It has become common to talk about football as a product. As such, it has developing costs and sale value. This mantra is nowadays accepted worldvide, but there are only handfull of leagues that can make a multimilion profit on a yearly basis by selling their tv rights.
Spanish La Liga is one of those leagues – arguably at the top of the list – that has the potential of ruling the entertaining aspect of the football worldvide in the foreseeable future. Even with ignoring the sheer fact that the huge chunk of the football fans around the globe are Spanish speakers – they are inhabitting some of the most populated and historically most influential football countries which gravitate towards Spain -, global brands of Real Madrid and Barcelona and the El Clasico appeal are a leverage point that puts La Liga in the limelight in the rest of the world too.
Times of enjoying football for its essence – the beautiful game and sportsmanship – are long gone. Apart from very few exceptions, there is no more loyalty. Ticket prices are getting higher and the whole environment around the football match is overly commercialized. Whether you hate it or love it, football is a money making product and marketing companies are hapily turning into a sort of a milk cow.
In this new environment, leagues are trying to build their brand on a global scale and earn as much as they can, making it difficult for their competitors – other leagues – to follow. New ways of strengthening brand position are appearing constantly and it came as a no surprise when La Liga decided to increase the value of its product by announcing that they signed a 15-year partnership with media company Relevent to play domestic games in the USA. Sure, it’s only 1 game per season for the moment, but the plan is evolving as we speak.
The reality is that this is a 15-year plan, but it’s been neither thoroughly defined nor specified. The truth is, none of us knows the full extent of the impact on the image of the product that La Liga – just as any other liga in the world – is! It needed to be planned carefully.
La Liga was able to successfully sell its product – the league trebled its international tv rights value over the last four years, as its president Javier Tebas proudly stated – because of its significant value. However, this contract might open the ‘Pandora’s box’. Selling games – ok, so far it’s just one game per season, until decided otherwise – will definitively have a an impact on the product itself, thus changing it. Once the product itself is being changed, which is innevitable thing to happen, it may go in either direction – it may improve it, but it can also harm it!
There is a feeling that La Liga president Javier Tebas jumped the gun. He does speak well about the different strategies for different markets and the growth of the revenue. La Liga is generally improving its global position. But, what Tebas failed to address is that this particular strategy could have a domino effect on all other strategies on foreign – as well as the domestic – markets!
Well, once La Liga changes the product that’s been successfull all over the world, it will not be the same product that’s been sold, not only to Asia, Africa, or anywhere else in the world, but to domestic fans as well. Take Sevilla fans for example. They pay to see their club and it’s unlikely that they can follow their team to the USA’s La Liga encounter. There is a new narrative that says that football is a global product and that the club depends on the global as much as – if not even more in terms of revenue – the local fans. That may very well be true, but the fact is Sevilla are Sevilla – in terms of a brand value – because of the ‘Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán’ stadium and the atmosphere in it. Take the club away from this beautiful, historic venue, and the brand loses a huge chunk of its value. It is simply not the same product anymore! And, bare in mind, it is the product that you started selling, only now you end up selling something that doesn’t exist anymore!
In other words, La Liga will sell the product that will be changed the very moment it’s been sold!
Sevilla – as any other La Liga club for that matter – will lose the important layer of the brand that included both the club’s home stadium and the local supporters – the ones that are Sevilla born and bred, the ones that have sleepless nights if their club loses to Betis, and the ones that gather in cafes and pubs helping to preserve the image of this club through generations. To sell the experience of visiting club’s domestic games and everything that goes along with it – the city and the stadium visit and experiencing local feelings towards the club’s colors – is one thing. It doesn’t necesarily affect brands value – or at least doesn’t effect it negatively. To export the brand by taking it away from the community that made it what it is is another thing. The effect of such an action could potentially be quite the opposite and detrimental in the long run.
La Liga should be very careful before taking steps that could potentially detach clubs from their local fanbases. They are what they are because of them. Apart from Barcelona, Real Madrid, and to a certain extent Atletico Madrid, they are primarily local brands. They built their names – successively their brands as well – thanks to local fans and if not thought through carefully, there won’t be a product La Liga could sell in the future.