Football is back on European television screens. The grass is still green, but the empty stands remind of the sad realities of 2020. Someone left the seats empty, and someone covered them with banners or sat on them mannequins sold in adult stores.In Spain, however, they went the other way. Here the empty stands were replaced by computer ones. Small animated dots move and shimmer in a desperate attempt to brighten up the depressing silence and empty stadiums that echo. This is a modern solution to a unique problem, and nothing else we expected from La Liga, where experimentation is the norm.
While the Spanish viewers are forced to watch the action on TV, the league leadership asked a different question – how to interest the Americans? With their own, everything is clear – they grew up on local football, and they will not exchange it for anything. But the United States – a growing and attractive market – has long been a target for one of the most innovative leagues on the planet.
“For us, the United States is the most important country after Spain,” La Liga President Javier Tebas told Sports Illustrated … – The League is trying to do everything to attract American spectators and fans. We need to find new fans. ”
The purchasing power of the population is the main reason Tebas is so interested in the US. The television audience, the level of television and marketing, all make this country incredibly attractive for European football – or “soccer” as it is called here. In fact, it is an untapped resource that cannot be taken into our hands.
“We are working on this tirelessly. And just playing a couple of games in the USA isn’t enough – you need something else. And we think that. We must always move forward, otherwise certain death awaits us. ”
The President’s words remind us once again how football has changed and how globalization has affected it. If earlier each club lived in its own city, now the most cherished spectators can be on other continents and pay with a different currency. Spectators can also place bets on the matches of their favorite teams on the Parimatch bookmaker’s website https://parimatch.co.tz/en/. With each new year, Asia and America seem to be an increasingly tidbit for clubs hoping to export their brand overseas.
Perhaps few leagues are as committed to globalization as Primera … It hired 43 so-called “delegates” who travel around the world. There are 11 international offices representing the interests of Spanish football.
The process began in the summer of 2017, after Barcelona and Real Madrid held a friendly match near Miami. The International Champions Cup at Hard Rock Stadium attracted more than 66 thousand spectators and brought the organizers $ 38 million in profit. Having looked at such numbers, La Liga and Relevent (the organizer and promoter of the cup, owned by Stephen Ross) began to think about closer cooperation.
“Relevent spoke with La Liga. “You cannot come to the US every four years hoping that it will be enough to keep interest in the television rights for your league. You have to work with the market, do something every day, and this is the only way your brand will grow, ”explained Boris Gartner, a former member of the Board of Televisa and Univision.
And so it happened that two years ago La Liga and Relevent formed La Liga North America. The 15-year joint venture, where both participants compete on an equal footing, was created to promote Spanish football and attract American and Canadian sponsors. At the moment, Relevent has invested about $ 10 million in the project.
“Ask any football director directly, and he will immediately start flooding about what he either has or is planning a tactic to enter the American market,” continues Gartner. “But almost no one has the resources to do something.”
But why invest? Why so much work? The fact is that even though La Liga remains the leader of European football (UEFA coefficients will not let you lie – Spain remains the leader), it is not so relevant in the second most important market for Tebas.
What is popular in the USA? Well, for example, Liga MX – Mexico Football Championship. If only because at least 40 million US residents are Mexicans. There remains an interest in the Premier League, the most prestigious league that offers everything – intrigue, top clubs, and a palatable brand. England also benefited greatly from the collaboration with the American broadcaster NBC. You can also watch the Bundesliga without any problems in the USA, which has been broadcast by the ubiquitous Fox for five years now, and in which a very high percentage of American players – the highest in Europe.
“We have been working on the project for almost two years, at that time how the nuclear submarine was entrenched here much earlier. Need to catch up. But even if we stimulate growth rates, we are still very far from their indicators. ”
The Spaniards were not lucky. When football returned after a forced pause, the excitement was everywhere, but the British and Germans benefited from it first of all. BeIN Sports, the broadcast partner of La Liga, is going through hard times. The Qatari company broadcasts Example matches to 17 countries, but its US audience has halved since Comcast and DirecTV stopped working with it. If in the 2017-18 season the audience was about 55 million subscribers (we are talking about both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking viewers), now it has decreased to 27 million. And nothing can be done about it: last year a new four-year contract was signed until 2024.
“Because of this, our audience is smaller, so we are trying to work on other strategies,” Tebas confirmed. “I think a balance is needed between profit motivation and media impact.”
Gartner also has to force himself to be optimistic. In principle, everything is in order with finances: BeIN pays La Liga “almost” the same $ 167 million per season that the Premier League receives from NBC. The league is obviously highly valued.
“If you are the main feature of the TV channel, it will do everything in its power to advertise you. We also cannot help but pay attention to the failures of competitors: Serie A is now on ESPN Plus, and the Bundesliga, which was first buried somewhere in the backyard of Fox, is now in the same place. The Champions League had a great chance to come to terms with Univision, but instead it is vegetating on B / R Live. We can boast of an English-speaking and Spanish-speaking audience and a TV channel that won’t hide us anywhere – we are very important to him. ”
Gartner continues:“ Everything we do relates to what the clubs need. We ask which is more important – coverage or profit. Some will say that coverage is more important because their plan is built to last and brand awareness is most important to them. We agree and come to a result where the profit will be 20% lower. Here they can twitch and back down. ”
And they can be understood, because in La Liga every penny is counted. Here, two of the richest clubs in the country run everything. This is the second major problem. Examples. Barcelona and Real Madrid attract spectators from all over the world. Yes, they play in La Liga … but they are bigger than La Liga itself. Their disproportionate power leads many to consider most of the championship matches meaningless. El Clásico is cool, but all the other teams and derbies are lost against his background. “Osasunas”, “Levantes” and other such teams are practically unknown to the overseas viewer.
