LaLiga Spoke to MARCA about growing LaLiga
On a visit to China, Javier Tebas has revealed his plans to grow the Spanish game in Asia.
The LaLiga president sat down with MARCA to discuss the impact of Wu Lei, the dispute over Monday games back home, Neymar and many other subjects.
How important is China for LaLiga’s plans of expansion?
For us, in economic terms, China along with the United States, after Spain, is the most important market. In China, there is a second factor in the TV area, in the way in which fans watch us in the world is going under a very important transformation in the world of OTT streaming. You have to be very aware and work because we can’t disregard 1.2 billion people when the Chinese president is pushing football.
What have your revenues been up until now?
Only comparing with six years ago… China was an exotic and far-away country four years ago. [Now] we have two offices, 10 employees working and dedicating lots of hours. And in terms of revenues, the numbers speak for themselves: in 2013, the Chinese TV market [for LaLiga] was worth four million euros, now it’s worth 100 million euros. And it’s one of the places in the world where at the moment and in the next few years can grow into bursting the world of payments that didn’t exist two years ago.
Would you say that China is the big expansion project for LaLiga at the moment?
It’s an incredible country and has impressive potential. We’re working to gain many more fans in China, we can’t disregard them. It would be very stupid of us not to see China as a fundamental part of the football industry.
What impact has this expansion in China had on the Spanish clubs to this point?
In Spain, 42 percent of what we invest in TV, which totals 2.2 billion euros, goes away from Spain. In Spain, there are teams like Sevilla or Real Betis who see 60 percent of their revenues made up by TV rights. Then, if 60 percent of your income depends on this and 42 percent leaves the country, we have to worry about it. To work, know the markets, make them grow… and maintain a balance within Spain and the rest of the world. China, I insist, is very important for every economic industry in the world, not only in football. It will be the same in India in five or six years. Therefore, we have to work for everything to come. Therefore, we already have an office in New Delhi. Each market is important, but you have to take care of them, see what happens, see the strategy, know why incomes are rising or falling in different markets…
What is LaLiga’s objective for the GoalFuture programme?
It’s a very important project, backed by the Chinese FA, that tries to make sure that Chinese football talent can compete in professional football in China and it’s evident that China want to have players that compete in football’s elite and it’s very interesting for us because Chinese players, like Wu Lei, are a big part of this strategy. Statistically, matches involving Espanyol attract bigger audiences in China than matches involving Real Madrid or Barcelona, with little difference. This is beneficial for clubs in LaLiga because if [Chinese viewers] watch a match involving Wu Lei, they’re also watching other teams and we hope that they keep watching more games because of this.
Where are you at with the negotiations for the LaLiga TV rights in the UK, which should start from the Matchday 4?
The Premier League has lowered their TV rights by 15 percent, almost 300 million pounds. Which is different to Germany, where our product has grown by 35 percent. In England, in the competitions that we’ve made an offer it was 300 percent less than before. When the product is the same, you ask yourself what is happening. And what is happening is that the big TV giants, BT and Sky, have made a kind of agreement and they’re not paying for sport content and before they were competing between themselves. This alerts you because, if it can happen in England, it can happen in other markets and you have to be prepared for these circumstances. Secondly, the [LaLiga TV rights] market is worth 23 million euros in England; important but far from the figures in China, for example. Now we’re not looking for a mixed system because when they don’t pay you what you believe its worth, you find other strategies. For example, we’re looking to put Spanish football back on free-to-air TV and we’re going to put Spanish football on free-to-air in England, with the economic side of it not so important. We’re looking for exposure there and you can indirectly find sponsors, you return to work on your brand for the future, you work on your OTT market for the future…
This weekend, [LaLiga] will be on free-to-air TV and on various OTTs in England. It’s not what we had economically, far from it, but in this case we decided that we had a good compensation in the form of exposure and we decided to work on this. However, I’m more concerned about the American and Chinese markets because they bring much larger incomes. It’s going to be one match a week on free-to-air and then various OTTs are starting to work on broadcasting the rest in England.
How important were Monday games to the international expansion of LaLiga?
In the Asian market, the Monday games were [on] late. But the important thing here is that you don’t trample on the matches, it’s a really important factor and the audience figures tell you this. When you put one game on top of another, one of those is almost a testimonial and that’s what affects us. I’ve been speaking with our Chinese operator and they’ve complained about losing the Monday game, even if it’s in the morning here. Here the audiences for pre-recorded matches are important for the times that you can show a game live. But I insist, it’s important not to trample on games and it’s an area that we’ve worked a lot on in recent years and we’re being copied more and more. For example, the Italian league is starting to play on Mondays, they already do it in England…
Where do you find yourselves in terms appealing the ruling that stops matches being played on Mondays?
The curious thing is that we asked for the right [to play] on Mondays and Fridays and they only gave us Fridays. Either gives us all of it or nothing at all… Now we’ve made an appeal and we think we have reason, which is why we’ve gone down the commercial route. We’ve managed to find a balance in Spain and get more people to go to games on Fridays and Mondays. In the last five years, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance. The question is: if there is an increase of 20 percent in attendances, why is there a group that is complaining? We’ve presented a study to the judge which shows that games on Mondays have only seen a three percent decrease in attendances in comparison. Only teams that aren’t in Europe can play on Mondays, therefore, this can’t be compared with the matches of teams in Europe. If you compare them with the same ones, the difference is only three percent less and there’s no harm to attendances. What’s happening is that there’s a rumour that for we’ve been putting up with for nine years that less people go to an equivalent match. The figure is 792 people less per match on Mondays.
Are you still trying to play a match in Miami like you did last season?
We’re still trying. We’ve presented a request to play abroad, and in this request we’re asked for a cautionary action for the Girona-Barcelona match. Barcelona decided not to continue with the main request three days before and we’re still trying because our objective is to play a match in Miami or wherever, like the world’s big leagues do like the NBA, NFL, NHL…
Would you like Neymar to return to LaLiga?
Yes, of course, with his qualities he’s in the top three players in the world. It would be very important for LaLiga if he came again, although it wouldn’t be defining for the Spanish league. The defining thing is that we play 10 months a year, with 20 clubs each playing each other and generating passion and joy each weekend for fans in Spain and across the world. A player like Neymar gives you a following in countries that look out for him, but he’s not an essential element, not even Cristiano Ronaldo was. Lionel Messi, on the other hand, is the essential element because he’s the heritage of LaLiga.
Do you think the clubs involved in signing him have the financial muscle to pull the deal off?
If they are interested in signing him it’s because they can [afford] it, I’m not going to go there because there are many factors that we don’t know about at the moment.
Do you see the clubs accused of breaking financial rules as problems for Spanish clubs?
The problem of teams like PSG and Manchester City is the big problem of European football. Why? Because they have companies backing them that don’t care if they lose money. The other big clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich try to compete so that their best players don’t leave. That’s why ideas like the European Super League come in, which would be a big mistake, and other proposals that would end up harming the football industry in general. Then these ‘State Clubs’ or those backed by some multimillionaire are the biggest danger to European football.
Do you think UEFA are doing enough to control these clubs or are they turning a blind eye to it?
No. You only have to look at an example: AC Milan have been thrown out of European competitions and PSG haven’t. The Secondary Body of Economic Control at UEFA said that it had to revise PSG’s sanction, PSG went over this decision and UEFA seem to have done everything possible to stop investigating. As for Manchester City, the things that they’ve done have been talked about but we don’t know anything. There must be some change in the governing system of European and world football because football, apart from being a sport, is also an industry.