Spanish football's top division, La Liga, opened its first office in India in 2016 with the aim of popularising the league in a huge, yet largely untapped market. Jose Antonio Cachaza, Managing Director, LaLiga India tells Chirinjibi Thapa that the deep roots of social media in India and avid following of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona among fans helped La Liga India's team tide over the challenges they faced in the last three years. Edited excerpts:
What has La Liga India's experience been in the past three years? What have your biggest achievements and challenges been?
When an international sports team like ours reaches a new market, we first need to build our brand, make it more powerful and also increase its commercial appeal. There are many problems when you are trying to open a new market -- especially in India, where we hadn't had a tradition of working. Even in terms of the business relationships between Spanish and Indian corporations, we are just discovering one another. That said, India is an interesting and quite mature market. However, this is 'cricket-land' where football is not the number one sport. Although, we do have an advantage in the world of football because we are among two of the top three biggest club brands in the world (FC Barcelona and Real Madrid). We need to build from there.
We came to India thinking long term. We were not thinking of coming with a commercial attitude or to make money from day one. We want to build our brand and stay in the Indian market for long. We focus on getting in touch with fans, especially through a real-time digital connection, conduct live events, interact with Indian football,.. all to build our brand and commercial appeal. That was basically the backbone of our work here all these years.
La Liga experimented with timings to better suit Asian fans. Any reason why we haven't seen much of it this time around?
This is a typical case when perception takes a long time to change. In the past, we had problems because most of our matches were starting too late (for Asian audiences), but we changed our kick-off times four years ago. Now, we have kick-off times starting at noon in Spanish time and around 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in India Standard Time (IST). Also, the way we are programming our matches, we have one Barcelona or Real Madrid match, or the very least Atletico Madrid, each week in suitable Asia time. Don't forget that the prime time for Spanish TV is around 8-9 p.m., that's after midnight here, so that affects us. Even the Champions League now has early kickoffs. So, they are also basically following what we started doing a few years ago. Moreover, we also have to cater to other markets. So, an early kick-off for India can be a problem for the Americas.
How has the centralised sale of broadcast rights impacted the competition in La Liga?
That was a huge game-changer. But there are two major changes in La Liga that came together and you can not see one without the other. It is not just the centralised sale of broadcast, but also has to do with a more even distribution. Earlier, the bigger clubs used to get more (broadcast rights revenue) but now it is more balanced. We are now 3:4 in the ratio as what the team gets the most and the one that gets the least in the division. Earlier, this ratio was 1:10, even 1:20, at some point. Another thing that we did is the economic control model or economic fair play to ensure our clubs don't get in undue debts. We also impose salary caps according to the revenue. Together with the increase of the broadcast right, now the clubs' finances are balanced and healthy which makes them more competitive in terms of sports planning, signing players, and such like.
In terms of competition, we have three of the biggest clubs in Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid. But that apart, there is nothing less attractive than a competition where what is at stake is whether Real Madrid or Barcelona was going to break goals record or secure over 100 points. Now, they have to fight, so it is important.
How successful has your tie-up with Facebook been? How has it impacted your user base?
We need to see everything as part of the overall strategy. When we deal in broadcasting rights, Facebook or any other, the important question is the value your partner is going to pay -- that's the number-one source of revenue for La Liga or any sports competition. But in India's case, digital has always been part of our plan to reach fans and get close to them. Digital is making it possible to reach places and fans that we couldn't imagine, like small villages in south India where even couriers don't reach. About Facebook, we are confident that we have the right strategy. So many fans are getting the chance to watch our matches for free since they are easily accessible everywhere. Plus, the level of penetration of mobile phones and even broadband is much higher in India than what many people think. So, it's a risky move but it's a move in the right direction.
After Girona, we haven't had any top-tier Spanish club visit India for an exhibition match. Any chance it will happen soon?
We are absolutely working in that direction with our Indian partners and we are targeting potentially to do it right at the end of this season before the international players go to their national teams. We cannot confirm it will happen but we are in quite advanced talks to have another Spanish club come to India.
Are you also working towards any significant tie-ups between top Spanish and Indian clubs?
That's basically a team business. We can help clubs get together. Indeed, we promote this in our conference between the owners of Spanish and Indian clubs. But in the end, it's between the owners of Spanish and Indian clubs. As La Liga, we cannot do much more there. For example, we already have a strong tie-up between Atletico Madrid and Jamshedpur FC which also comprehends their Tata Football Academy.
What's the way forward for La Liga India?
We need to keep growing. In the last three years, we have laid the foundation of the line of work we need to insist, which is basically public events, digital growth, keep bringing more sponsors. But also to look towards the sidelines of football, go to the new public, and try and bring Spanish teams to India. So, in a sense, to insist on the strategy that we have been following.