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Interview with the Marketing Director of Athletic Bilbao. How to conserve an authentic image?

Roger Hampel

Athletic Club is a sports organization driven by traditional and ant-commercial values. This football club comes from Bilbao, plays in the Spanish league, but represents the Basque Country by promoting its values, identity and cultural traditions. This club is the only European club that contracts players of only one origin – Basque. At the same time that club is significantly limiting the choice of potentially available players which analytically involves an additional challenge while being competitive in the Spanish league. However, this club was never relegated to the second Spanish league, at the same time achieving many successes in different decades like 8 times Spanish Champion, 24 times Spanish Cup Winner, 3 times Spanish Supercup Winner, including the last in 2021 and numerous promotions to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europe League.

What's the key to their success? I decided to ask the Marketing Director of Athletic Club - Mitxel Etxebarria.


Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal): How does Athletic Club manage to conserve its authentic image for so many years and at the same time also conserve its good sporting and economic results? What is the key?

Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): First of all, I would like to say that there are two characteristics that stand out compared to the rest of the clubs. First of all, Athletic Club is not a Public Limited Company, it is a sports company and the owners are the 44,000 members of the club. The most important decisions are made by members voting among themselves. This situation is only shared with Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Osasuna. Besides these 4 clubs, in 1990 the other Spanish clubs were forced to become S.A, due to the large debts. Only these four teams could avoid it due to their good economic situation.

Source of the picture:


Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal): What is the other differentiation?

Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): The other differentiation is in our philosophy. While the rest of the clubs in the world sign players from all over the world, we only play with players born or educated in the Basque Country. It is a characteristic that, on the one hand, can penalize you when it comes to finding high-level players to fill some positions, but on the other hand, it creates a strong bond of belonging, pride in representing your team, defending it more strongly. We know that it is a difficult philosophy to maintain but for the moment we continue and continue to reach the finals and be in the top positions. Currently Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic are the only clubs that have never been relegated to the 2nd division. In order to fight against so much competition, we have to develop our academy better than anyone else, investing a lot of time and money in our “player factory”. This point is very important since it will be the basis of our successes.


Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): We are a club with a long history, one that respects our roots and where we come from, but at the same time we seek to be up-to-date, with a stadium, “San Mames”, on par with the best sports facilities in Spain and Europe.

San Memes Stadium in Bilbao. Source:

Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal): How is the club's economical situation right now?

Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): Economically, the situation is very good. On the one hand, the good management of our income, added to the income from television, and the millionaire sales of important players such as Javi Martinez, Laporte, Kepa Arrizabalaga... have left a lot of money in the Club. Money that has been used to reform and expand our sports city of Lezama. Like the culture of the Basque Country, the club's spending is very careful, never spending more than what is received, so as not to enter into unbearable debts for our club.

Athletic's Sports City in Lezama. Source of the picture:

Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): In addition to all this, our commitment to the ODS (Los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible eng. The Sustainable Development Goals) stands out. Through our foundation where we participate in many projects, these projects are divided into 5 areas: social, cultural, sports and academic, training and development, and environmental.

Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal): Could you say something more about the foundation?

Mitxel Etxebarria (Marketing Director at Athletic Club): The Foundation has many companies that collaborate, they are divided into different levels and contribute different economic amounts. On a personal level, you can become a member of the Foundation's Athletic club, where each person pays €50 a year. For some specific projects, crowdfunding has been carried out among fans to try to cover the costs of said action. The expenses charged to the Foundation include the projects that the foundation itself organizes, as well as the costs that the club has in Lezama with the lower categories. Athletic Club as a Founding Partner of the Athletic Foundation covers any gap in the Foundation's accounts.

Foundation of Athletic Club and Project Map. Source:


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