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Saturday March 28 2015
The biggest myth in Spanish football

It is constantly said that Spain is a football-loving country but, Garreth Nunn argues, things are not all that they seem…

There are certain stereotypes that come to mind when one thinks of Spain. Talk to any Spaniard about some of them and they will start to get annoyed. The image of a bull-fighting, sangria-drinking, siesta-sleeping nation has long angered the Spanish.

Yes, there are those that do like ‘los toros’ and when it’s hot in the summer it is not a bad idea to have a little drink with lunch and then to take a nap. But, what angers the Spanish is that the reality is greatly distorted. Yet, they are not keen to discard all stereotypes. In fact, one of the biggest that they are happy to preserve and allow be spread is the one where people claim that Spain is a football-loving country.

The simple truth is that Spain isn’t. It is nothing but a myth. The fact of the matter is that most Spanish football fans care only for their own club and nothing else.

First of all, nobody is saying that there is anything wrong with that. Most fans in Spain will admit to only following their team but the image the League and Spanish FA try to portray to the world is that Spain is a ‘football mad’ culture. It could be argued that following just your club is being a football fan but the truth and reality is, it isn’t.

In Spain, Madridistas will only look at Real Madrid games and then nothing else. Ask one why they don’t watch other games, the answer is normally ‘Why would I?’ And it is like this across the board, whether it be Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and so on. Most fans of La Liga only watch their team and read about their team. The other sides are irrelevant.

Some time spent in bars in Spain will prove the point to some degree. Sit and watch as the customers walk in and pick up whichever sports paper the bar has on the counter. The majority will go straight to the section on their team and may only read the rest if they are looking to kill time as they take the final slips of their coffee and beer. If there is a big story, the trend may be bucked, but even so, this is a rare occurrence. And it is not only the papers, it is also the television that strengthens the argument.

In Spain, all the terrestrial channels have daily sports sections after the news. In fact on some channels, the sports broadcast is longer than the news. This could be used to argue that Spain does indeed love football but try watching one. The majority of the shows are drivel and almost 80% dedicated to Real Madrid or Barca. It is true that they are Spain’s biggest clubs but that is not the reason for dedicating so much time to them.

The reason is advertising. Knowing that most of the country will turn off the television or turn the channel the minute the news about their team is over and knowing that there are far more Real Madrid or Barca fans than anyone else, broadcasters know the more news they do, no matter how bad it is, viewers will stay and they can charge more to advertisers.

Clubs such as Rayo Vallecano, Levante or Celta Vigo may have news but since they don’t attract viewers, they are put at the tail end of the show, if at all.

This week the Spanish media have been boasting non-stop at the millions that watched El Clasico. It is the second-most watched game in the world after the Champions League final. But what about the rest? Statistics from a comparison of Europe’s top League show that on average 12.3m people watch a Premier League game.

For La Liga, the figure drops to 2.2m, which is slightly higher than Germany but almost 2m lower than Italy. What makes the Premier League figure even more impressive is the fact that the majority of games in England’s top League are played on Saturday at 3pm, which means they cannot be shown on domestic TV. In Spain every La Liga game is televised and although fans must pay to see them, the price that is charged is a lot less than in England.

In the UK and Ireland, fans will watch Burnley. In Spain it is rare to see people watch someone like Deportivo la Coruna. And if they do watch, it is normally put on in the background with very little interest being paid.

The final example to prove the point is the Spain team. Before victory in the 2008 European Championships, very few Spaniards had an interest in the national side. In fact, tickets before 2008 for international ties were sold for as little as €5. Some argue that they didn’t support La Roja because of political reasons but the same people were only too happy to pull on a red shirt when Casillas et al started to bring home the silverware.

It is true that people are always more interested in winners but the metamorphosis of the national side has been impressive and it is hard to think of another example.

Of course it would be wrong to paint everyone with the same brush. There are many in Spain who watch football from different Leagues and have a vast knowledge of the game but they also admit that they are the minority. The media play a part in it but it is not their fault, they are just giving the people what they want.

The sad thing is that there are wonderful stories in Spain and unfortunately many of them will never be heard because a lunch menu of Real Madrid will always be more important than the story of the rise and fall of Alaves, for example.

As La Liga negotiates a new broadcast deal, which will see a fairer distribution of TV rights, maybe they should consider adding a clause that would see a fairer distribution of airtime too. Surely it can only be good for the League? 

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