Interview: AC Milan and Roc Nation on creating crossover appeal

18 Nov 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

After the success of the first From Milan With Love event, held over the initial coronavirus lockdown, AC Milan and Roc Nation are back with a follow-up showpiece, this time championing emerging talent in both football and music.

Ahead of the event. Sport Industry Group sat down with AC Milan’s Chief Revenue Officer Casper Stylsvig and Roc Nation International President Michael Yormark to discuss cultural crossover, the collision of music and sport, and what From Milan With Love: Next Gen says about the industry.

From Milan With Love: Next Gen will take place on Friday 20th November at 7:45pm GMT as a one-off live event, in a similar vein to its predecessor, which saw a variety of musical artists and famous AC Milan faces come together for a unique broadcast on the club’s social channels and music streaming platform TIDAL.

Presented by DJ Khaled and featuring the likes of Kelly Rowland, Robin Thicke and a host of Milan players and legends like Paolo Maldini, the initial event saw artists perform from home and was streamed to an audience worldwide.

At the request of Khaled himself, the pair just had to come back for ‘another one’. 

Originally, lifting the spirits of fans around the world was the main motivation for putting on a show. Milan was one of the first epicentres of the pandemic in Europe, and was one of the worst hit cities in the world, and it needed a reason to smile.

“We couldn't have the fans in the stadium and we wanted to reach out to them to show that AC Milan cares,” said Stylsvig. 

“I do recall the empty streets in Milan and the opening video we had was actually showing those empty streets, at the time it was quite a scary sight. To show that we care is really, really important: it's one of our core values. But on top of that, we also wanted to integrate our commercial partners, ensuring that we are also a caring brand and give them an opportunity also to activate and be a part of the unique event.”

Now though, Next Gen is pushing the concept to new heights.

Both Roc Nation and AC Milan are, at heart, event companies - the talent they represent are performers and their concerts and football matches are played out to large crowds. But there is a serious strategic point to what on the face of it might seem like an unlikely crossover: sport has arguably never been so strongly linked to wider culture as it is now.

“These artists,” said Yormark, “while they were sitting in their homes - many of them in America - had a sense of obligation and purpose to lean in and really pay tribute to the city of Milan and the first responders and the doctors and the nurses who did a really incredible job.

“They have, quite frankly, become huge fans of AC Milan since. Casper and his team have done an incredible job of embracing them and, and making them feel like they're part of the Milan family.

“Now Milan have new fans all over the world! These great artists are wearing their jerseys, and their hats, and their apparel which is also a great benefit of having them associated in this event.”

The power and influence of celebrities, like individual athletes, has grown with the social media age, especially so over lockdown when fans were still hungry for content and curious about the lives of their favourite players.

The number of athletes with fashion lines and musical tie-ins has never been greater, and the line between sport and lifestyle is becoming more and more blurred.

Paris Saint-Germain’s deal with Nike’s Jumpman brand took the club from the French capital into the world of fashion - not an illogical step given the location. Milan are in a similar position: a historic club based in another European fashion capital - surely the plan is to take advantage of that?

“When you think about who we are, as a company we touch culture, we touch lifestyle, we're in the fashion business as well, so working with a club like AC Milan who really wanted to get into that space was very appealing to us” said Yormark. “They are in one of the fashion capitals of the world and a brand that is committed to culture, committed to lifestyle, and committed to fashion and music. 

“It’s really touched the core competencies of our company, and that's why this relationship has been so natural for us.”

Stylsvig added: “At the moment we have the youngest team of any club in Europe’s top five leagues.” 

“We are very much focusing on young talent, and one of the reasons we think From Milan With Love: Next Gen is going to be a success is because it's very much aligned with what we stand for. 

“When the new ownership came in, they very quickly realised it's better to focus on developing young players, and our academy is obviously renowned across the world. So we’re really investing in those assets. 

“But another of our values is inclusivity. We're really focusing on our women’s team and treating it very much as an individual commercial asset. And there’s also the cultural diversity of the club as well. We have five different continents represented in the concert on  Friday night, but also on the pitch. The men’s first team has 15 different different nationalities. Between both the men’s and the women's first team, we have 23 nationalities. I'm Danish, our CEO is South African English - so we’re really focusing on cultural diversity.”

Yormark added: “The event really checks every box if you think about it. It champions youth, diversity and inclusion, equality… All the things that the club stands for will shine brightly on Friday night.”

While most of Europe is stuck in a second lockdown period, it still feels premature to be thinking too much about what happens next, when the worst of the pandemic subsides and the world is able to get back to something approaching normality.

But will that return to normal life be a return to what we had pre-pandemic or something much different, incorporating many of the digital strides organisations have been forced to make? Will AC Milan, Roc Nation, and others who may want to follow in their footsteps innovate further into the crossover space? 

“I think the partnership we have with Roc Nation - and the fact we pulled the first even off in a very short timeline - probably made us more brave,” said Stylsvig. “It’s made us think that we can do other events. And also, when we saw the feedback we got from it, we knew there was a market for this, we knew that the fan appreciated it and all the effort that went into this.”

And will these collaborations themselves become the new norm?

“I think the agency world would like to, I'm not sure if they have the capabilities or the resources,” said Yormark 

“We are an agency, but a very diversified one, and we're heavily involved in sport here in Europe. But when you think about our company back in the States, there's not a lot of organisations that have subject matter experts and the resources that we do to offer an organisation like AC Milan an opportunity to put on this type of show. 

“And you need an organisation like Milan that is so forward thinking. But you also have to have the resources, the infrastructure, the commitment, and the people to accomplish that. It's because of that, that we're able to do these kinds of events. 

“I don't think it's going to be the norm. But I will tell you, it'll be part of our norm, because we'll continue to build on this momentum.”