Spain faces hard battle to catch up with Premier League in Asia
Spain faces hard battle to catch up with Premier League in Asia La Liga Sportblog Spain faces hard battle to catch up with Premier League in Asia La Liga has always appealed more in the Americas than in Asia but is desperate to change that and is looking at playing league games outside Spain
Spanish teams may have been knocking English teams out of Europe this season but challenging the Premier League in Asia is a much tougher prospect. La Liga has talked before of making inroads in the east and, like a young Rocky Balboa, it is ready to do whatever it takes to knock the grizzled No 1 off its perch.
Despite the PR overdrive it will be tough for a league that has always appealed more in the Americas than Asia but, with varied strategies that do not depend on the tired routeâ'one tactic of sending glamour teams east every other summer, La Ligaâs approach is almost tiki-takaâ'esque.Fun, 'finta' and why it is impossible not to love JoaquÃn at Real Betis | Sid Lowe Read more
The prospect of competitive games, unprecedented loan deals, genuine partnerships, corporate deals, extensive social media engagement as well as the obvious attractions of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, constitute a mobile challenger that has to be taken seriously.
In December el clÃ¡sico kicked off at what was 1pm for the teams, a time to suit audiences in Shanghai, Singapo re and New Delhi, just some of the cities with an office opened by La Liga in recent years. The idea of âGame 39â was savaged a decade ago when raised by the Premier League but it is now on the Madrid table. âLa Liga is global entertainment and we want to grow the international appeal,â the president, Javier Tebas, said in September. âAs part of that effort we are discussing the option of playing some of the league matches outside of Spain.â
Last month Manchester United said the Saudi striker Mohammad al-Sahlawi would train with them for three weeks. That is nothing. In January nine Saudi Arabian players were sent to clubs in the top two tiers in Spain on loan. Fans there may not like it but La Liga is eager to increase its popularity in the country and the continent. Individual clubs involved were soon announcing sponsorship deals with Saudi companies.
After badly received Asian tours, such as Real Madrid to China in 2005 and Barcelonaâs visit to South K orea five years later, teams who behaved as if they were doing fans a favour, there is now a new breed of La Liga official. They are humbler and readier to treat Asian counterparts on a more equal footing than their predecessors in Spain and some of their counterparts in England. Football people in China and southâ'east Asia whisper how these officials have the energy and ambition that the English had not long ago.
BarÃ§a and Madrid are perhaps the two biggest clubs in the world but are seen almost as separate from La Liga itself
La Liga is learning and so is Asia. Ben Tan, the deputy chief executive of the Thai League, says: âWe know there have been problems in the past with one-sided arrangements but we are ready to work together and create a win-win situation.â The Thai League is to announce a partnership with La Liga this month and Malaysia did something similar in January. Tan adds: âWe will work with them on youth development a nd marketing and all kinds of fields. We can also help bring them closer to Thailand fans.â
There are challenges, as Tan admits. âReal Madrid and Barcelona donât need any promotion but we can work with teams like Real Zaragoza, for example. The Premier League may be the most entertaining league but there is room for Asian fans to look at other leagues.â
BarÃ§a and Madrid are perhaps the two biggest clubs in the world but are seen almost as separate from La Liga itself. âIf we exclude the two most popular clubs from each league,â says Yuan Bi of Titan Sports in Beijing, in reference to Liverpool and Manchester United, âthen the gap is large in China. English football is more competitive and there are different clubs for Chinese fans but only two in Spain. If you want Chinese fans to watch more games, then there have to be more than two clÃ¡sicos every season.â
Few would deny that the quality on the pitch is higher in Spain but that is not the prime factor off it. AtlÃ©tico Madrid may end up foiling Arsenalâs Europa League bid but there is no comparison in terms of pulling power between Spainâs second-best and Englandâs sixthâ'best team this season. AtlÃ©tico being part-Chinese owned until February made little difference.
Spain has to try to cancel out certain in-built advantages that the Premier League has. England colonised large parts of the continent and that connection still exists. âGenerations gr ew up watching English football,â says Tan. Liverpool may not have won the league since 1990 but their 70s and 80s successes provided a base for continued widespread support, especially in southâ'east Asia. Paradoxically Spainâs only former colony of any size in the region, the Philippines, is the one country in an area home to 700 million that is not that bothered about the game.
And then there is the underrated asset of English, with the worldâs language helping the Premier League become the worldâs most popular league. Very few Asian journalists speak Spanish. Almost all will be able to read and understand English Premier League reports, rumours and comments, and to repeat them at home. Even much of the Spanish football news in Asia comes via London and not Madrid.
Countries with few historic links to England such as South Korea and Japan have grown to know the Premier League well by sending some of their best players there. Park Ji-sung winning medals over seven years with Manchester United did not only help the club commercially; it made all the other teams in the league much more familiar and marketable.
What Spain can do â" and the UKâs tough work permit laws give an advantage here â" is position their clubs to be the natural first destination for the future talent that will eventually emerge in China, India and southâ'east Asia. The potential rewards of being home to the first Chinese football superstar are the stuff of dreams for suits in Spain. âHow many Chinese students used to miss classes to watch Yao Ming play basketball for the Houston Rockets?â says Bi. âIt would give La Liga a real boost in China.âTopics
- La Liga
- European club football
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