Five years of growth 'just the beginning' for LaLiga's internationalization project
After launching its strategic project to internationalize the league in 2017, Spanish soccer’s LaLiga this week celebrated the fifth anniversary of what has proven to be a fruitful journey.
Over the past five years, the league has enjoyed significant international growth thanks to its work on the ground in key target markets.
The LaLiga Global Network program launched in 2017 and is now present in 41 countries in the form of 44 on-site delegates, with another 11 professionals working from the LaLiga headquarters in Madrid.
Similarly significant to the league’s internationalization project are its 11 international offices and two joint ventures in North America and China.
LaLiga’s expansion strategy now covers 90 countries and has become one of the identifying traits of its growth.
At an event held in Madrid to mark the occasion, Oscar Mayo, the executive director of LaLiga, reflected on the expansion efforts that have made LaLiga a globally recognizable brand.
“Five years ago, we embarked on an ambitious mission to bring the entertainment and emotion of LaLiga to more fans around the world and to help grow football as a sport everywhere," he said.
“We are very proud that LaLiga and its main protagonists - clubs, players, coaches - are closer today to more people around the world than ever before. That said, this is just the beginning. Together with clubs and with the support of our new partner CVC, we will give our international efforts a massive boost."
In 2016, LaLiga had just seven international offices in addition to its headquarters in Spain. At the start of 2022, it has operations in Belgium, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, the UK, United Arab Emirates, and the US.
The growing interest in LaLiga has been evident in recent years with the extra visibility in global territories.
Since 2015-16, there has been a 30% increase in the global audiences for the broadcasts of LaLiga matches.
This has benefited the league financially as it has led to a 247% rise in the value of the competition’s international audiovisual rights since 2013-14.
LaLiga has also sought to enhance the viewer experience to increase its global reach by investing in technological innovations such as drones, skycams, and 360-degree replays, which it delivers through its roster of broadcast partners.
The league claims this also boosted the value of the LaLiga brand, with the number of sponsors growing “fivefold” in the same period.
For the new international broadcast rights cycle, the Spanish top-flight has already secured lucrative new long-term deals in some key markets where the tender process has already been concluded, most notably in the US and Mexico.
Last November, LaLiga signed an eight-year extension with Sky, the pay-television operator, in Mexico and Central America.
The agreement, which will come into effect from the start of the 2024-25 season, is reportedly worth a total of around €500 million ($566.5 million), which will double the annual figure the league is receiving from its present rights deal with Sky from €30 million per year to €60 million.
Earlier in 2021, the league also signed an eight-year contract with ESPN in the US worth a total of $1.4 billion or $175 million per annum, making the major sports broadcaster its most lucrative international rights partner.
This is followed by a media rights deal in the Middle East and North America with pay-television operator BeIN Sports valued at around €100 million per season.
For the new cycle, LaLiga chose to move away from its traditional three-year agreements to offer deals of up to eight years in select markets.
Asked by GlobalData Sport if the lucrative new deals in the US and Mexico came as a result of LaLiga’s work on the ground, Mayo replied: “It’s a bit of everything, but the international work that we do helps in the case of the US together with our joint venture over there with our local partner Relevent.
“The aim was to make the impact of the brand greater and LaLiga more important over there so that we can have better results. The idea is to generate a greater amount of business to get more money for the clubs and for those clubs to invest in the best players, facilities, and structures to continue to grow.
“Those two agreements are evidence of the growth of LaLiga internationally in those two markets, especially if you compare it with what’s happening in the audiovisual market in other competitions. We are continuing to grow with very important agreements when it’s not like that with other leagues.”
The LaLiga North America long-term joint venture between the league and Relevent Sports Group, the US soccer events and media business, was launched four years ago and recently expanded its operations into Mexico to enhance its presence in the territory.
When Argentina superstar Lionel Messi departed Spain last summer, there was a general consensus that LaLiga would lose its international appeal and value - a notion Mayo strongly disagrees with.
“Messi has certainly contributed to the growth of the competition but the LaLiga brand is mature enough to generate confidence without having to rely on one single player,” he stressed.
“Messi has gone to France and the French league hasn’t grown to the extent that we’ve grown. We’ve renewed audiovisual agreements in Mexico, the US, and many other countries. We’ve grown the rights income because some of the best clubs in the world are with us and we’ve got the best players in the world and the market and fans are with us.
“Our broadcast and commercial revenue is growing. Obviously, we’d like to still have Messi, he has helped us to grow a lot, but we don’t depend on a single person because we have made sure that we have got a very mature competition with a consolidated brand that doesn’t depend on one or two players.”
LaLiga’s global strategy has also had a positive impact in terms of commercial revenue with a significant increase in sponsors over the years.
In the 2013-14 season, the Spanish top-tier had nine partners. This figure has now grown to 50 for the current campaign, which has largely been boosted by the addition of more than 20 regional sponsors and license deals.
Those deals complement the league’s title sponsorship with Santander, and global sponsorships with Puma, EA Sports, Microsoft, Budweiser, BKT, LiveScore, and Socios.
The competition also has global licensing deals with Sorare, Dapper Labs, Panini, Green Park, FTG, and Ipesa.
“The growing number of commercial partnerships around the world is another sign of the increasing relevance of LaLiga and evidence that fans everywhere are closer to our league than ever before,” Mayo said.
“Our commercial partners are an important part of LaLiga fan engagement with activations in many parts of the world.”
LaLiga is seeking to further grow commercially through the recently concluded partnership with private equity firm CVC.
Through the ‘LaLiga Impulso’ (Boost LaLiga) project, the two parties will combine to create a new commercial arm to support both the top Spanish league’s global growth plans and the financially-stricken clubs which have suffered heavily due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The partnership, which received the majority backing of clubs across Spain’s top two tiers, will see CVC provide a total investment of €1.99 billion (€2.25 billion) for “sporting and business growth initiatives” in LaLiga through a series of staggered payments, as part of a 50-year tie-up.
A key pillar of LaLiga’s internationalization strategy is a long-term ambition to stage a league match outside of Spain.
The league has already tried - and failed - to play two matches in the US in recent years.
In 2018, LaLiga announced a top-flight Spanish match would be played in the US annually for 15 years as part of the commercial agreement with Relevent.
However, the RFEF, the national soccer federation, and subsequently world governing body FIFA, blocked the league’s attempts to first stage a match between Barcelona and Girona in Miami in 2019 and then a fixture between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal a year later in the same city.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas pointed to hypocrisy on the RFEF’s part given it has staged multiple Supercopa de Espana competitions in Saudi Arabia, the latest of which was played earlier this month (January).
For Mayo, who was promoted to the role of executive director of the organization last year after previously serving as director of business, marketing, and international development, an overseas match remains a firm part of the plan.
“Playing official matches outside of Spain is part of our roadmap and plans,” he explained.
“We started three years ago by organizing a match in Miami but we had to stop because of the FIFA measure that banned it and it’s now in the courts. We think we have a right to play those games outside the country.
“We have arranged pre-season matches with the International Champions Cup and we’ve had international experiences with our clubs playing in Nigeria, Argentina, Mexico, USA, Japan, and South Africa with summer competitions so this was already a reality before Covid and continues to be.
“It’s in our roadmap and when things get better next summer, let’s hope we have new projects, new matches, and new competitions with our clubs beyond Spain.”