To Asia, Taking La Liga Beyond Real Madrid and Barcelona

In July last year, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez made a major push to get at least one La Liga game a week played earlier in the day to attract Asian audiences and support: “The change is vital if the Spanish league is to compete with the English,” he said. “The revenue figures for our clubs this year will be around the €1.55bn mark, in England the figure is closer to €2.4bn. It is not just the TV deals themselves but the potential repercussions that being shown prime time in Japan can have on marketing revenues.”

A year on, and it looks like this change to La Liga kick-off times will actually happen, following an offseason that has revealed just how parlous Spanish finances are, Barcelona’s debt and Mallorca’s financial troubles only the most obvious examples. It’s now apparent La Liga executives see a shift to suit Asian television audiences as critical not just for revenue growth at Real Madrid and Barcelona, but for the whole league — even if it’s at the expense of Spanish tradition.

I would argue that there are root problems in La Liga’s foundations behind these levels of debt that need to be addressed with as much urgency as reaching out to a new market, but at least La Liga is starting to realise that a two-club league is not the way forward, as World Football Insider reports.

“We are trying to change gear the way the Spanish league is promoted, not only the league but the players and also the sport of football,” Francisco Roca, La Liga’s chief executive, told Soccerex delegates today.

“I say changing gears because so far most of the promotion of the Spanish league has been driven by the individual efforts of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“This has been extremely successful for us because those are the two elite teams of the Spanish league, but it’s not enough.

“They will obviously continue to do their individual efforts to do their tours every pre-season but we think that as a competition we are mature enough to be able to promote not only our two elite teams but also the other teams of the Spanish league, especially the first division.”

Famously, unlike the Premier League, television rights in Spain are sold individually by clubs, with the income for Barcelona and Real Madrid dwarfing all other clubs: Real Madrid and Barcelona have deals worth about €150 million  a season, while the likes of Valencia and Sevilla earn around €30 million a year, at best. Ultimately, as great as that is for Barcelona and Real Madrid in the short term, in the long run it makes for a weaker league and a less appealing global “product” (ugh). The Premier League and Manchester United have demonstrated the ancillary benefit of being seen as the biggest and best club in the biggest and best league, at least as collective marketing power has driven that perception.

If any informed Spanish observer knows, I’d be curious to learn if overseas television revenue is also sold individually by clubs in La Liga, or whether it’s sold collectively and shared equally: if it is the latter as I suspect it is, it would appear this drive to the Asian market may be one way to financially compensate for that huge domestic imbalance in revenue, that only hurts smaller clubs and drives madcap spending by the big two. Because while there has been discussion of selling La Liga rights collectively in the domestic Spanish market too, such is Barcelona’s debt and reliance on their individual television deal that seems very unlikely to change right now.

Elsewhere, in discussion of that imbalance and the drive to the Asian market, La Liga CEO Francisco Roca said, according to SportBusiness, that “this is not about short-term. The real benefits are in the medium and long-term. As a league we have to promote our clubs and we have to recognise that promoting the league is not just about Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.”

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