Is there any hope for change with La Liga TV Rights? Is there even any hope for La Liga?
This third and final piece in Counter-Attacking Football’s three-part series will aim to answer that very question.
On the surface this question sounds unnecessary and blown out of proportion. After all, Spain’s Primera Division is arguably the most successful in Europe.
The greatest club in the world plays in Spain, a club era of dominance that coincides with the nation’s Golden Era. Real Madrid outlasted their rivals last season and made their own case as the best team in football.
These are two of the richest, most marketable clubs in the world. Virtually every footballer alive dreams of playing for one of these two clubs. They represent the upper echelon of the modern footballing world.
As I explained in parts one and two of this three-part series, the success of Real Madrid and Barcelona is not the problem. Rather, it is the lack of success for the rest of the league that is. And as I showed in the two previous articles, the very success of Spain’s big two are at the center of La Liga’s greatest problems.
What follows is a recap of recent events focusing on TV revenue rights in La Liga. The focus of discussion will be the 2010 collective bargaining agreement that goes into affect in 2014.
By the end of this article, you will have some idea of what can really be expected from Spanish football regarding the pathetically imbalanced and detrimental financial state of the league.
The 2014 Revolution?
“Our tournament is not just the biggest joke in Europe, but in the world. It is a third world league in which two clubs take the others’ television money.”
Wow, those were pretty strong words coming from Sevilla President Jose Maria del Nido last fall. And yet, as each La Liga season passes and the gap between the big two and the rest of the league grows larger, del Nido’s words are looking more and more prophetic.
The Sevilla boss’ words came less than one year after La Liga clubs signed their historic agreement focusing on TV distribution rights in November of 2010. That deal was initially greeted with praise from most clubs, but that relative optimism has quickly and increasingly faded.
First, let’s go over the details of this deal. Here are the major points from that agreement.
- The new deal comes into affect for the 2014-2015 season.
- Clubs will negotiate TV revenues with broadcasters on a collective basis, rather than individually as they do now
- Clubs relegated from La Liga to the Segunda Division will receive a €9 million parachute payment.
- The TV income gap between highest-earning clubs and lowest-earning clubs swill be reduced from 130% to roughly 70%.
- Real Madrid and Barcelona will have their revenue shares reduced from 50% to 34%—after a hard-fought battle to reduce them to just 40%.
- Valencia and Atletico Madrid will have their shares reduced from 13% to 11%.
While this agreement was initially and generally seen as a breakthrough, not every club signed on.Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Real Sociedad all rejected the deal.
For Villarreal, not signing the agreement proved to be costly when they were relegated last season. They did not receive the €9 million parachute payment that would have ease a lot of their financial burden.
These five clubs argued that the deal still failed to create enough competition in the league. These clubs felt that Valencia and Atletico Madrid were giving up too much and acted too weakly in front of the big two.
Instead, these clubs proposed a system where clubs equally share 40% of total income, whilst 60% would be subject to different criteria: TV audiences generated, league position and standing.
More Owners Speak Out
Since that deal was signed two years ago, more players and owners have spoken against the deal.
In an interview with Radio9 in April 2012, Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao had this to say:
“In terms of economic power, the difference is enormous and both clubs have great players. Barcelona and Real Madrid have built teams that are much superior and against which it is not possible to compete.”
Just days before, Santi Cazorla shared Falcao’s sentiments on the Goal Show:
“We have to be aware that today Real Madrid and Barcelona are on a different level and competing directly against them is practically impossible.”
The lack of hope was shared with Cazorla’s club owner. Earlier in July Sheikh Abdullah spoke on Twitter about how the TV revenue disparity was killing the league.
Malaga had already appealed to the league to have their shares increased to 11% in order to match Valencia and Atletico Madrid. By finishing in fourth place and seemingly having more financial stability than the vast majority of Spanish clubs, Malaga already sees itself on the level of those two.
Using Twitter as his outlet, the wealthy owner expressed his frustration with “enabling the two to earn disproportionately higher revenue” from broadcasting than the other La Liga clubs.
He stated that both clubs receive €135 million from broadcasting fees while third-place Valencia took in €65 million. His Malaga team who finished fourth in last season’s campaign, “stand to earn only €13 milion.”
Al-Thani also criticized “the apparent prevalence of bribing” in the league, the need for an unbiased press, and the “alleged presence of rampant tax evasion” as factors that could “contribute to La Liga’s demise” in the future (ESPNSTAR.com, 7/9).
Malaga CF: La Liga’s New Hope or La Liga’s Newest Joke?
Even as we speak, Malaga is the focus of hope for La Liga fans who wish for a more balanced future.
For the past two seasons, the newly rich Andalusian side has been viewed as the last great hope for a new champions. Within five years, Malaga aimed to be a contender for the league title.
Now, amid reports that the club cannot even afford to pay player wages, there are concerns that the club is on the verge of its own mass exodus, one that Valencia fans are all too familiar with.
Malaga is a small, sad phantasm of the pathetic state of the league.
First of all, the league’s BEST hope at a new champion is a super rich oil sheik backing a young club who aims to compete five years from now, not even in the next two seasons.
Secondly, that bright hope may soon burn out. While Real Madrid and Barcelona are buying the likes of Luka Modric and Cesc Fabregas just to sit on the bench, Malaga, the savior of La Liga, may have to sell Santi Cazorla and Isco just to balance payments.
Shameful. Embarrassing. Disappointment.
There is simply no team able to overcome the great revenue gap. As a result, there is no Spanish team capable of competing with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Not now and not any time soon.
Is There any Hope for Spain?
I am sorry to disappoint you, but this is not something that can be answered here.
For the optimists, 2014 brings a small, but positive change for the league. While small, the changes represent a willingness and desire for change.
For the realists, like myself, this deal means very little. 2014 will come and clubs will have a brief sense of hope that will quickly be destroyed by Real Madrid or Barcelona once again demolishing the competition.
The possibility of change is small. Even worse, the impact of that change is minimal. But worst of all, even with drastic change coming in the next few years, it may be too late.
Spain’s first division, despite fielding some of the most talented and gifted footballers in the world, may have already peaked.The decline may be unstoppable given the number of clubs going into administration, the growing disparity in the title race, and the sheer amount of collective debt in the league.
Much like the country itself, the financial burden laid on teams may be too great to overcome. And much like the country itself, many of the current problems were avoidable.
For Barcelona and Real Madrid, greed and a lack of collective spirit could become their own downfall. For the rest of the league, settling for too little and poor management could help lead to the failure of an entire league.
As news of rich clubs like Malaga being unable to pay players breaks, fears of yet another player strike loom. We may see a repeat of last season where the first week of matches are delayed.
You ask again, is there any hope for La Liga? Will we see a new champion this decade? Can the league grow stronger in Europe?
Sadly, the future of La Liga looks bleak. There is some hope, but the window of opportunity for significant change is closing fast.