All for the Money? Will Kick Offs and Venues Change as Part of Internationalisation

The Spanish Super Cup could move to Saudi Arabia, while Ligue 1 kick off times will change in order to keep a Chinese audience engaged.

Some fans already fume about the fragmentation of matchdays due to broadcasting demands. Games on a Monday are not really popular and some kick off times just don’t appeal to the supporters. The accusation that this scheduling is merely meant to augment revenue streams is further fueled by various plans to change established frames for the football reception in some countries. La Liga’s plan to play matches in the US might have hit a stumbling block, but the Super Cup could now move to Saudi Arabia – as sponsorship money lures. Meanwhile, the Ligue 1 plans to change kick off times to satisfy Chinese audiences. Those changes would be worthwile; but will such transitions be seamless for every fan out there?

Playing somewhere else: La Liga could earn 30 million Euro a year

The remarkable amount of 30 million Euro annually, for six years, is on the cards for La Liga. It is, according to Marca, offered to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) by the Saudi government, which would like to see the prestigious games between champions and cup winners from Spain staged on their soil. It would’t be a new experience for teams like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or FC Sevilla, since the Supercopa de España was played abroad as a single match for the first time this season, with Barcelona beating Sevilla in Tangier in August.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia already have a deal in place allowing them to host the Supercoppa Italiana for three seasons. In January, Juventus defeated AC Milan in the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah.

Nothing has been decided yet as the RFEF would even consider cooperations that last longer – and therefore offer more income. Adding to this opportunity to move games abroad is Luis Rubiales’ – who is the RFEF president – plan to create a final four for the Supercopa. That would see the top two of La Liga and the Copa del Rey finalists compete from a semi-final on somewhere out of Spain. While such plans promise additional income aplenty, it would also create something of an inauthentic experience. Plus, it could confound fixture planning a lot. That is a main reason why La Liga itself is opposing the RFEF plans at the moment, as Reuters report.

La Liga’s general assembly has agreed at today’s meeting to not support the changes to the Copa del Rey and Super Cup which have been proposed by the RFEF. This is due to the fact that these types of changes should be agreed to by La Liga as they affect clubs belonging to the league and they imply an important change to the professional competition calendar,

said a statement from the body. 39 of the 42 clubs in the first and second tier had opposed the changes.

At the start of the season there were reports about a deal that would see one La Liga match a season played on US soil. But the FIFA rejected the approach officially:

Consistent with the opinion expressed by the Football Stakeholders Committee, the Council emphasised the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.

The deal was struck without the knowledge of the federation, too. But who knows, such overseas games might still materialise as some La Liga officials told The Washington Post at the time that they would even go to court over the matter:

Should we receive official notification from FIFA that they prohibit the match in the USA, we will take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with urgency.

The Spanish players’ union is against that and the fans at home won’t like it. From a business perspective it is still a reasonable thing to do. Playing abroad – and not only in a rather uncompetitive friendly mode – could well enhance fan engagement, viewer numbers and eventually popularity and measurable revenue for the federation, the league and the teams.

Ligue 1 draws attention to China

The US is one big market for European clubs or leagues, China is another. That can be seen, if you look at plans that the French Ligue 1 is presenting right now. From the 2020/21 season on, kick off times on a Sunday shall change in order to reach more people in China. French professional football league (LFP) chief executive, Didier Quillot, said:

In terms of marketing, we need to have different content based on storytelling. We need to start to develop content more dedicated to the Ligue 1 region, trying to invent new way of storytelling of Ligue 1. Today we are catching up with Serie A (Italian top flight) in terms of value and attractiveness. We need to catch up with Bundesliga (German top flight), but it is a long journey,

as was reported by SportsPro Media. That’s why one match from the French first tier will start at 1PM CET from 2020 on. Such a kick off time had already been scheduled for the match between OGC Nice and Paris Saint-Germain in march – with Quillot once again commentating:

A year after the opening of the French football office in Beijing, the scheduling of a big Ligue 1 Conforama fixture for prime time across Asia constitutes a new milestone for getting to know the French league. This big step will give Ligue 1 Conforama even higher exposure to an Asian public who are becoming increasingly interested in the spectacle offered up by French clubs.

And the Ligue 1, which has drawn more attention not least due to PSG’s rise to a European superpower having the likes of Neymar, Mbappé or Buffon in their ranks, is presented to Asian audiences more and more. Just like La Liga, the Ligue 1 has staged the French Super Cup abroad this season, but for the tenth consecutive time. It had been played in Canada, the US, China, Austria, even Gabon etc. The press was certainly present then.

So, despite a lot of resistance, the scheduling of games in Europe’s top leagues might change more and more over the course of the next few years as global audiences want to be given better access. For the federations and leagues that means more money. Super Cup games will be more of a marketing exhibition, while kick off times will surely be even more apportioned in order to make broadcasting in other countries more lucrative. Eventually, we might even see La Liga games in the US; and if that happens, other leagues could follow suit. Such a development will only be the natural consequence of a football ecosystem that has a self-image as an agglomeration of global brands. And fans and supporters will not fade away, even though marketing machineries control the preconditions for their beloved sports increasingly. It just won’t be the same experience anymore, once the moneymakers have left the the image of mere football clubs vying for superiority in the shadows.

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