For years it has been known as the “two-team league”, but La Liga is now fighting hard to re-brand itself as more than just a Barcelona and Real Madrid championship.
Just like the domestic Premier Soccer League has realised that promoting two teams over the rest can have a negative impact – with the Absa Premiership recently launching “Woza Nazo” in an attempt to hype up derbies other than the Soweto Derby – Spanish authorities have caught a wake-up.
“We want to promote La Liga as the best league in the world, because it is the best – it’s not just about Messi and Ronaldo,” said Enrique Moreno, a senior official at the La Liga headquarters here.
It’s true that the Spanish league has become the best, with Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca’s Lionel Messi winning the last nine world player of the year awards between them, and players from the two teams dominating the world’s best XI over recent years.
But what the Spanish authorities concede – hence their frequent invites to world media to gain traction – is that La Liga is not at the same level as the English Premiership in terms of worldwide dominance. It’s a point acknowledged by Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres, who perhaps is one of the few in a better position to offer a view on the matter as he has played in both leagues.
“We are 10 to 15 years behind,” said the ex-Liverpool and Chelsea striker Torres from Atletico’s training ground ahead of their weekend match against Leganes.
“The English Premiership is well established and I saw that when I was in your country [South Africa] for the World Cup [in 2010]. Everywhere you went you saw Liverpool fans. They could identify you instantly. That shows how big a brand the EPL has become.
“I’m happy to see La Liga going in the same direction now. But it will take some time. We have started well because we are now broadcast everywhere – in Asia, Africa, the Americas. We have the best players like Messi, Ronaldo and [Antoine] Griezmann.”
In terms of crowds, La Liga are not too far behind with almost every home team able to fill their stadium – Leganes attracted a full capacity to their 0-0 drawn clash with Atletico on Saturday.
“We are not against Barca and Real. We love their rivalry. But we want other teams to reach their level,” Moreno said.
But for that to happen, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has to close. One thing aimed at achieving that was for La Liga to sell TV rights directly to broadcasters [such as SuperSport locally] instead of the teams negotiating individually.
“That helped a lot because we were able to increase prize money.
“We only started owning the TV rights last year and at the end of the season, the champions [Real] got ?143-million (about R2.28-billion) and the bottom side [Granada] got ?42-million. In the previous year when we didn’t have TV rights, the winners got ?140-million, while the bottom team received only ?22-million. So the gap will close soon,” said Moreno.