Why TV Rights Matter: A Response

What La Liga is all about: morbo.

Arron Duckling at our SBNation colleague Barca Blaugranes posted a thought-provoking piece on TV rights in La Liga. Take a gander at it, then come back for my response on behalf of Liga Justa.

First of all, kudos to a big-two supporter for writing on the elephant in the room. The problem with the LFP has been that the Real Madrid and Barcelona bigwigs don't speak with Villarreal owner Fernando Roig and Sevilla owner José María del Nido. A lack of open dialogue has only exacerbated the problem.

And I can only quibble with Arron's first two points. Spanish broadcasters, much like the rest of the country, are broke, and showing Racing Santander in prime time does not get hearts racing. Two counterpoints: (1) teams won't develop a following without coverage; and (2) Monday Night Football does fine showing the small-market Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. But I digress.

I have a bigger beef with the other arguments, so I will address them in turn.

 

The logical fallacy resulting from arguments three and four is somewhat self-evident. Just as Atlético Madrid has not flourished with its additional revenue- aside from a historic Europa League title- improved player management would benefit Real and Barca. Making a mistake on a Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Kaká would have crippled 17 teams in La Liga, but they have barely made a ripple in Barcelona and Madrid. That defies logic.

On the European coefficient, England already has the top spot.  Regardless, both leagues receive 3+1 Champions League spots and 2 Europa League places, so only pride is at stake.  Even La Furia Roja has lost the world #1 ranking, but the impact is cosmetic. Additionally, the EPL is clearly a top-two league- and crushes La Liga in terms of revenue and worldwide popularity- so maybe England deserves the top spot after all.

In contrast, consider the impact: Valencia keeps Juan Mata, Villarreal holds on to Santi Cazorla, Osasuna to Nacho Monreal and Javier Camuñas, and the list goes on. Any drop in the top two's competitiveness, which seems relatively minimal (Cesc Fabregas, among others, took a pay cut, and the prestige is great), would be compensated for by greater depth. Getting every Spanish side into the European knockout rounds would be a start- Getafe and Atlético Madrid missed out in last season's Europa League, while Sevilla missed the Champions League group stage. Only Barca, Real, and Villarreal made it beyond the first knockout round last year: 3 out of 7, or below 50%. The "best league in the world" should do better.

On Arron's point five, Barca and Real may gross hundreds of millions more than their rivals, but they are still buried under a mountain of debt. Valencia is the exception to the rule: a club outside the big-two in significant financial difficulty which is not in administration (or on the brink). Cherry-picking Atlético as a big-spending underachiever and Valencia as badly-managed is intellectually dishonest: what about the other 16 clubs? Additionally, Barca and Real face the same problems, but with the cooperation of regional governments and financial institutions, along with a huge revenue disparity, they are able to look past them.

Here is the reality, as I see it:

  • La Liga makes less from its national TV contract than Ligue 1. That must change.
  • Every team other than the big two has a regional fan base. That is a distinctly Spanish phenomenon, due to the nature of regionalism, but the problem won't be fixed by only promoting those two ad nauseam. Take the four writers on our site: Villarreal fans in Baltimore, Boston, DC, and Seattle. Displaying an attractive style of football on a big stage has long-term benefits. And that's after my two favorite players- Juan Román Riquelme and Diego Forlán- have departed El Madrigal.
  • The upcoming modifications to the TV deal are a step in the right direction. But the big two is ensuring its own demise by not conceding further. La Liga once was unique: great top-end talent and depth throughout the top half. We are losing that combination.

Also, Villarreal did make the Champions League semifinals not long ago. It was the same year Barca started on this historic run. Then we beat out Barcelona to finish second in La Liga and survived an injury-ravaged campaign to reach the Champions League quarterfinals. Just last year, we finished fourth in La Liga and reached the Europa League semifinals.

But Villarreal is no longer on the same playing field as Real and Barca. The center cannot hold. This hegemony is a recent phenomenon, and it is killing La Liga. It's time for a change.

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