BLOG ESPANA
Friday October 12 2018
La Liga competitiveness ensures edge over Premier League

Exciting and unpredictable start to La Liga campaign gives it a competitive edge over England's Premier League, writes Kieran Thomas.

There is no secret to the fact that Javier Tebas and others at the top of Spain’s highest domestic football competition have been desperately trying to make La Liga as globally successful and appealing as England’s Premier League for quite some time. Various schemes have been born to get a slice of the global pie in international markets.

Since 2013, La Liga has opened and operated offices in Shanghai, New York, Johannesburg, Delhi and Dubai and has active representatives in over 40 countries worldwide who help promote the league with a goal of increasing viewership in Asia by 2020 from 200m to a staggering 400m.

One strategy attempted was to alter kick-off times: the late 2017 El Clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu had its kick-off changed from 21:00 to 13:00 local time to catch viewers in Asia and in addition to this the game was shown on a free to view channel in the Philippines for the first time ever.

But forget all the schemes. The main driving force behind an appealing football league is competition. Something that is not as easy as you may think to achieve and at present in the current campaign La Liga may be on the right track, but how has the dynamic seemingly changed?

At the moment, the weekly market of live football is dominated by the Premier League via IMG & Premier League productions who licence content to a number of broadcasters and in the year of 2017 the Premier League earned 40 percent more than La Liga.

And according to POWA index, out of the top 20 most commercially valuable organisations worldwide, six of them are from the Premier League. Last season Arsenal, who finished sixth, agreed a new £300m technical sponsorship with Adidas but it would be impossible to believe that Real Betis could do the same.

If the highest league in Spain is going to gain market share and increase earnings they must gain ground in these key viewership zones and a more competitive La Liga would have far more impact than playing regular season matches in the United States ever could.

Eleven Sports picked up the UK TV rights for La Liga this season after more than two decades on Sky Sports. Sky had their reduced bid rejected after they had concluded that there wasn’t enough interest in Spanish football from UK audiences to justify the annual £18m fee they had paid since 2015.

Eleven, owned by Andrea Radrizzani, believe there is an appetite for Spanish Football and stated that the combined audience for the last two El Clásico fixtures was one million, with the Mirror reporting that the UK average for El Clásico is 647,524. However, that figure is surprisingly low when compared to the 1,975,583 average viewers for the Manchester Derby.

La Liga is a competitive league although in terms of the top two it has very rarely changed season by season with Atlético Madrid being the only league winner outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the past decade. One of the main reasons why the Premier League is so appealing would be that there is a lot going on between all 20 sides and that all participants have had money virtually shared equally between them.

For a long time this has caused debate in Spain as TV distribution money has been far from equal with Madrid and Barca both thriving commercially whilst the smaller clubs have often struggled to stay afloat, helping the big boys to remain virtually unchallenged at the top.

In the 2014/15 season, Barcelona walked away with €140m whilst UD Almeria who finished bottom and were relegated earned just €18m. However, during the 2015/16 season a new rights distribution model was introduced to ensure equal sharing of wealth across the league. In 2016/17, Athletic Club Bilbao earned €71m and Leganes made €39.6m, which in turn has led to the 2018/19 campaign where the dynamic appears to have changed for the better and potentially a very entertaining product going forward.

This new La Liga campaign is looking extremely exciting now both Spanish football giants Madrid and Barca have stumbled and one which is backed up by stats. It is officially the tightest start to La Liga in 17 years as just six points separate Sevilla at the top to 12th-placed Eibar. Sevilla have not topped the table after eight league games since the 1945/46 campaign, when Los Rojiblancos won their first and only La Liga title.

Fifth-placed Espanyol are level on points with Real Madrid and just two points from the top while are also the only team with a perfect home record so far this season with four wins from four.

Uncharacteristically times have been tough for Spanish footballs big boys who are suffering from a highly competitive campaign.  Ezequiel Garay’s goal after only 78 seconds was the fastest goal scored against Barca since 2011. Surprise packages Alaves won their first home game against Real Madrid in 87 years. Madrid are also currently experiencing their worst goal drought in their history after failing to score in four consecutive games in all competitions for the first time since April 1985.

This potential change in dynamic has led to La Liga viewers becoming glued to their television and if the trend continues throughout the entire 2018/19 campaign it could help grow the league and La Liga could even take over the Premier League to be perceived as the most competitive league in the world.

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