After ACA Football Partners Pte. Ltd. (Singapore, CEO: Hiroyuki Ono, hereinafter ACAFP) became the owner of KMSK Deinze in the beginning of February, Akihisa Iizuka, the business professional from ACAFP who is in charge of club management, leads the daily operation . In this interview, he explains about the overall vision of ACAFP projects and the path that led him to KMSK Deinze.
Please briefly tell us about your background and career.
I started my career in Rakuten Inc, who is currently the main shirt sponsor in FC Barcelona (until 2021-22 season). In 2015, I had a chance to work for a Japanese professional football club, Vissel Kobe, and I worked there for 2 years as a manager in the corporate department. After those two years, I began studying at Sports Human Capital, a football business school established by J.LEAGUE. When I graduated from the school, STVV scouted me, and that’s when I came to Belgium. In STVV, I worked as Chief Financial Officer for three years. I supervised all corporate functions, finance, accounting, HR, general affairs, legal etcetera. During that time, STVV became third in the Financial Fair Play ranking in 2018-2019.
What is the reason you started the ACAFP project?
When I worked in STVV, I found that there is no big difference between Japanese and Belgian football business. The financial size and company management are almost exactly the same. But in the football business in general, there are lots of problems, for example the domination of the 5 big leagues, domination of big clubs in national leagues, unstable business models, lack of governance and compliance… That’s what made me want to try to improve football business globally. I started to look for new opportunities, because life is short and if you want to achieve something, you should move fast. Then I met Hiroyuki Ono (ACAFP CEO) and Takahisa Shiraishi (ACAFP Chief Football Officer), experts in the investment and football fields. They have the same ambition and will to change the world of football, so it was natural for us to become a team and start ACAFP.
What is the main mission and philosophy of ACAFP?
Our mission is to “release the value of sports & evolve”. In my experience in the football business, football has a lot of potential but now we’re not maximizing it effectively. Our mission is also based on three values.
The first one is discipline. We are ambitious and want to build a transparent and repeatable governance structure in football club business. We believe that this transparency will bring additional value to the football business. Through transparency and governance you can and will earn the trust from all stakeholders of the club.
The second value is sustainable development. One of the big problems in the football business is unsustainability. The market has become increasingly more competitive, but the revenue still relies on the old business structure and the domestic market. That’s why we try to establish a global multi-club ownership model. This model can give us a business portfolio and multiple business values, which will be more attractive when we go into the global market. If we can provide additional business opportunities to the group clubs, they can reach a bigger market.
When we go into the global market, the keyword is new digital technology, so-called Web3. After Covid, the world changed. Digital entertainment is now more important than ever, and if we want to be the next leader in the football business we need to establish a new digital ecosystem and entertainment content creation.
The third value is data & fact driven. We understand that the value of football business comes from the solidarity of the local community. The enthusiasm of the fans and supporters and the full stadium increases the economic value of football. Global fans want to be a part of this community and feel solidarity. So, the first thing we need to do is to enhance the local community. But then, why do people come to watch football? They want to watch good quality and exciting football on the pitch, so the main value of football business comes from the quality of football. We will invest in the software, devices and human resources to use data and facts on the pitch, instead of investing in players’ trade. We will develop good talents by making decisions with data and facts.
Why did you choose KMSK Deinze as the core club of your business?
There are 2 main reasons. One is that KMSK Deinze has a good business mind-set. The president, Mr. Denijs Van De Weghe, has already taken initiatives to improve the club, and a lot of local sponsors support the club. Another reason is ambition. KMSK Deinze has an ambition to go forward and grow towards the future. The new stadium plan is a great example. We believe that the club, together with ACAFP, can go to the next level.
It has been almost 2 months since we started working with KMSK Deinze. What is your impression?
So far, I only have positive things to say. We had a sponsor party at the beginning of February, and I noticed the atmosphere was really warm and welcoming. We talked with the mayor as well, and the city of Deinze is very cooperative to the club. Also, when I watch home games, I see very passionate fans and supporters in the stands. I can feel the strong solidarity of the local community again. The staff and employees in KMSK Deinze also have that passion to try to improve the club. We have good discussions and I expect to be a good team together with them.
Do you have a message to KMSK Deinze fans?
Thank you for your continuous support for KMSK Deinze. This month, the club became 96 years old, and the history and culture of the club were made by you. I am really happy to be a part of this history. We are now planning the next strategy to improve the club more. We will do our best to satisfy you and will try to give you good football and new experiences.
You can find a full interview here: