“Our objective is to catch up with the Premier League and prevent it from turning into the NBA of football”, frequently claims Javier Tebas, President of La Liga. Such statement was made for the last time during the renowned Leaders Sports Summit, which took place this week in London with the presence of most of the main influential figures in the industry and, of course, with extensive media coverage.
How are you planning to do it?, asked perplexed the journalists from the most prestigious English media. The truth is that it sounds highly ambitious and looks like it’s going to be a long process, based on the existing differences between La Liga and the Premier League. Let me elaborate on this.
In the 2013-14 season the Premier League reached its historical revenues record, after increasing club revenues a remarkable 32% to get close to 3,900 million euros. La Liga also set a new record at 1,933 million euros, far from the English competition and behind the German Bundesliga (2,275). The main driver to this important gap are the incredible TV rights contracts that the Premier League keeps signing cycle after cycle, which from next season onwards will represent a total of 3,600m€ per season to be shared between the 20 clubs from the UK, at an average of whopping 180m€ per club. These astonishing numbers do not come only as a result of a brilliant management. It also has to do with a globalization policy which kicked off two decades ago, based on the free distribution of the rights in the key markets to benefit from a high attendance to every game week after week –during the 2014-15 season the average attendance per game was over 36,000 and an occupancy rate of a 96%-.
La Liga has a plan
Most of the clubs in La Liga, led by its president, have fought tirelessly to get approved a Decree-Law which establishes that TV rights will be sold centrally from now on. This is fantastic news for La Liga and a crucial first step to close the gap with the Premier League. The new regulatory framework, originally due to be effective from next season on, but already benefiting clubs in the present season, means not only economic salvation for the most humble clubs in the tournament, but also the opportunity to have more funds and resources to invest in more and better players.
Thus, sports differences between the larger and smaller clubs should be gradually reduced (even more with the ongoing debt reduction) so it is no longer usual to see Barcelona and Real Madrid win virtually all points, improving the technical quality and excitement of the games and ultimately getting a better show to attract fans to the stadiums and to sell more and better TV rights in the world.
Stars and successful sides, the product to be sold
La Liga is indisputably better than the Premier League in one key aspect, the Spanish competition has the best players in the world (Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo monopolize the last 7 Ballon d’Or) and their teams enjoy a higher degree of success in international competitions (Champions and Europa League were won by Spanish clubs last season), while English teams continue to accumulate failures since Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012. That’s why la Liga has 4 teams in the top 10 of UEFA coefficient, while Premier League’s Chelsea is the only English team in the rank and just placed in tenth position. All this despite spending twice as much as La Liga on players’ signings (1,169m€ this summer vs. 518 spent by La Liga).
So, with the best players in the world, a better sporting proposition and a brand new sales team (which includes among others the former marketing director of UEFA), La Liga has embarked on the conquest of the best sponsorship deals and TV rights contracts (alongside Mediapro) with promising initial results.
Doubling TV revenues in 2 years and getting a new main sponsor
The plan could not have started any better. In the blink of an eye, the League has gone from 800 million on TV rights for the 2014-15 season to 1200 million for the present season (50% more), projecting over 1500 million for 2016-17. Despite being still far from the Premier League, it is certainly a good start. The next step will be identifying a replacement for BBVA, which has already announced that it will not continue to be the naming partner of the competition next season. Fortunately, La Liga will not compete with the Premier League here because, despite Barclays’ contract expiring by the end of the season, its executives have already announced that they will not give a new "name" from now on to their precious competition.
The "haunt" for international revenues has already started and the main scenario of the battle to reach the Premier League will certainly be Asia, where the British are clearly ahead of the Spanish (not in Latin America). Not an easy task, but a race worth being part of, in which La Liga and its executives will use their best tricks and put all the eggs in one basket. First they will have to overcome the German Bundesliga (or maybe we should call it "Bayern Munich’s league"), and from the second position start the assault of the British Empire.