Share the wealth, we say, but when you’re as wealthy as Real Madrid and Barcelona, it might not pay to take that stance.
La Liga’s upper class is strictly limited to those two clubs, and they each pocketed close to $174 million in television revenue last season. Leading the middle classes was Valencia, with $59 million, while league champions Atlético Madrid only had $51 million to show for toppling El Real and La Blaugrana.
Clubs currently individually negotiate their own television rights, which is why Madrid and Barça have been able to race away from the field like Usain Bolt in a high school sprint. They bring in the viewers, so they can demand top dollar. Getafe? Dream on, lads. Almeria, Rayo Vallecano, Elche, Real Valladolid and Granada all pocketed less than $24 million for playing their part in a league which is scrapping for the “best league in the world” slogan. But to be able to truly claim that title, Spain’s top flight needs a mini-revolution.
Espanyol president Joan Collet is one of the loudest voices leading the charge for a collective deal, and LFP president Javier Tebas is right behind him. Since the announcement of the bumper $2.8 billion per season Premier League television deal in February (Spain’s teams last season earned around $900 million), envious eyes have been glancing north. It has helped make this the issue in Spain (oh, and match-fixing), and a sense of urgency not often associated with Spanish soccer has been instilled.
Tebas (above) has pointed out that La Liga’s brand is far bigger than any individual club’s and believes a change in the way things are currently done would benefit everyone. He estimates that subscribers to domestic soccer in Spain would go from four million to nearly nine million in five seasons with a collective agreement in place.
Under the terms of a new plan currently sitting in the hands of Spain’s government, 50 percent of the league’s television income would be split evenly among the clubs. Another 25 percent would be distributed based on results, and the final 25 percent based on the number of people watching the games on the box.
The biggest surprise with the new plan is that Barça, at least to the naked eye, is completely in favor of pushing it through. In fact, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has even suggested we should send our thank you letters his way in the event that a new law is eventually forged.
“We are not just in favor of it, but in the last three years Barcelona has been the club that has led the campaign in Spain for La Liga to sell its rights as one,” he claimed. “On an economic level, Barça can’t compete with the Premier League, La Liga has to compete with the Premier League.”
But what about Real Madrid?
“Madrid is not saying anything,” Collet previously stated, before adding that “on more than one occasion [Florentino] Pérez has said that he’s against it.” So Madrid had said something, Joan? Which is it? It’s not said anything, or its president has said he’s against it?
Whichever it was, by Feb. 6 this year, the wealthy team in white from the Spanish capital had lent its support to the cause. So with The Real Decreto all agreed, the two conglomerates on board, Tebas pushing it through, there’s no longer anything to see here …
… except there is still plenty to see.
Athletic Club was against the deal. The Basque club admitted it could see why it was a good thing, it just didn’t think it was a good thing for itself. As the club only signs local players due to club folklore, Athletic rarely signs at all. Instead, it plays players it’s crafted at its Lezama academy. The club struggles to spend the money it does have — and it has enough — as the players simply aren’t out there.
It’s recently signed a television deal for next season with Mediaset — one which is significantly higher than what it earned last season — and feels increased competition would affect it more than any other top flight club. To survive, it was suggested, it may even have to break its own in-house rules. A bit dramatic, possibly, but you can see the point.
But Athletic’s not even the biggest enemy here. With Madrid and Barça putting their hands up in approval, 41 of the 42 clubs who make up the LFP members — Spain’s top two divisions — were in favor of pushing the deal through. An objection from Bilbao wasn’t all that.
So if Barça aren’t the bad guy, Real Madrid aren’t robbing the poor to pay for Cristiano Ronaldo’s eyebrow waxes and Athletic are off the hook for now, why is a collective deal still not a thing? If you’ve lived in Spain, have family in Spain or have any idea of how things work in Spain, inside and outside of soccer, you won’t need to brace yourself for the reason.
Back to Espanyol’s Collet for the answer: “The capacity of the government to do no good knows no bounds.” It all so knows no sense. As far as anyone’s aware, there’s no reason the government can’t push through a new law in the name of common sense, but it does not seem prepared to do that. By the end of March, it had already rejected two proposals from the LFP, despite the secretary for sport, Miguel Cardenal (above), telling Collet he’d be tucking into his Christmas cannelloni with the satisfaction of having played a major role in safeguarding the future of Spanish soccer.
“[Cardenal] personally assured me months ago [the law would be passed],” Collet said with smoke coming out of his ears last month as the wait went on. “Nobody knows who it is that is stopping [the law being passed]. There are very dark shadows at play.”
Tebas told Sid Lowe in an interview for ESPN that the league can’t push through the agreement themselves because it “needs to be regulated by the government to be sure it does not contravene the regulations on monopolies and fair competition. It also means a legal framework would be set up so we have a status quo, enabling us, with a two-thirds majority, to maintain a coherent argument.”
To show it means business, the league threatened a strike. Threatened, until now at least, being the operative word.
For months teams said said they’d down tools on Clásico weekend if the government didn’t act. The message was clear: “Give us what we want or we will hit you where it hurts the most.” Given the Clásico is the most-watched domestic soccer match in the world, a strike would have been huge news.
That strike never materialized, though, nor did another one planned for later in April. It was called off at the end of March with an ultimatum favored instead. It’s been nearly 10 days since the clubs issued that ultimatum, and still the government is quiet.
A new collective deal won’t be in place for next season now — even with Madrid and Barça’s approval — and several clubs have already negotiated their deals for the 2015-16 campaign. But there is still hope for 2016-17: Hope that Eibar won’t lose their best defender to a club in England’s second division; hope that Atlético won’t have to see three players move to Chelsea after they win the title; and hope that Atlético winning the title, or even competing for the title, was not a one-off.
“We need that law past and we need it now,” Tebas has said so many times he presumably mutters it in his sleep. “It’s urgent. Without it, we will be faced by a grave situation.”