Spain’s La Liga boasts two of three most marketable and recognizable club brands in world soccer. Still, with the exception of Latin America where La Liga enjoys a natural linguistic and cultural advantage, the Premier League has become a much bigger worldwide phenomenon.
That may be about to start to change.
The Spanish league announced this week plans to launch the LFP Worldwide Challenge to increase brand awareness of the Spanish game overseas. The hope is to leverage the international appeal of the two giant Spanish clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, to advantage abroad.
Under the plan, La Liga clubs (including Real Madrid and Barcelona) would compete in matches around the world. The first stage of the annual tournament would be held this summer either before or after the World Cup. Host countries mentioned include the USA, Mexico, China, Colombia, Turkey, Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mongolia. Possible host cities mentioned include New York, Houston, Mexico City and Monterrey, among others.
“The objective is to generate confidence and value in the Spanish brand and football can play a part in this,” said Spanish Football League (LFP) president Javier Tebas. “La Liga puts Spain’s brand on a global level. For example, El Clasico, which has 400 million spectators. All our clubs are going to unite with this global experience, so that Spain’s brand can keep growing.”
This summer’s games will be named the “Time of Challenge.” The 2015 summer games will be titled “Challenger Select Series” in which non-Spanish teams will also be invited to play. Then, the Spanish team with best results over these games will play in a final during summer 2016 against the club that has won the most La Liga titles in the previous three seasons.
While many soccer purists outside Europe repeatedly mock the Premier League and state true lovers of cultured soccer should be watching La Liga, which is a more technical (though arguably less tactical) league with a better overall quality of player, several reasons exist as to why the English top-flight has surged in popularity when compared to Spain’s top division.
Part of the attraction to the English game in Asia and North America has to do with the culture, supporters and travel around the league, something Spain lacks. The unique character of English soccer and the atmospheres at the grounds created by traveling fans is a key part of why the Premier League has become the world leader. Additionally, TV production value and international coverage has been taken more seriously by the Premier League than rival European leagues.
Another criticism is the lack of competitiveness at the top of the Spanish table with Barcelona and Real Madrid exchanging the last nine titles. The emergence of Atletico Madrid or perhaps another side could help blunt this critique.
Language is an issue as well, as English is the Linga Franca of the emerging middle class in Asia as well as the language of business in East Africa and the Middle East. The Premier League has leveraged the natural linguistic advantages it has to conquer the growing base of soccer fans in Asia and the Middle East. In North America, the common language as well as the ties to English culture, which have only grown in recent years in both the US and Canada, have made a difference.
However, the United States with its growing Hispanic population and partisan La Liga TV partner, Qatari-owned BeIN SPORTS does present an opportunity for the league. The Premier League is far ahead of the Spanish league in the USA, but the English top-flight has nowhere near the penetration in the country that it has in most large Asian counties, like China, India, Malaysia, South Korea, etc. It is not the top foreign league in the United States, ranking second but a distant second. Millions of American fans of the game do not watch the Premier League but watch LigaMX instead and these would be natural targets for La Liga.
This presents an opportunity for La Liga though in reality they are probably at a disadvantage in just about every market outside South America in comparison with the Premier League. The initiative is bound to create some new interest in the Spanish game.
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