Juan Carlos Ercoreca “We Want To Bring Modernity To Athletic, But Without Losing The Essence Or The Roots”
It has been nearly 12 years since Juan Carlos Ercoreca last worked for Athletic. The former Vice President has distanced himself from the club since Josu Urrutia took over as President in 2011, but now he’s back. Ercoreca has been given the role of President of the Athletic Foundation by new club President Aitor Elizegi and he’s excited to be serving the Zurigorri once again. He recently gave an exclusive interview with Juanma Mallo of El Correo where he discussed the role of the Foundation and how he will help the new Board of Directors.
Why are you coming back to Athletic?
“I have been resisting Athletic for many years, first because the experience I had as Vice President with Ana Urquijo was very tense. It cost us health, friendship, family…Then I went to the elections in 2007 and won with Fernando García Macua. In that candidacy was Aitor Elizegi. From there I put myself at a distance, but Aitor has continued with the idea. He has been working and many people have approached him to encourage him to take this step. He passed it on to me. I’ve told him a lot of times that I would join, not because I know what this is, but because he is a friend and I support his decisions. I told him that I will not be on the Board, neither the 14 nor the 2. The campaign starts and I didn’t intervene too much. I’ve been a part of a couple of things; one for affectivity, in Bermeo. He had already told me about the theme of the Foundation. Although I was resisting until the final days, after assessing situations and seeing that my contribution could be interesting, I decided. I consulted again with my family, with my friends, and with my partners. They encouraged me and here I am.”
Do you consider it a point in favor of Elizegi that you have experience and already know Athletic?
“I do not know. Eleven years ago, in the elections, we had considerable support. It may be that something is left. I can be a recognized person, not only for the company, but for many activities that I have done with merchants and associations. I have worked for social work and people also value that. The club, the experience, the personal proximity…”
Has a thorn been removed with this triumph?
“No. I’m not one of those people, and more in relation to Athletic. Maybe in other areas. I’m never vindictive, but I have a good memory. In Athletic you have to turn the page quickly. I like to talk about the community, not just the 44,000 members of the club, but the fan community that is huge all over the world. We are all the same. And now it’s up to us to coordinate the impulses that can be from the whole world. I’ve already talked to supporters from Almansa, Córdoba, Huelva…That’s important to keep in mind. They are from Athletic, the rival candidacy is also from Athletic, we are too and so are many others who would have wanted to stand for election. We have to internalize that because if not we can’t work.”
When did you begin to trust that Elizegi could win?
“Thursday at nine in the morning when I saw an enthusiasm for the vote at Ibaigane. I saw that people came to Ibaigane with the enthusiasm of voting, of voting for one, or another, or blank, I do not care. Although there were some surveys that gave us an advantage, I saw equality.”
You took it calmly, because yours was the voice that tried to reassure your companions during the recount in the Txoko of Ibaigane. Was it the value of the experience?
“There wasn’t a lot of tension. I lived with more tension eleven years ago. This time there was a feeling that we had done a great job. There was no one to whom you could complain that he had not done what he had to do. The experience can give you some peace of mind, but also when I saw someone a little lower I told him that we were going to win by ten points. I didn’t know.”
You return in another complicated moment, although it is more optimistic than in the black biennium.
“Clearly! Eleven years ago, the qualifying situation was in March, not January. There are games to recover. We support everyone to the death, our coach and our players. The ability and quality that this squad has compared to eleven years ago – and I apologize to those players – has no comparison. I am optimistic and we are going to be in a situation where we can create the necessary work so that the following season is very different from this one.”
Do you have to plan the following years?
“Yes. In the sports aspect we must have a more long-term vision, but without interfering in the work of those who are already here. We can not warm up the technical team with new stories. Now they have to be focused on what they are doing, but at the same time we must prepare the future and count on them. They need to be informed, but also not brought into eight meetings either. We tell them where we are going and ask for their opinions.”
Has football changed much in these twelve years?
Has the romantic vision been lost?
