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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

LaLiga’s global pitch strikes all the right chords

LaLiga enjoys superiority over other leagues in terms of the talent pool that is available in the clubs and now the league’s ambition is to initiate a compelling global narrative.

football Updated: Oct 20, 2019 09:41 IST
Arnab Sen
Arnab Sen
Hindustan Times
Crowd at Santiago Bernabeu before a La Liga match
Crowd at Santiago Bernabeu before a La Liga match(Getty Images)
         

‘We are the cable tv generation,’ I had jokingly said to a much younger colleague the other day while discussing the impact of streaming platforms like Netflix, Hotstar and others on our daily lives. Cable TV generation...ever heard of this before? Well, if you grew up in India in the 1990s, you sure would have. It was a revolution that changed the way India consumed television content. For a young sports addict yet to enter his teens, cable TV opened the doors to an unknown world. The year was 1994 and I was all of 9. A staple diet of cricket aside, I distinctly remember falling in love with a crying Roberto Baggio after he had handed Brazil the FIFA World Cup, and with the ‘beautiful game’ as well.

Apart from watching USA 94, I remember getting addicted to a weekly show called Futbol Mundial, which brought action from the top European leagues straight into our living room. It started another love affair, that with Real Madrid and Spanish football in general. As years passed, the English Premier League with its convenient timings and fast paced action caught the imagination of not just me but football lovers all over the world. Two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, would go on to dominate European club football in the two decades that followed, but English top tier’s popularity grew manifolds. While the Premier League continues to rule the roost in terms of popularity, the technical superiority of Spanish clubs remains undoubted. LaLiga has thus woken up to the need to tell the Spanish league’s glorious story to a global audience and they are making all the right noises.

Communication is the key

“We are speaking a lot more languages, literally, now,” says Joris Evers, Chief Communications Officer at LaLiga, when asked about the league’s plan to establish a direct contact with the fans. Evers’ is a story that illustrates further the league’s ambition to initiate a compelling global narrative. A native of Amsterdam, another historic city with deep roots in football, he had no professional connect with the sport, having served as the head of communications at Netflix for five years before taking over at LaLiga. While he remains a football fan at heart, what he has brought with him is years of top notch experience in communicating to a global audience. LaLiga has the Messis and Modrics of the world to produce quality action on the field, but the need of the hour is to tell a compelling story that wins over the audience all over the world and Evers and his team is doing just that.

“We are targeting social media networks to reach out to as many people as we can. In India we have a partnership with Facebook, while we are working with local networks in Japan and China.

“Speaking different languages is helping us connect with fans a lot more. Moreover having our matches on a network like Facebook is helping us understand how fans from different countries connect with the sport on a digital platform,” Evers elaborates.

Hindustantimes

The journey that Evers is talking about began two years ago in 2017 when La Liga started producing content in Chinese and Arabic, apart from its Spanish and English content. By 2018, it had added 15 more languages to its kitty, which includes Hindi.

The LaLiga enjoys superiority over other leagues in terms of the talent pool that is available in the clubs here. Their prowess on the greens has meant LaLiga has witnessed stupendous audience growth over the past few years. From a total audience base of 1.2 billion in 2014/15, the league now enjoys a following of over 3 billion. A lot of it is also down to the quality product that is on offer for the fans to enjoy.

Investing in technology

Watching a high ticket top flight football match today has become an event, as much at home as it is at the stadium. For LaLiga to spread its wings beyond Spain, it needed a polished TV product and that is what they have invested in. Goal-line cameras, beauty cams, cinematic cameras and cameras to assist better analysis through GFX have been hired to produce best in class broadcast which allows the fan to enjoy 360 degree coverage.

As a result of these developments, LaLiga’s overall TV income has crossed 1700 million euros (national and international), a staggering rise from a mere 840 million euros in 2013/14. But the future lies in digital and the league has its eyes set on expansion. While the LaLiga continues to grow its digital footprints it has also pushed the clubs to become more proactive in this regard too.

Hindustantimes

Almost all the top tier clubs have their own app with dedicated features for season ticket holders. The season ticket holders constitute the major share of the revenue for the clubs apart from the money they get from LaLiga as part of the television rights deal.

Roping in former stars

LaLiga clubs have over the years been home to some of the world’s best players and the league has roped them in to reach out to the fans. The LaLiga Ambassadors project is now in its sixth season and saw the addition of former Real Madrid stars Fernando Hierro and Guti to the list of ambassadors who represent the league all over the world.

The list includes the likes of Fernando Sanz, Gaizka Mendieta, Fernando Morientes, Carles Puyol, Ismael Urzaiz, David Albelda, Fernando Redondo, César Sánchez, Frédéric Kanouté, Milinko Pantic, Diego Forlán, Marcos Senna, Luis García, Carlos Valderrama, Julio Baptista, Samuel Eto’o, Xabi Prieto and Robert Pirès.

Time for a new tale

For long, Spanish football has been dominated by arch rivals—Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and they quite deservingly hog the lion’s share of fandom globally. While the likes of Atletico Madrid have managed to create a fan base, the need of the hour for LaLiga is to push the narrative beyond the top two.

Storytelling is an art which the Premier League has aced. It has managed to tell the story of different clubs, not just the winners and table toppers, and that has led to a global appeal for several clubs and hence an overall growth in interest in the league.

The time is ripe for the Spanish league to walk the same path and introduce the other clubs to wider audiences as that will help the league to penetrate further and convert more fans and viewers into LaLiga loyalists.