How can La Liga grow their audience as a league?

Players and officials line up prior to the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.  (May 5, 2018 - Source: Alex Caparros/Getty Images Europe)

Players and officials line up prior to the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain.

(May 5, 2018 - Source: Alex Caparros/Getty Images Europe)

This is La Liga Santander

La Liga is one of the most recognizable leagues in football and over the decades, it has maintained a strong presence on the global stage. Home to the world’s biggest clubs, Spain’s top-flight division attracts the most sought after players with ambitions of title hopes and the recent record signing of Eden Hazard from Chelsea is a perfect example. La Liga clubs have consistently shown their dominance in Europe with the most sought after trophies and titles finding a permanent home in Spain. Spanish clubs have raked up the highest number of European titles; 18 UEFA Champions and 11 Europa League titles, while also having the highest number of Balon d’Or winners, 22 in total. This Europe’s acclaimed league also attracts huge numbers in viewership as fans tune in to watch football played at one of the highest levels. Even in the midst of all the successes of teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, the league has trailed behind the Premier League in viewership rankings. Hence the governing body’s seeming mission to grow it’s the audience and attract millions of more spectators to follow Spanish football globally.   

La Liga has ventured into this area, piloting a free Facebook service for Asia in 2018 that has made La Liga easily accessible for millions of Facebook users.
— Margaret Mandeya, FirstTouch Africa

Borrowing lessons from the EPL

Barcelona and Real Madrid instantly come to mind as the most successful teams in La Liga and Europe. The clubs have a dominating presence in the league and retain the bulk of football supporters domestically and internationally. The reputation and status of Barcelona and Madrid pull some of the world’s best players to the La Liga and most players dream of playing at Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu during the course of their careers. These two teams, along with Manchester United dominate global replica shirt sales every year. The competition between the two clubs has also contributed to the league’s appeal; El Clasico is the most popular game in any given La Liga season and in club football worldwide. While this dominance has gained La Liga a decent following, the monopoly held by Barcelona and Real Madrid has also posed some disadvantages in the growth of the league. The highly competitive nature of EPL attracts a broader audience whereas in Spain, Barcelona or Real Madrid usually interchange the number one spot. This intense competition is just one of the things that the English League has gotten right.

 a) Language barrier/opportunity

Two Barcelona fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, .  (May 5, 2018 - Source: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

Two Barcelona fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, .

(May 5, 2018 - Source: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe)

There are other aspects of the EPL that La Liga could replicate to get the essential viewership numbers up. For example, the Premier League’s presence in the English speaking world remains a key reason behind why it enjoys the title of the most-watched league around the globe. As a widely-used language of communication in many parts of the world, English offers a massive advantage for the EPL. Commentary and analysis are predominately in English which has allowed for the easier penetration of the English Premier League into the football cultures of various regions.  Spanish however, has a much smaller speaking population than English outside Spain and South America. As a result, La Liga has traditionally focused on attracting the European and South American market.

 Building a similar culture and connection with the audiences globally is one of the core challenges for the Spanish League. They have attempted to remedy this with some success. Recent efforts from the league have targeted less penetrated regions where they have spearheaded the idea of delivering La Liga content that fits into the context of each area. As a result, La Liga has invested in gathering data on how the audience reacts and using that to design content and marketing that fits into the cultural context.

 b) Bringing La Liga to their doorsteps

Furthermore, La Liga has also begun to hit the ground with tours outside Europe. Pre-season tours where Premier League clubs hold matches and tournaments outside England have become a part of the league’s traditions — considering the lack of visibility outside Spain for La Liga, this tactic is crucial for clubs that are less at the forefront; clubs like Valencia and Espanyol have not gained a significant following outside of Spain. Playing more league games outside of Spain and allowing players to meet fans in their home regions would increase La Liga’s visibility and ultimately its global audience.

Real Madrid supporters celebrate as their side scores the opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on May 2, 2008 in Madrid, Spain. Barcelona won the match 6-2.  (May 2, 2009 - Source: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe)

Real Madrid supporters celebrate as their side scores the opening goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on May 2, 2008 in Madrid, Spain. Barcelona won the match 6-2.

(May 2, 2009 - Source: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe)

 Pioneering new ways of streaming live matches

Gaining more visibility outside Spain is a step in the right direction to get more people tuning into the live matches, which is a more significant win for the league. Streaming services which are spiking due to the increase of video streaming platforms such as Facebook, become one of the obvious next step for football leagues. La Liga has ventured into this area, piloting a free Facebook service for Asia in 2018 that has made La Liga easily accessible for millions of Facebook users. Asia is undoubtedly an important market for the Spanish League to gain a large following they need to increase the global viewership. Switching to internet-based streaming is a smart move by the league since internet usage in the region is amongst the highest with over half a billion users and data costs among the lowest.  Facebook currently holds exclusive rights to stream all 380 matches in the La Liga India and South-east Asia. It’s easy to see this model thriving in North America and Africa as well.

There’s no denying that La Liga is the home of champions and championships, exquisite football and the biggest names in the game. The potential for La Liga to become the most-watched league is undoubtedly there and amplifying La Liga’s presence in regions that have not historically been a priority is the right strategy for Spain’s top league. While La Liga attempts to dominate global viewership rankings, for now, Spanish clubs should continue to dominate where it matters most, on the pitch.