If football can’t beat piracy it will lose all its value and will be in trouble. The sale of TV rights will diminish and clubs will get less revenue.
Professional Football League President
Despite boasting the two richest and, arguably, best loved clubs on the planet, Spanish football faces issues on many fronts. Its financial imbalance – resulting in part from the lack of centralised media rights negotiations – and struggle for media supremacy in ket international markets are just two of those facing LFP President Javier Tebas, a lawyer who cut his teeth in football by turning around the small Huesca club in the 1990s and became a vice president of the national league in 2001.
He talked to Sports Media and Finance about those projects and the very real dangers of piracy.
Spain’s La Liga has taken great steps to improve its product and positioning in the global game since the arrival of Javier Tebas as President of its ruling body the LFP (Liga de Futbol Professional) in April of last year.
New kick off slots designed to take the fight to the competition in international markets now see the biggest sides, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, kicking off at previously unheard times to combat the Premier League and the Bundesliga, with dominance in markets
markets such as Asia and North and South America the prize.
The fact that Spanish football is finally taking steps to grow its international TV markets is mainly down to Tebas who has taken a radical approach in a number of areas with the aim of improving the image and brand of La Liga on a global level.
Domestically La Liga is negotiating with the Spanish government over a free to air match that is currently protected by under current legislation and, restricted by such rulings at home, Tebas has turned his focus to international markets.
A raft of media deals and technological initiatives with platforms such as Twitter and You Tube show Tebas’ intent to reach as wide a global audience as possible by all methods available.
With an announcement expected soon on how the LFP will create a more level playing field through the collective selling and fairer distribution of his clubs TV rights, Sports Media and Finance asked Javier about the key issues facing the international development of La Liga.
Perhaps that the game needs to pay back all that it has been given and continues to receive from society. It is a social phenomenon that moves masses and everything that society offers to the game, whether it is people attending matches, following them on TV or the attention that is paid to every little detail surrounding the game, is something I am acutely aware of.What do you consider to be the most important thing that you have achieved within the game?
I think that is still yet to come. We are on the right road, both economically with the reduction of debt in our clubs and on an international level with our league as a global product. We know that our two biggest brands are Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and that we have to take advantage of their pull so that the rest of the clubs can benefit too from the international opportunities open to them.How do you feel La Liga is viewed in foreign markets in comparison with competition such as the Premier League, Bundesliga or Serie A?
What is clear to me is that the Premier League for example has about a 20 year advantage over us in the way it has sold its product in international markets. Looking at international profile there is no doubt that the Premier has been able to win more market share, for among other reasons the simple fact that their old colonies have traditionally followed the English league.The Bundesliga has the majority of its clubs in good financial health and enjoys a well organised distribution of its matches that are well attended by local fans, but what is true is with new kick off times in La Liga we have matches that are now competing seriously with the Bundesliga in Asia.
It is there where we are making small inroads that could eventually become big ones. And we can’t ignore Serie A, the Italian league is no better
better than the Spanish one and we have to keep on working hard in that respect.
What role do the new LFP offices based strategically in international markets play?
Basically they are to be used by the clubs for whatever need they may have in that particular territory. We currently have them in Dubai to cover the Middle East and North Africa and in China. Through these offices we have a commercial presence on behalf of all our clubs and the league in these areas which helps all involved in building our international profile. The aim is to open another office for South and Central America.
The first phase of this project has been a success. We have travelled with Sevilla FC and Villarreal to various different countries in Asia. At the same time we have been able to do things with the federations of smaller sports, for example we went to China with the water polo world champions in a bid to help them prepare to defend their title and they did just that.After that we took Málaga to Australia and Germany; Almería to Thailand along with the Women’s World Badminton Champion Carolina Marín; we went to Peru and Chile with Valencia; to Colombia with Deportivo La Coruña and with Atlético Madrid to Mexico and Turkey and also with them to San Francisco with the women’s national Hockey squad.These events are supported by a very important third party that is Brand Spain together with ICEX – the Spanish Government’s Trade and Investments arm. With them we have developed Spain Experience, a business event that goes hand in hand with football to offer Spanish companies a window of opportunity for expansion into foreign markets. This has been described by our Government as an initiative of exceptional interest and it is very important for the league to continue developing this project from next year with an even more attractive model and competition. We want all clubs that want both themselves and Spanish football to develop in new international markets to participate in this with us.Since you became President of the LFP you have spoke a lot about audiovisual piracy, can you explain why?
It is a very worrying problem. Spain has the second highest rates of piracy in the world after China. It is not just a problem for football; it affects the film and television industries and of course the press, the editorial sector and much more. Recently we have signed an agreement with the organisation that oversees all the investment in media and digital advertising so that at least that money is invested in websites
in websites and other channels that are legal so that advertisers do not help these people who use illegal methods.
The problem is much more important than society thinks it is. If football can’t beat piracy it will lose all its value and will be in trouble. The sale of TV rights will diminish and clubs will get less revenue from that area, they will not be able to finance the big stars and everybody involved, the broadcasters, clubs, press organisations and all their staff will lose out. We need a change in legislation that the recent intellectual property law has failed to provide for.
We need our government to back stronger legislation similar to what they have done in the UK and France. Piracy is robbery and at the same time those who run these illegal platforms are making a lot of money out of it…
We will continue to work hard on this subject because it will be the end of football if we are not able to change things.
You have spoken before about needing 4 years to reach a level of economic stability in Spanish football, are you on track to achieving that?
We have been on track since we signed an agreement on financial controls with the CSD, the body that controls sport within the Spanish government, in 2012. Since then we have been getting on top of things and the total debt is now under control. In just a year that debt has been reduced by more than €200m. As from September this year the total debt for all clubs, excluding Real Madrid and Barcelona, was at €435m, down from more than €700m in June 2013.
We will continue working to clear those debts over the next four years. Some clubs will continue to struggle, even more so since the Spanish tax authorities have sprung a surprise by changing the rules. From January 1 this year the extended dates that the clubs had asked for to clear back payments on income taxes are no longer admissible. The tax authorities maintain that those agreements on deferred dates no longer exist, but we understand that they should be upheld. Many of the clubs have shown that they are serious about solving the problem but it can’t be done overnight.
Shortly after coming into office at the LFP you said “not everything goes to achieve your sporting objectives”, can you tell us what the message was behind this statement?
The message that we have tried to communicate from day one of my Presidency is that we will have zero tolerance with those who cheat. Whether they may be match fixers, drug cheats or those who indulge in racist or xenophobic behaviour. From within our organisation we will constantly chase those who do not meet the required levels of fair play in all areas of the game. We don’t want cheats in the game who damage innocent third parties, competition has to be fair for all and on all levels whether it is economic in the office or on the pitch of play and we intend to be strong about that.