Celta Vigo were recently fined for low attendances at Balaidos. Surely there must be a better way for La Liga to deal with this, especially considering that O Celestes already have their own issues with their stadium to contend with.
Work to renovate the stadium has not been without controversy or delays. The club’s owner has even gone as far as threatening to move Celta out of the city to build their own ground, amidst disputes with the Mayor of Vigo over its ownership and heavy storms damaging part of the venue, prompting a money-spinning clash with Real Madrid to be called off at the start of the year.
With a capacity of 29,000, Celta had an average crowd of approximately 16,500 last season. The first four home games have seen an average of 13,291, with the home game against Alaves being watched by just 6,133. This sees the ground filled at an average of only around 45 percent of its capacity.
Clearly the Galicians are struggling to attract fans through the turnstiles. Ticket prices, however, are reasonable. The lowest price to see a game is €15, so wouldn't La Liga - where you can bet on football - be better off working with one of their own clubs to help them attract fans?
This is a side that marketed the League in the best possible way last season, thanks to their incredible run to the Europa League semi-finals. Helping with kick-off times or subsidising tickets could be ways to assist. Fining a club should only be a last resort and reserved for teams who don't comply with rules - not for a modest-sized club punching above their weight.
The powers that be are obviously concerned low crowds will look bad on television and put potential viewers off. Already there has been talk of fans being placed strategically to suit TV audiences. La Liga has seen the success of the Premier League and is clearly on a mission to market their ‘product’ in a similar way.
It’s easy to understand why; there are no questions about the huge financial success that the English Premier League enjoys. Clever marketing has seen the popularity of the English game soar, and with this popularity comes cash. Lots of it.
There are many reasons for this success and it would be far too simplistic to put it down to one individual factor. One thing is for sure; the stadia in England tend to be full, and the raucous atmosphere generated off the pitch can sometimes enhance a mediocre performance on it.
The Premier League has definitely maximised the 'fan culture' in England. It is this, it seems, that the football authorities in Spain are looking to emulate. Kick-off times in Spain have even been moved to accommodate the lucrative TV audiences abroad. The Clasico was moved to 15:15 BST last term for such a reason.
There are many reasons people will choose to watch La Liga, though. The quality of football and the players in the League are the obvious attractions. The Ballon d'Or has been won by a Primera player every year since 2009. Its clubs have dominated continental competitions in the same period, making the strength of Spanish football indisputable.
Given the legendary Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu are not always at full capacity for domestic games puts Celta’s struggles in context. But that doesn't put viewers off - Barcelona and Madrid can command any TV audience around the globe.
Therefore, to actively fine a League side for not being able to fill their stadium is ludicrous. Having reached the Europa League semi-finals last season, while also finishing a modest 13th domestically, it was a relatively-successful campaign for the side from Galicia. When you consider the budget they are working within, the achievement seems even more impressive.
Indeed, after La Liga recently published the budgets for each of its clubs, it shows the financial disparity sides such as Celta are working against. Their budget is dwarfed when compared to the likes of Barca and Madrid, which makes the recent news that the League has fined Juan Carlos Unzue’s side for their low attendances even more absurd.
Celta have been a recent success story for Spanish football. They should be supported, not admonished for something they have little control over.
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