“Athletic is Athletic and football is something else. Football maintains the romanticism in certain clubs, but the great football is a multi-million dollar business. It’s now very conditioned by the expansion of television channels, the Internet, by all the brands that want to be present in that media capacity that football has. There’s been an irruption of football in countries like Africa and Asia where there used to be nothings. All that is different. Athletic manages to maintain its essence, with the difficulties of fighting in this world. We want to contribute that modernity, without losing the essence, without losing the roots, without losing the philosophy, but on the contrary, making it stronger…Even with all that being in the world.”
You can’t live locked in a bubble.
“Having a differential fact, in marketing, in an advantage if you know how to exploit it and know how to reach your clients in conditions. We have to improve that. We have failed in applying or using all the technologies that are within our reach today, or we are not using it in the right way. When you travel around the world you realize the importance of the Athletic brand. I’ve been to Jordan, they talk about Madrid, Barça, but when you say you’re from Bilbao, they say ‘Athletic’. There we already have a minimum brand penetration, but we have to encourage it. We must choose where, because you can’t reach everyone. We have a large pool of Athleticzales throughout Spain. We must work more closely with them, give some continuity, not only when the team will play there.”
Your position is President of the Foundation, but you have experience in Athletic, in the company. Will you be an advisor to Elizegi?
“I will advise him on whatever he wants. I’m here because of my friendship with him. I am very close to the Board, at the moment we are all a little bit in everything. If I see anything, something happens to me and I will also help with who is who in the club. I know many of the people.”
You are putting your extensive business experience at the service of the Foundation which is a great unknown to the fans.
“The Foundation does many things.”
But they are not displayed.
“There has probably been an excessive Athletic-Foundation interaction, a sharing of jobs, relationships..The Foundation has to have its structure, its workers, its objectives, its work plan. Of all this, Athletic must be perfectly informed and the other way around as well. The Foundation must work to find its income, because there are many possibilities to increase them substantially and the social aspect must work. Things are already being done: training and games are being held with the Basauri prisoners and with immigrants. You have to visualize it with the aim of enhancing the Athletic brand, the social and cultural activity of the club.”
The Foundation wants to transmit some values?
“And always give it a sporting bias. Our link with any activity has to be sports, and if possible, football.”
Can you help other sports?
“We must. There are situations in Bizkaia that have been regrettable. I’m not going to talk about professional sports, like Bilbao Basket, but of Gernika Basket. A women’s club, which gives sports to more than 1,000 girls. I’m not saying that the support is economic, it can be emotional. The Athletic Foundation can be fundamental. We’ve talked about the partnered clubs, rugby, athletics and things like that.”
You’ve said that the income should be increased. That happens to increase the collaborating companies.
“It has worked well, but I also believe that it has been taken for granted that, once the company has registered, it is done. That’s not it. Companies who are in the Athletic Foundation can be there for many reasons: to visualize your brand, because you are interested in associating your brand with the Athletic brand, and to try to make your economic bet profitable. For example, through networking techniques, companies come to know each other, collaborate, and there are data banks that can be shared.”
Elizegi has said on many occasions that we must put value on the former football players.
“There are many former players that are waiting for Athletic to call them to do this or that. In Lezama, there are many coaches who are spending half-days, and that can be complemented with the Foundation doing that work. An important tool that the Foundation can contribute is the loyalty with Athletic and the women’s sport is a big pennant.”
Are they going to change the people who have entered with the previous Board of Directors?
“I do not know. Today I have a meeting with one of those people. You are a witness. I have already been with them, but now I have to meet one by one. What I am going to do? I am going to ask them what they do, to tell our appreciation of the work they are doing and their loyalty to the project; not the Ercoreca project, not the Elizegi project, but the Athletic project.”
So you will not part ways the previous ideas?
“The Foundation has three areas with one responsible for each one. On the one hand, sports, with Suances. Another the company theme, in the sense of giving them affection. The other is the social issue. They are and have been Iribar, Koldo Agirre, and Argoitia. They have done an exceptional job, but you have to go looking for relays. Now there is Gurpegui, and we will have to find two or three people who will develop this social part as well. They are three legs, in which the same one must include a person specialized in technological subjects. There is talk with clubs from all over the world. It requires telematic spaces and data exchange, without losing face to face. We have to develop it in conditions.”