LaLiga President Javier Tebas （Photo credit: LaLiga）
As with many other top international sports leagues or organizations, LaLiga’s eyes have also been attracted to the Chinese market. At a media roundtable discussion at the recently held SPORTELAsia in Singapore, LaLiga President Javier Tebas shared his opinions on LaLiga’s development in Asia. Yutang Sports, as the Official Sports Business Media Partner of LaLiga in China and the only Chinese media which attended this roundtable, also took part in the discussions.
Over the past years, LaLiga has been forging an increasingly tight connection with the Chinese market. Apart from approving Chinese investments in LaLiga’s teams, LaLiga also endorsed the 5-year broadcasting rights to PPTV in 2015 and worked together with Activation Group to launch the LaLiga Club, the first ever official fans club in China, in 2016. One year later, Weibo and Yutang Sports successively joined forces with the league as an official social media platform and a media partner respectively.
All of these facts indicate the significance of China to the league, which was also affirmed by Tebas at the roundtable, “China is a very unique country, and after Spain, is our second market.” As a result, the league needs to look for more partners in China, in order to boost the growth of the league in this “mouthwatering pie” which is also seen through the eyes of many other international sports leagues.
When we asked about LaLiga’s criteria in finding partners in China, Tebas shared three key requirements with us.
“First, it has to be a local partner, who knows the Chinese market. We cannot grow without a partner who doesn’t know the Chinese market very well,” stated Tebas, “Second, the partner has to have a presence everywhere in China – or almost everywhere.”
Last but not least, according to Tebas, was the understanding of “the technological message of OTT in China”.
“China is very unique in the audio-visual area. Public television is free, CCTV is very important,” Tebas told us, “From free-to-air television to OTT, there hasn’t been a transition through cable television like this in other countries. That’s why it is very important that our partner understands OTT.”
Photo credit: LaLiga
What can be implied from Tebas’ presentation is LaLiga’s ambition, not only in China but in the whole of Asia. Last year, LaLiga announced that the kickoff time of the Spanish football showpiece, the first El Clásico of the 2017/18 season was rearranged from its usual evening kickoff slot to 1pm in Spain, in order to benefit their Asian fans. However, a lot of media reported that this change initiated an overwhelming number of complaints among Spanish football fans.
As a response to our question regarding this problem, Tebas explained that the change in the kickoff time for El Clasico was not the first time as LaLiga had also rescheduled other matches to a lunchtime kickoff, “We have been doing this for the last four years. 100 out of 300 matches are scheduled for the morning.” Then, Tebas added that it was the data that told them whether the decision to change the kickoff times were beneficial or not.
“The data shows that the change to the schedule has been beneficial,” explained Tebas, “Attendance in the stadiums has increased by 12%. 1pm is more suitable for families. We have also seen an increase in TV audiences by 40%.”
Meanwhile, Tebas disclosed that Saturday matches starting at 4.15pm had almost the same audience as Sunday matches at 8.45pm. To this extent, it could be implied from these figures that changing the schedules does not seem to really harm the domestic market of LaLiga and is benefitting fans in Asia at the same time. As a result, Tebas believed that “the system is very successful” and expressed that the league will continue to work on it.
El Clasico (Photo credit: LaLiga)
Tebas also presented that LaLiga is scheduling more top class Spanish teams in the morning. Teams with more international traction. For example, teams with more Asian players will probably play more often in the morning. The league will continue with this strategy because we want to be close to our fans in Asia.
“Our fans in Asia are as important as our Spanish fans,” emphasized Tebas.
Indeed, the misunderstanding of the Asian market by Spanish LaLiga fans, media and clubs is one of the challenges that LaLiga is facing in its Asian adventure, which requires the league to explain to those fans that they need to attract fans from all over the world because all fans are important to the league.
On the other hand, LaLiga also needs to adapt to the different markets, according to Tebas, and “to find the right people to work for us who can add value to our brand and clubs”.
“Every country in Asia is different, because of the situation of television, the digital landscape, and OTT are different in every market. The challenges in Indonesia are different from the ones in Japan, where OTT is very advanced, for example. So, the main challenge is to know what we need to do to better adapt in each different country.”
Based on this situation, Tebas introduced the league’s digital strategy at the roundtable -The first thing is “to hire an expert on social media” and then striving “to be present everywhere, including China, Japan, Russia and India”, which includes a set of localization strategies for different countries using the local language.
LaLiga's official Weibo account
“To be able to be everywhere, we had to localize our message. The localization strategy involves the language issue, so we need someone who speaks the local language,” Tebas added, “We already have content on Weibo and WeChat in Chinese. We will have content in Japanese soon and we already have Bahasa Indonesia, and Hindi.”
Another crucial part of LaLiga’s digital strategy is its anti-piracy strategy. According to Tebas, there are two types of piracy which have affected LaLiga negatively. The unauthorized streaming of matches and the illegal cable-television decoders, one of the most common piracy threats to LaLiga.
To address the piracy issue which LaLiga has been fighting against for a long time, they now “have the best anti-piracy system in the world”.
“We have 12 hackers in our team, and we have developed our own tool to track social media and other digital platforms to identify where the illegal product is being watched,” expressed Tebas.
At the same time, the anti-piracy movement of LaLiga has covered a variety of platforms, such as social media, websites, iOS apps, TV operators and broadcasters. Tebas took social media as an example to explain how they implemented their anti-piracy strategy.
Photo credit: LaLiga
“I can say we have eliminated the piracy of Spanish football on social media,” stated Tebas, “We have agreements with social media, for example with Facebook. If our tool identifies that a Facebook page is sharing pirate content, we notify Facebook immediately, and Facebook eliminates the content. If the account continues sharing the content, Facebook will eliminate the account. We have a similar agreement with Twitter.”
In terms of other types of platforms, LaLiga has been working with Google in the US, Sky in the UK as well as SuperSport.
“We do not understand why other content developers do not invest more money to tackle this problem,” stated Tebas, “For us, fighting against piracy is as important as selling the TV rights.”
Apart from these topics, Tebas expressed his opinion on LaLiga’s strategies in other Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. Other topics such as new football technologies implemented in LaLiga, what the performances by Spain’s National Team in the World Cup can bring to LaLiga and the Catalonia-related question were also discussed.
Through this interview, the significance of China and Asia for LaLiga has been expressed by Tebas and its digital strategy could be a powerful weapon for the league to boost its influence and value in this market. But the key is, how will LaLiga implement this strategy in such a special market as Asia, especially in China? It would be a question worth watching.
Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick