Football: La Liga to take the fight to EPL in Asia

LaLiga president Javier Tebas (middle) speaking at a press conference to announce the opening of their new office in Singapore. The Spanish league is hoping to appeal to Asian audiences more attuned to EPL.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas (middle) speaking at a press conference to announce the opening of their new office in Singapore. The Spanish league is hoping to appeal to Asian audiences more attuned to EPL.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Boss aims to show it's more than a two-team league and new S'pore office is proof of intent

It is unlikely that football fans will ever see Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi play for the same team on the pitch.

But, off it, the duo are the standard bearers to spearhead LaLiga's popularity drive in Asia, being the key players of its two biggest clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Spain's top-flight football league opened its fourth office in Asia in Singapore yesterday, after making inroads in Dubai, China and India.

Its president Javier Tebas believes his brand is worthy of the world's best league tag, even though it is perceived as the two mega clubs, Real and Barca, dwarfing everyone else.

The first step, according to the 54-year-old, is to establish LaLiga as a brand, and in doing so, raising the profiles of other clubs like Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.

He said: "We are working very hard on branding. If you look at Sevilla, they are the Europa League champions for the past three seasons. This is just one example of how we can show our brand is more than just two clubs.

NO DOUBT ABOUT QUALITY

We have the best players in the world... Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Bale. They are playing for our teams.These are clubs with history.

FERNANDO MORIENTES, former Real Madrid and Liverpool striker, strongly believes the world's top football players are all featuring in Spain's LaLiga.

"We are also changing the timing of our live matches (to suit Asian audiences). We are also going to analyse social network trends and on top of that, we are going to have an office in Singapore.

"Geographically, Singapore is the centre of the area (South-east Asia). Valencia is owned by a Singaporean (billionaire Peter Lim), so that's very important.

"Twenty-five per cent of the world's population is in Asia, this is always an important area for us to grow."

LaLiga's office, which is situated at Great World City, will roll out future projects like exhibition matches, player visits and grassroots football programmes.

At yesterday morning's launch held at the National Gallery, the league brought along former Real players Fernando Sanz and Fernando Morientes, along with Spain's Olympic badminton champion Carolina Marin, as ambassadors.

For Morientes, who also played for Liverpool and Valencia, the sheer strength of LaLiga comes from the quality of its football and trophies won.

Spanish clubs had won five out of the last 10 Champions League titles, including the last three on the trot while between Ronaldo and Messi, they claimed eight out of the last 10 Ballon d'Ors, awarded annually to the world's best player.

Morientes, 40, told The Straits Times: "We have the best players in the world... Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, (Gareth) Bale. They are playing for our teams. And there is a third big club, Atletico (Madrid).

"These are clubs with history. They are also dominant in the last 10 years and known for their technical football, unlike the English league, which is physical. It is easier for the world's best players to play in Spain.

"Asia is far away from Spain but the supporters here love football. We need to be here to be close to them.

"Singapore is one of the farthest countries I had been to. Last night, I was out for dinner with Fernando Sanz and we were recognised on the streets. It's a nice feeling to know people so far away from Spain support LaLiga."

And local fans who managed to snag wefies with the obliging Morientes will be persons of interest for the Spanish league. Tebas, who has presided over LaLiga for the past four years, revealed that Microsoft will provide the league with social media analytics from this July to help them better engage fans.

He said: "On social networks, we already have 300 million fans in Asia alone. It's a nice number but it will be nicer if the families of these 300 million fans become LaLiga fans themselves. So we have to work hard to make this happen."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'La Liga to take the fight to EPL in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe