TV rights: Sign or strike?

When Atletico Madrid won League last year, it was said that Diego Simeone had done the impossible. After a decade of sharing the title, Real Madrid and Barcelona had been knocked off their perch and a duopoly was broken. But, not many believed it would stay broken for long and as this season draws to a close, and although Atletico are still in the race, it is hard to look beyond either Real Madrid or Barca as champions.

Throughout last season Cholo played down his side’s chances of winning the League. One of the main reasons for doing he said was the fact that his side couldn’t compete with the budget of the big two. In the end it was all a tactic but Simeone did touch on something. While Los Blancos and Los Cules have a bigger revenue base than other clubs, there can be no denying that the big chunk of the broadcasting revenue for La Liga they receive slopes the playing field in their direction. Things are said to be changing but are they really?

Last year the champions of La Liga earned over €30m less than the three relegated sides form the Premier League. In fact the likes of Cardiff and Fulham will make more in parachute payments playing in the second tier than the likes of Getafe or Levante playing in Spain’s top flight. Last season Rayo Vallecano got in the region of €11m from TV rights while other sides made 10 times that.

For a while the individual negotiations that take place between Spanish clubs and TV broadcasters has been criticised and with the new Premier League contract recently announced, voices are getting louder. Real Madrid and Barca make roughly €140m each and then there is almost a €100m gap between them and the next highest earners, Atletico and Valencia. The ratio between the team that makes the most and the least in England is 1.5 to 1 while in Spain it is 10 to 1. With this in mind, change has been called for.

After some envious glances across at the Premier League, the push to collectively negotiate has been gaining momentum. A few years ago, the rest of the League clubs grouped together and took a ‘united we stand’ approach as they tried to persuade Real Madrid and Barcelona to abandon individual negotiating and all work together. Last summer, Barca said that they were open to the idea and have since come on board. Where Real Madrid lie is somewhat unclear.

There have been comments that suggest that they are on board but others that seem to imply that they are against and are one of the reasons for the delay in a deal been agreed and signed. But, the truth is that the real hold up is not Real Madrid’s fault or the clubs’. Of the 42 clubs that are negotiating, 41 have agreed to the new deal. Only Athletic Bilbao are against it. Yet, the real delay comes from the Spanish government, and it is becoming something of a circus.

The current regulators of the League broadcasting rights are the RFEF. Its President, Angel Maria Villar, has been making all the wrong types of headlines lately and doesn’t appear to be about to stop anytime soon. Villar and the LFP President, Javier Tebas, have a frosty relationship. Tebas wants the LFP to control the rights and also wants to reduce the percentage that the FA would receive. This has thrown Villar into a rage and so he has met with the Spanish government.

Why? Because for any new deal to be signed, the Spanish government must sign it into law and this change of law would result in the LFP taking control of the TV rights. The RFEF, fearing a similar situation to the English FA and the Premier League, are determined to maintain control and so have brought FIFA into the mix. Sepp Blatter has backed Villar and told the Spanish government that should they interfere in the situation [by changing the law], FIFA will have to act – Spain may be suspended from FIFA and UEFA and so might its clubs.

For this reason and with a General Election and local elections coming this year, the government are weary about signing a new law that could see severe repercussions and the blame for said repercussions being laid at their feet. But time is of the essence and somebody has to fold or an agreement that suits both sides needs to be made. The broadcasting rights that are being negotiated are for the forthcoming season.

It may seem ludicrous that with less than six months before the 2015-16 season kicks off that nobody knows who will be broadcasting the games. As the old tourism poster said: Spain is different. Clubs are desperate to end this debacle and so too are the LFP. So for that reason they issued the government with a threat: Sign or we strike.

The date for the proposed strike is the El Clasico weekend. With the deadline having passed for the government to sign, a meeting was to have taken place this weekend to see if clubs would follow up on their threat. Tebas has delayed that meeting until March 9 and Villar has come out and suggested that a joint committee, involving people from the LFP and the RFEF, be set up to regulate the TV rights.

Does this mean that an agreement is on the horizon? Anybody that knows Spain will tell you not to hold your breath and rumours of clubs having already opened back up talks just in case have started to go around.

For many the duopoly’s dominance in the domestic League is a direct result from the gap in TV revenue. It would be hard to argue that it doesn’t play a part and some feel that their grip on the top will loosen. But, Real Madrid and Barcelona will still be making their €140m if the new deal is signed. The only difference is that now, other clubs will be getting a bigger chunk and become more competitive.

That said, with the state of many club’s finances, it is hard to see the extra money being used for anything but paying off debts and so we may need to wait at least a decade for the rest of the clubs to get to a competitive level. La Liga has been here before and had to step back. Will this be another time when so much was promised and nothing delivered? Next week should provide some answers on that.