The head of the Spanish league, Javier Tebas, believes Saturday’s blockbuster clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona can help lead La Liga’s economic fightback against the Premier League’s billion dollar television contracts.
The financial gap between the English top-flight and the rest of Europe soared after the Premier League secured a record a £5.1 billion ($7.8 billion, 6.9 billion euros) three-year deal for domestic television rights alone in February.
However, Tebas, who has helped oversee a drastic turnaround in Spanish football’s debt-laden finances, is hopeful the appeal of broadcasting the world’s best players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi can keep La Liga on the Premier League’s coattails.
“El Clasico is the jewel in the crown of La Liga, but bearing in mind it is La Liga that gives it its value,” Tebas told AFP in an exclusive interview.
“It is a competitive game, with points at stake. If it were just a friendly, it wouldn’t be the same.”
That the game will kick-off at 1815 local time (1715GMT) is a sign of changing times in La Liga.
In an attempt to put the brakes on the Premier League’s dominance of the lucrative Asian market, Madrid and Barcelona now regularly kick-off at the same time as their English counterparts.
A worldwide television audience of at least 500 million is expected to watch Messi team up with Neymar and Luis Suarez to take on Ronaldo’s Madrid, who can also count on stars like Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.
The arms race for star names between the two clubs has led to criticism of La Liga for being too uncompetitive. Indeed, only once in the past 11 years have they failed to win the title.
A new law has attempted to address that competitive imbalance by enforcing the league to negotiate its television rights collectively rather than on an individual basis, which previously saw the big two earn up to 14 times more than the smallest clubs.
However, Tebas insists even under a more balanced system, Madrid and Barca haven’t lost out as the collective deals struck for both national and international rights have seen television revenue rise from 800 million euros a season to 1.2 billion.
Moreover, with a three-year deal for domestic rights under tender at the moment, Tebas is hopeful that by next season revenue could rise to as much as 1.5 billion euros.
“I think we have known and the government have accepted it wouldn’t be so equally split as in the English or German league. We need to grow without cutting out Real Madrid and Barcelona. The better they go and the more stars they have, the better the domestic and international rights will go.
“Already this year because we have done the international tender, we have grown from 800 million to 1.2 billion euros.
“Now we are doing the national tender and hope to get to 1.5 billion. It is not the Premier League because we have far to go in working on our brand, but we are at a much superior level than the Italian, German or French leagues and within a billion of the Premier League.”
The extra revenue has significantly helped in areas such as reducing Spanish clubs’ enormous tax debts by over 50 percent from 650 million to 317 million in the past two years.
Yet, there is a looming threat to La Liga’s cash cow in the form of the Catalan independence drive, which could see Barcelona cut adrift from Spain.
Tebas has repeatedly stated he doesn’t believe Catalonia’s succession from Spain would be legal, and refused to offer an olive branch for Barca to remain in the league in the case that independence did come about.
“Without doubt it wouldn’t be the same, but it would be the willingness of the clubs and Spanish law that would decide.
“We need to remember that if separation came about, which it won’t, it would be a very painful act.”