La Liga shoots for EPL crown

London // With television broadcasting deals valued at £8 billion (Dh38.1bn), the English Premier League is the world’s richest football competition but Spain’s La Liga has ambitious plans to take that title.

The catalyst for this expansion was moving from TV broadcasting arrangements that favoured Spain’s two biggest clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, into a collective selling deal.

“Our big challenge is to turn the on-pitch success into financial success,” says Adolfo Bara, the managing director of sales and marketing at La Liga. “Taking back the rights was the first step but if we want to beat our main competition, the English Premier League, we have to go much further.”

Since the agreement to sell centralised rights was inked in 2013, La Liga has embarked on an expansion strategy that has involved a mixture of boots on the ground, sponsorship and TV deals to take the competition around the world, including the UAE.

Mr Bara and Fernando Sanz, La Liga’s general director for Mena and International Projects, unveiled the strategy in a series of sessions at the recent Soccerex Global convention in Manchester, England, last week.

Since 2013, La Liga has opened a series of offices around the world from Abu Dhabi to Brussels, New York and Johannesburg. With new bases opening in India, Nigeria and in October in Singapore, La Liga will have a global network of 10 offices.

“We don’t want to reach each market as a rival. We want to be a friend,” says Mr Sanz, who gave as an example of this friendship La Liga’s decision to change kick-off times to suit overseas markets.

La Liga’s strategy is three-pronged. An institutional approach involves opening offices and establishing contact with rival leagues, such as Major League Soccer in the United States, or federations, such as the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The other two prongs of La Liga’s business strategy feature close involvement with local TV channels and looking to secure more sponsorship.

“We opened an office in Johannesburg because Super Sport is based there and we want to be close to our broadcaster,” says Mr Bara. “In China, it’s a massive market. We have two offices. We are following the NBA [US National Basketball Association] model and need to do many different things.”

These different things include combining sponsorship deals with development work. La Liga and its sponsor Nike have worked together to send coaches to China, while in Egypt the Spanish league is in partnership with Pepsi to deliver a development programme.

This is an example of how La Liga is looking to boost the number of sponsorship deals, says Will English, the associate director at Brand in Action. “Sponsorship is mostly under activated. Sponsors tend to lean on the standard rights like perimeter boards or emails to fans. There is a lot more that can be done.”

That is why La Liga and its new title sponsor, the banking major Banco Santander, are creating a digital hub together, which should be unveiled next year.

This season Santander replaced BBVA, which had been La Liga’s title sponsor since 2007/08. After an earlier attempt to agree a deal failed, the two sides met again on July 2 and inside 10 days had thrashed out a new contract.

The deal was reported by Bloomberg to be worth around €20 million a year (Dh82.5m) and is reportedly less than the previous deal with BBVA. La Liga says this is because the deal gives it access to Santander’s clientele in major Latin American markets such as Brazil.

Speaking on a Soccerex panel on sponsorship along with Mr English and Santander’s marketing director Felipe Martin, Mr Bara says: “Our challenge with Santander is to activate their supporters. They have 100 million customers.

“When we sold the TV rights, we kept the marketing rights. So we are going to use content to engage with fans and to activate with Santander. We can target them with digital campaigns. We need to make specific content. We are working on that with Santander.

“The digital hub will be the key to that. At the beginning of next year we will have that ready to launch.”

The launch of this joint La Liga-Santander hub involves far more than a domestic focus. “It wasn’t about how much money they pay La Liga but how much they activate,” says Mr Bara.

“Santander is very active in Latin America and that was very important. They have 30 million customers in Brazil but we never get 30 million viewers there.”

At Soccerex, Mr Bara admits La Liga wants a truly global brand and that the competition is still searching for sponsors in some parts of the world. “It was very difficult to find a big global brand. There are very few. It would have been better if they were strong in South East Asia. We will look for other partners there.”

La Liga’s search for global sponsors is bolstered by the use of the latest technology in perimeter advertising, which means the competition has secured separate sponsorship deals at global, international and national level. By using a real-time feed, La Liga has seven different sponsors appearing on perimeter boards from national level to other parts of the world such as China.

Some of the rights are still sold direct and others through agencies, but La Liga is looking to buy back as many rights as it can as part of a consolidation process. “Going forward, we want to retain as much as possible,” says Mr Bara.

“We need to control the league. If clubs manage their own LED inventory, they [can] speak to each other and do a deal.”

All this has been possible because of the new centralised TV deal, which was opposed by Real Madrid but has increased the league’s exposure at home and abroad.

In February 2016, a three-year deal valued at €2.65bn was struck with Mediapro and the Telefonica subsidiary Movistar to share domestic rights. International rights with the likes of beIN Sports, Sky and Sony will take the total for 2016/17 to more than €1bn, while 87 per cent of shirt sponsorship in Liga is now from outside Spain says Mr Bara.

“Clubs want to grow their markets. It’s part of who’s going to be the leader in three to four years from the Premier League or La Liga. It’s part of our strategy to go to new markets.”

For La Liga, the race is clearly on to become the world’s foremost international league.

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