Last year in August, La Liga signed a three-season landmark deal with Facebook that would allow viewers in the Indian sub-continent to stream every game for free on the social network.
The deal was La Liga’s attempt to expand its fan base in India - the largest single country user base for Facebook, followed by the US.
Back in 2016, La Liga had around 300,000 Facebook followers in India. Fast forward to 2019, their reach has spurred up to whopping 3.5 million on the social platform. Now even the Premier League is no match for the numbers La Liga present when it comes to fan engagement in the Indian subcontinent on Facebook.
“Our digital presence has expanded quite well. We are going in the right direction and the growth is there,” Jose Antonio Cachaza, the Managing Director of La Liga India, said in a chat with Scroll.in.
“Today we have 3.5 million followers in India and we are the biggest international league on that platform, second to only Indian Super League which is the national league here. The fan engagement on social media and from events has improved but it will take time to grow.
“In football, consumption is based on emotions. You cannot pretend to be there immediately. It will take time and we are taking the right steps,” he said.
La Liga published its annual financial results on Thursday, a record €4.48 billion over the 2017-18 season, comprising 42 teams across its top two divisions. The numbers saw a 20.6% surge from last season, an increase of more than a fifth from the previous year where the figures were down to €3.6 billion.
While broadcasting form a major chunk of revenues in Europe’s top leagues, the driving force last year was money from commercials and player transfers.
We are talking about a league that has seen the departure of high-profile players in the past few years such as Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“If you say Serie A is gaining prominence again because of Ronaldo, good for them. We are happy he gave his best years to La Liga and now in the twilight of his career, he is in Italy. It’s good for him and the league.
“Going by this year, many teams are undergoing a revamp. Take the three biggest properties - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United. We are here to compete with everyone but we aren’t concerned about who leaves. We are fighting to be the best league in the world, and we believe we are succeeding,” he added.
Though Spanish football has dominated the European stage for quite some years now, this will be the first time since 2013-’14 that no La Liga side will be part of the Champions League final following Liverpool’s historic comeback over Barcelona on Tuesday.
Cachaza, however, believes the league is home to the best talents in the world.
“One of the surprises of this year’s Champions League is three fresh, exciting teams making the semifinals. That’s the greatness of football, that new clubs are competing. But now, the best player of Ajax [Frankie de Jong] is heading to Barcelona. La Liga will keep having the best clubs and the best players,” he asserted.
More than Barca-Madrid
For many years now, the Spanish division has always been perceived as a two-horse race between Real Madrid and Barcelona, not only in India but globally; unlikely the Premier League which has been touted as the toughest in the world.
But things are changing now. Teams such as Villareal, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and few others are steadily leaving a mark not only in their domestic competitions but also on the European stage.
“There’s a perception in India that La Liga is a two-way competition, unlike the Premier League where every team can beat one another. But if you go the historic figures from the year 2000, other clubs have won the La Liga more than they have in the Premier League.
“The Premier League has been here since long and their fans have been watching them for more than 25-30 years. Ten years ago, they couldn’t watch La Liga. If they wanted to watch international football, it was only the Premier League. That’s the reality,” he added.
Last year, Girona FC arrived in Indian shores for a pre-season friendly, becoming the first La Liga club to visit India. When asked about the probability of more such clubs visiting the country, Cachaza stayed coy.
“It is something that we will keep doing but I cannot assure you when. We don’t forget how relevant Indian fans are so that we can bring our teams.
“We want to keep working in the line we already started, bringing teams, legends, organising big screenings, promoting our schools, helping our clubs to promote their response here,” he concluded.