The strength of these two eternal rivals cannot be overstated: this duo is responsible for 14 of the last 15 championships. And although the Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 all suffer from the monopoly of one club, historically it was different: many teams in other countries managed to fill their trophy rooms with cups and fall in love with fans from all over the world. In comparison, only five Spanish clubs have won at least three championships. In England there are 14 such teams, in Germany – 12, in Italy – 8, in France – 14, and in Mexico – 12.
This is a powerful league, there are no questions, and this is only confirmed by the success of Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in the Europa League, where they won five and three cups respectively. But the fact that this couple was able only once in the last 15 years to gnaw off the championship in the league shows how unfriendly La Liga is to upstarts below the second line.
Tebas, Gartner and their colleagues want the league to progress, but to do this, they need US viewers to remember the names of 18 more clubs. Where are Real Sociedad from? Who can be called the best Leganes player? What colors does Valladolid appear in? The easier it is to answer these questions, the easier it will be to attract interest.
“All Spanish football was built on Real Madrid and Barcelona, and nothing can be done about it. But even this does not prevent La Liga from being the largest football league on a par with the Premier League, Tebas believes. – The main thing for us is that other clubs also grow. We don’t want artificial intrigue, we want other strong teams like Atlético and Sevilla to appear. So that they, too, become champions and end the hegemony of “creamy” and “blaugrana.”
These are not empty words: back in 2015, Tebas undertook a reform, thanks to which it was possible to take control of the rights to license the league for the first time. Previously, each club separately decided the issue of licensing for television rights, because of which small clubs got almost nothing. Earlier, the TV profit margin was 12: 1, and after the 2018-19 season, it was 3.5: 1.
The money for the European competition is still not divided among everyone, so Real, Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Atletico and Valencia still win, but there is progress, and tangible.
Meanwhile, La Liga North America is trying not only to shove the emblems of Real Madrid and Barca everywhere, but also to advertise the competition itself. The main message is not El Clásico alone.
“It would be crazy to develop a brand while ignoring such popular clubs as Real Madrid and Barcelona,” confirms Gartner. “On the other hand, it’s just as crazy not to use this platform to promote Atletico and other lesser-known teams.”
BeIN is important: the company produces its own digital content, which includes 12 weekly shows ( half in Spanish) especially for American audiences. Among the hosts is the charismatic and groovy former US football player Jimmy Conrad. And there are results: the audience of YouTube and social networks has almost quadrupled.
“We tell all kinds of facts about clubs, sentimental stories, not necessarily related to the sport itself, “adds Tebas.
” You can shoot a show about Messi and it will get several million views, because it’s Messi. It takes a lot of work to ensure that 10 less high-profile stories grab the attention of a similar audience, confirms Gartner. – Can I tell you something about Betis, Andres Guardado and Diego Laines. The interest will be much less, but the Hispanic population will be thrilled. ”
For Gartner, playing with demographics is everything. America’s fast-growing Spanish-speaking population that is passionate about football is essential to his long-term plans to bring La Liga to the fore.
“The country is becoming more and more variegated, and there are more and more people who already love football. If we talk about the United States, then football may be the fourth most popular. But his audience is growing, and where does this growth come from? A young, multicultural audience that prefers football to other sports. ”
And it’s not just about content and sponsors (there are already three partners, and two more will be connected soon): La Liga North America works closely with children … She helped launch academy and soccer camps in Miami and Toronto. La Liga ProPlayer motivates senior graduates of Spanish football academies to move to the US, go to college, graduate and play local soccer. Of the 21 teams from the first and second Spanish divisions, 26 guys decided to take part in the program. As soon as they find themselves in a new country, they begin to talk about all the delights of Spanish football with foam at the mouth. Well, visiting fans working in bars and restaurants turn their establishments into La Liga temples, where you can always watch the game live.
But the main thing is the matches themselves. La Liga North America has long dreamed of hosting Spanish League matches in the United States – and more often. This is something that no one else in Europe has done, and such ambitions are much controversial. The first attempt failed: the planned meeting between Girona and Barcelona in January 2019 fell through – RFEF (Spanish Football Federation), the US Football Federation and the Football Confederation of North and Central America and the Caribbean did not have time to agree among themselves.
“We sincerely believe that the official La Liga match in the USA is a logical step to further popularize the international football of the USA and La Liga. American sport uses the same strategy, ”Gartner said, citing the experience of the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.
Not everyone agrees with these findings. In 2018, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was underwhelmed. Then he admitted that it would be better if the USA had an excellent MLS game than the La Liga match. The football federations of Spain and the USA (partners of the American MLS League) are all the more opposed. In 2018, La Liga sued RFEF in hopes of obtaining permission to host matches in the United States. In 2019, Relevent did the same, filing an antitrust case against the US Football Federation.
Either way, we will not see a La Liga match in the US anytime soon. Maybe that won’t happen at all. Nothing – all interested parties are in no hurry. The contract is for 15 years. The BeIN deal will last for four more seasons, and the 2026 World Cup will be another way to get Americans interested in football. Everything is going according to plan.