La Liga Strike Averted – For Now

The threat of a strike by Spanish footballers appears to have been snuffed out, thanks to a court ruling on 14th May. It still might not be the end of the saga, though, as the bitter battle between the administrators of Spain’s League and FA shows no sign of abating, resembling a never-ending tele-novela.


Javier Tebas’ Blueprint

soccerex_logoLast September, I attended the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester and was present at a Q&A session with La Liga president Javier Tebas.

The major topic of discussion was the challenge that he was faced to bring La Liga level in global marketing terms with the pre-eminent English Premier League. His remit is to make La Liga the world’s number one football league.

To do that, Tebas has to ensure that his La Liga product is competitive and desirable.

Tebas talked of La Liga touring sideshows, where three or four clubs would play abroad in a La Liga-branded mini-tournament, he discussed the staggered kick-off times that have scattered each match across never-ending weekends of futbol in a bid to make matches accessible to every corner of the globe.

The LFP president also became quite annoyed by one British journalist who queried the impact on children’s football viewing habits that 11pm matches might have—more importantly, he touched on the subject of collective distribution of television money.

Photo of Javier Tebas, LFP President

Javier Tebas, LFP (courtesy wikicommons media, SubiGol1986)

TV, of course, is the great driving force behind the kick-off times. To appeal to the Asian market, the 11pm time slot has been set aside with a guarantee that it will show one of the four biggest attractions in Spain at least once a month: that is, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla.

One reporter, who was representing Real Madrid supporters in Asia, fired a question to Tebas that he was clearly angered by. Real Madrid supporters in Asia, the reporter said, were unhappy that only one match featuring Los Merengues was played at the 11pm time slot which was most palatable for that market. Why is this?

Tebas barked in reply: “I work for all the La Liga clubs, not just Madrid”

And therein lies the major hurdle which must be vaulted over.

Spain’s problem is, of course, that there are two giant, monolithic institutions that overshadow everything else in the league. Barcelona and Real Madrid’s duopoly of the Spanish game has threatened to strangle the sport. Incursions into trophy-winning territory from the likes of Atletico, Valencia and others are all-too-infrequent and almost impossible to sustain.

And yet, holding the English Premier League as a model of sporting competition is almost as misleading as the photographs which were supposed to represent a house that I have just been to view.

Despite the supposed fairness of the TV revenue system in England, for pretty much the whole of the EPL’s 23 year existence it has been a case of Manchester United and A.N.Other. The others in question have usually been propped up by substantial outside investment that UEFA seeks to curb with Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

What the collective TV deal does ensure is that the scrap to avoid relegation is competitive, at least.

A Balancing Act

Tebas is therefore left to perform a delicate balancing act of appeasing to both the majority of his member clubs that make up the first two divisions in Spain, and also not upset his two—ever so powereful—giants.

And so we arrive just a few weeks away from the end of the season with Chelsea having already sewn up the “ultra-competitive” EPL title an age ago and Spain’s league and FA are at loggerheads with each other—no doubt fuelled by both organisations’ respective presidents butting heads over piles of cash like rams over ewes in season.

The RFEF president is surplus to requirements. He remains in his feudal castle and he’s only ever opened the window to throw paper out; he does nothing else. We, the league, are part of the federation and we think, as such, that he should leave; but he won’t do it. He’s been doing exactly the same for 26 years and there’s no way to change him.”

Javier Tebas, President of LFP speaking to Marca about RFEF President Angel Maria Villar.

Strike action was threatened by RFEF president Angel Maria Villar and the players’ union (AFE). Both were unhappy with the new law which introduced collective bargaining for domestic TV rights. Or rather, they were unhappy with the implications that such a law could have on their grip of the Spanish game. That is, that the LFP becomes the major power broker in Spanish football.

Spanish football expert Sid Lowe gives an excellent account of how futbol en España got itself into this mess on ESPN.

Lowe’s piece states:

Here we come back to the basic idea: this is not just a decree, it is almost a constitution, one that shifts power away from the federation towards the league, whose presidents have been at war for so long. The Getafe president Angel Torres called it a “war of egos” between the league’s Tebas and federation’s Angel Maria Villar. There has been an open scramble for power for some time now.

According to the recent court ruling, any strike action has to be suspended until after 17th June. In suspending the strike, victory appears to have been handed to Tebas and the LFP.

Spanish football may well be dominated by two of the world’s biggest football clubs, but its governing bodies are also being run by two of the world’s biggest egomaniacs. The bickering and feuding between all those parties has long been chipping away at the reputation of the Spanish game.




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