become champions?
We still have two years time, but maybe we can acheave this allready this season.
We must hope and work hard for it!
So with what goal do you head for the Champions League “Meistriliiga”?
There is only one goal, to win!
Intervew was made by soccernet.ee