Two years after setting up an office in New Delhi, the La Liga (men's top professional football division in Spain) continues to play catch up to the Premier League (men’s top professional football division in England) in terms of viewership and fan interest in India.
It’s looking to make up for the time gap between the Premier League and itself in terms of getting onto screens in India with a whole 360-degree approach to catch the attention of the Indian football fan.
One among the 360-degree approach is showcasing all of its 380 games live on Facebook for fans in South Asia for the next three years. Facebook has further entered an agreement with Sony Pictures Network, where the social network provided the latter access to about 100 games to be broadcast on television.
Speaking with Campaign India on the sidelines of a press meeting in Mumbai, Jose Cachaza, head, LaLiga India, explains, “When you come from behind and you have to fight to be the leader you have to use different methods and adjust to the present times. If somebody has been doing the same for the last 25 years, you have to do things differently. For us, it began by having a full time presence in the country and so we opened an office in Delhi about two years ago. That means we are in contact with the country and have a feel of the market. This means we learn new things every day. It’s different from being in Madrid and being fed things.”
He adds, “For the last two years, digital has been in the centre of our strategy in India. I think we are an international league that’s working hard in the Indian digital market. We have 10 people working across Delhi and Madrid for digital work for the Indian market specifically. We’d like to believe that we are really ahead of the others here.”
Quizzed on whether new players like Facebook and Amazon (who recently netted a broadcast agreement for a few Premier League games), are the ones that will take more broadcast rights away from traditional players like Star and Sony, Cachaza believes it’s going to be a mix of both in the future.
He says, “What’s clear is that the big digital operators are new players and will compete with traditional players. YouTube, Facebook and other OTT players like Amazon are emerging too. They will definitely be part of the landscape. Personally, I think there will be a mix of this in the near future. Also the way television players are doing, their business is changing. Movistar, a traditional satellite TV operator in Spain, is changing its way of running operations. It’s moving to broadband and so you see everything merging.”
The 360-degree approach also included public viewings with La Liga ambassadors such as Gaizka Mendieta, Fernando Morientes, Robert Pires and Luis Garcia last year. And according to Cachaza that will continue in 2019.
No Ronaldo, no problem
The Spanish League recently lost Cristiano Ronaldo, who moved to Italy’s Juventus in the summer of 2018. There was a concern that majority of his 122 million fans (on Facebook) who would have been tuning into Madrid games would now ditch the league altogether and follow the Italian League instead.
And while Cachaza does agree that some fans in Asia do follow stars rather than players, he claims that Ronaldo’s move hasn’t had a bearing on the La Liga’s popularity. “Ronaldo is nearing the end of his career right now. We are proud that his best days of his footballing career happened in Spain. Life goes on without him. Let’s not forget that if you compare Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid, the club is bigger than the player. The club is over 100 years old.”
He adds, “It’s kind of true that some Asian fans do relate to the stars more than the team. We saw this after David Beckham’s stardom too. We’re seeing this evolve and seeing more of die-hard club fans. Of course, big stars are important to football. Ronaldo has gone, but Messi is here in the La Liga. And more big stars will continue to come to the La Liga. We have three big clubs—Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid that have some of the biggest players in the world. We’ll want Spain to have the biggest stars, but it’s not quite possible.”
On the other hand, we are also seeing budding leagues like the Indian Super League and Chinese Super League attracting star names to the league to increase viewership not only in the home region, but even from abroad.
While leagues in Europe cater to the emerging markets in Asia, back home local fans across Europe are disgruntled as the local leagues falling prey to television networks alter their kick-off times of games to cater to the Asian time zones. For matches to be on prime time for Asia, and in particular South East Asia, the league has scheduled kick off times as early as noon.
But Cachaza claims that this has to be done because it’s about reaching out to the big markets.
He explains, “At the end it’s a matter of balance. There are complaints always when there are innovations. Some of them may be justified. But usually, the kick off times that are good for Asian markets are actually not that bad for locals. Earlier people thought it’ll be terrible to play a game at noon (local time) on a Sunday. Later they realised it’s a great time to take kids to the stadiums. Stadium visits are quite emotional and family related. When Fernando Torres announced his exit from Atletico the first thing he said was that he wanted to thank his grandfather for taking him to the games. A 10 pm game (local time) won’t be that conducive for children to go to.”
He adds, “Our TV product is a world product and we have huge audiences across the world. We have a following in Asia and so the need arises for an early kick off. We also have a following in the Americas. The good time for fans to tune in to the La Liga in the Americas is actually prime time for us in Spain too, so that’s not so much of a problem for fans. We are seeing more people understand it now.”
Speaking about the India market in particular, Cachaza states that outside of the four traditional regions (Kerala, Goa, West Bengal and the North East), the La Liga wants to target the urban Indian. He explains, “The La Liga wants to reach out to more urban Indians. We are quite clear about the main markets for football in India where we have to grow. Beyond the four traditional regions for football, the sport is becoming an urban hot thing to watch. This is an interesting market for anyone. India is a huge country and it’ll take time to reach the whole country.”