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Sportel: Spain’s La Liga Ups Global Push

Monaco’s Sportel gathers broadcasters, sport media right holders

MONACO— Javier Tebas, president of Spain’s Professional Football League Assn. (LFP), has announced the opening of offices in New York, Shanghai.

Announcement was made at Monaco’s Sportel, one of the world’s biggest confabs for the sports content media rights business, which kicked of its 26th edition on Monday, and just days before a Spanish newspaper report suggested rights to Spain’s La Liga for the 2015-16 soccer season had been sold in international for €615 million ($683 million), way up on prior sums paid for one of the biggest lures in the biggest sport in the world.

“Being global is an opportunity and a must,” said Tebas, also a lawyer and businessman. Tebas’ words underscore the only direction growth at Spain’s La Liga can take: Exporting its matches and brand.

Acquired by Telefonica in July, Spain’s 2015-16 pay TV rights for 2015-2016 were valued at €600 million ($683 million), just up on previous sums paid. The world’s most star-spangled league –boasting the likes of Argentina’s Leo Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil’s Neymar da Silva and France’s Antoine Griezman— Spain’s national soccer tourney is an attraction for broadcasters worldwide.

Tebas mentioned at Monaco that Spain’s new regulations, in place from May and establishing collective bargaining of media rights by La Liga clubs, places La Liga on the same footing as England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Calcio.

“Before rights were centralized, we couldn’t sell La Liga as a brand, something the Premier does,” Tebas said in line with similar statements he at the Soccerex convention last month expressing an aim to match England’s Premier League international revenues in four-to-five years.

Former soccer players Luis Figo and Fernando Sanz were present in Sportel acting as La Liga godfathers. “As La Liga ambassadors, our big responsibility is to represent the best league in the world,” said Sanz. “The challenge is to have a world-wide presence,” added Figo, repeating the mantra.

Tebas underlined the role that La Liga World – a program, which saw its second edition last summer and allows not only Barcelona and Real Madrid but other Spanish trams to play matches worldwide – is another strategy for exporting the brand.

On Thursday, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that, acting as an agent not rights-holder, Spain’s Mediapro, a production and rights-broking company, has sold the international rights to this season’s La Liga for a total value of €615 million ($701 million), a remarkable mark-up of 160% on the total sums paid for 2014-15 of €236 million ($269 million).

One explanation is that the effect of La Liga’s staggered game schedule is now kicking in, as Tebas suggested at Sportel, another, that a powerful new player or players in sports rights-broking are prepared to pay much more for La Liga, one analyst said.

Certainly, until now Spanish soccer club revenues, despite la Liga’s galaxy of stars, look as if they were punching below their weight, partly because of lower matchday sales with club’s income for the 2013-14 soccer season in Spain way below the U.K’s, bested by the Bundesliga and just up on Italy’s.

When it comes to soccer rights trading, at stake are huge financial rewards.

Per Tim Westcott, principal analyst at IHS Technology “Soccer is by far the most popular sport, followed by American football, because of the sheer size of the domestic U.S. deals. We estimate these two account for roughly two-thirds of worldwide rights expenditure. Within football, national league rights are the most lucrative, followed by the Champions League.”

In terms of sports, an IHS TV Programming Intelligence report based on annual worldwide value of the most recently agreed contracts, establishes at €12,5 billion ($14,246 billion) the annual worldwide value of soccer TV sports rights. American football TV rights reps $5.7 billion, basketball $2.3 billion and the Olympic Games $1.7 billion.

Westcott pointed out that sports content raises some big questions: “Will rights values continue to inflate for certain events? Will major sports move online, going direct to the consumer? Will major sports start being acquired across multiple territories or even globally?”

Further growth may come from new distribution channels.

“Over The Top will dominate in five to 10 years. This is the most convenient and affordable distribution model with higher quality, with 4K at the doors,” said Jaume Roures, head of Mediapro.

He added: “More than a change, it is a step forward, as satellite was in its time (…). These are complementary evolutions. We talk about sports, but we could also talk about cinema. There’s a higher cinema consumption now because of different windows, diverse moments.”

“More mass audience models will also allow soccer to be cheaper,” added Roures, comparing soccer to the imminent arrival of Netflix to Spain.

“Football is at the top: It’s what pulls in more people. And audiences want to live it, not only watch events but participate through social networks and examine them in second windows. And broadcasters will have to meet that demand,” he concluded.

According to 2014 attendance figures, Sportel delegates, from a total 78 countries, were mainly from Europe (69%). Asia and Middle East accounted for 12% of participants, and the U.S. 11%. Sector best represented was TV networks (23%), press and media (13.5%), sports programming distributors (12%), and new media (11.5%).

Sportel takes place under the patronage of Prince Albert and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC). Event runs Oct 12-15 at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum.

John Hopewell contributed to this report

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