Spain faces hard battle to catch up with Premier League in Asia

By On April 18, 2018

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

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi’s presence in Asia with Barcelona would be a ready-made chance for La Liga to establish itself in the region. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

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 Liga’s approach is almost tiki-takaâ€'esque.

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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 clásico 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 “Game 39” was savaged a decade ago when raised by the Premier League but it is now on the Madrid table. “La Liga is global entertainment and we want to grow the international appeal,” the president, Javier Tebas, said in September. “As part of that effort we are discussing the option of playing some of the league matches outside of Spain.”

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 Barcelona’s 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.

Barça 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: “We 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.” The Thai League is to announce a partnership with La Liga this month and Malaysia did something similar in January. Tan adds: “We 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.”

There are challenges, as Tan admits. “Real Madrid and Barcelona don’t 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.”

Barça and Madrid are perhaps the two biggest clubs in the world but are seen almost as separate from La Liga itself. “If we exclude the two most popular clubs from each league,” says Yuan Bi of Titan Sports in Beijing, in reference to Liverpool and Manchester United, “then 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 clásicos every season.”

Few would deny that the quality on the pitch is higher in Spain but that is not the prime factor off it. Atlético Madrid may end up foiling Arsenal’s Europa League bid but there is no comparison in terms of pulling power between Spain’s second-best and England’s sixthâ€'best team this season. Atlético being part-Chinese owned until February made little difference.

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Cristiano Ronaldo is a major draw for La Liga among Asians but English football is viewed as being more competitive as a whole away from big players. Photograph: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images

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. “Generations gr ew up watching English football,” 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 Spain’s 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 world’s language helping the Premier League become the world’s 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 UK’s 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. “How many Chinese students used to miss classes to watch Yao Ming play basketball for the Houston Rockets?” says Bi. “It would give La Liga a real boost in China.”

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Source: Google News Spain | Netizen 24 Spain

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