Football: La Liga sets out to rein in English Premier League

Barcelona's superstar attacking trio of Argentinian Lionel Messi (left), Brazilian Neymar (centre) and Uruguayan Luis Suarez taking pictures with children who gate-crashed a training session in Spain. The Spanish Primera Liga did not market itself strongl
Barcelona's superstar attacking trio of Argentinian Lionel Messi (left), Brazilian Neymar (centre) and Uruguayan Luis Suarez taking pictures with children who gate-crashed a training session in Spain. The Spanish Primera Liga did not market itself strongly internationally until recent years. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ALL-ROUND BOOST  We have the best teams, players, and academies. We hope that the quality of our league will help to close the gap to our competitors within the next three years.  FERNANDO SANZ, La Liga ambassador, on the appeal of his football league.
ALL-ROUND BOOST We have the best teams, players, and academies. We hope that the quality of our league will help to close the gap to our competitors within the next three years. FERNANDO SANZ, La Liga ambassador, on the appeal of his football league.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Changes aimed at lifting viewership and commercial success, along with quality

La Liga is going on a charm offensive, aiming to woo viewers as it attempts to combat the popularity of the English Premier League (EPL).

Spanish teams are considered the best in the world, having provided three of the last five Champions League winners and the last seven Fifa Ballon d'Or winners.

Despite this, the league still lags behind the EPL in terms of popularity and commercial success. La Liga charged US$3.25 billion (S$4.5 billion) for broadcasting rights from 2016 to 2019.

 

By way of contrast, the Premier League charged US$7.2 billion for broadcasting rights over the same period.

LFP (National Professional Football League) president Javier Tebas detailed its initiatives to narrow the gap with the EPL at the Sportel Asia World Marketing & Media Convention Conference yesterday.

"The satisfaction of La Liga fans is the most important to us. Through our plan, we hope to be able to bring La Liga closer to fans worldwide," he said.

ALL-ROUND BOOST

We have the best teams, players, and academies. We hope that the quality of our league will help to close the gap to our competitors within the next three years.

FERNANDO SANZ, La Liga ambassador, on the appeal of his football league.

One crucial part of their plan is implementing earlier kick-offs to accommodate audiences in Asia. In 2015, the 5pm kick-off (midnight Singapore time) was moved up to 4.30pm.

Tebas said that in the 2016-17 season, the kick-off will be moved even earlier to 4pm (10pm Singapore time from March 27 to Oct 30, and 11pm in other months). There will also be kick-offs at noon and 1pm local time on weekends.

He also highlighted plans to have staggered kick-offs. There will also be half-hour long pre-game shows which will be unique to each region.

Teams will be given a manual on how to maximise the appearance of their stadiums in order to increase the visual quality of La Liga matches. There will also be efforts to address illegal streaming and piracy.

La Liga will also be increasing global outreach. This includes initiatives to boost the profiles of teams other than Barcelona and Real Madrid.

  • La Liga's 5-part plan
  • •Earlier kick-offs, with some matches to start at 4pm local time next season (10pm Singapore time from March 27 until Oct 30 and 11pm during other months)

    •Staggered matches, with pre-game shows offering content unique to each region.

    •A manual for teams to modify their stadiums to maximise visual appeal.

    •Increased global outreach, with La Liga ambassadors and official screenings of La Liga matches.

    •Send teams to different regions to interact with fans and raise the profile of all teams within the league.

For instance, ST understands that there are plans for Valencia, who are owned by Singapore businessman Peter Lim, to play a La Liga team annually here.

There will also be official screenings of La Liga games worldwide, such as the one in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb 27.

Peter Draper, commercial and marketing director of Valencia, believes that earlier kick-off times will boost the popularity of La Liga in Asia.

"It makes a massive difference here as people do not have to wait until late to watch the games. Being able to watch the games live will drive interest in the La Liga."

Fernando Sanz, the first La Liga global ambassador, agrees.

"Before, the kick-off timings were very late for Asia. Changing them will help cater to our fans," he said.

Sanz believes that the gap between La Liga and the EPL is due to the former's late entry into the international market. "We only started to expand our international development when Tebas became president of the LFP in 2013."

Sanz, who won the Champions League with Real in 1998, believes that recent changes in allocating TV rights revenue are crucial in levelling the playing field.

Previously, each team had to negotiate their own rights deals with broadcasting partners, giving giants Barcelona and Real the upper hand.

However, new rules mean that the money will now be split more fairly among the 20 teams in the La Liga.

"The old model of distributing rights was wrong," he said.

"With the new system, there is more equality between clubs."

Sanz believes that the quality of La Liga will enable it to catch up or even surpass the popularity of the EPL within the next few years.

"We have the best teams, players, and academies. We hope that the quality of our league will help to close the gap to our competitors within the next three years."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'LA LIGA SETS SIGHTS ON EPL'. Print Edition | Subscribe