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LaLiga sees in Africa an opportunity for expansion

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PHOTO: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

On Tuesday, May 22, Spanish giants Atletico Madrid will visit Africa for the first time when they take on a Super Eagles selected side in a friendly match in Uyo, Akwa Ibom. It is a game that has come to reality on the back of LaLiga’s increased interest in engaging with the Nigerian and African market as it eyes the large population on offer and the passion of the continent’s football fans.

LaLiga, Spain’s top division of football includes the Primera Division and the Segunda Division that saw eight Nigerian players compete in the 2017/18 season. Parading two of the most successful club sides in world football, Real Madrid and Barcelona have long dominated the conversation around LaLiga both in terms of trophies and revenues. Now LaLiga is hoping to shift the conversation beyond those two behemoths in order to allow the other clubs to find international acclaim and grow their fan base. It is one of the reasons that this year’s Europa League finalists, Atletico Madrid, are visiting Uyo.

While the English Premier League has dominated the imagination around the world, with Africa and Asia being huge fan bases, LaLiga’s reputation for being a two-team league has not done it much good as the EPL markets itself as the more exciting and unpredictable league. The fact that the rule until 2015 allowed clubs to negotiate overseas television rights individually meant that the two giants grew their international brands leaving the rest of the pack behind.

The arrival of Javier Tebas in 2013 as LaLiga’s president has changed much of that. He saw an opportunity to build a league through joint negotiation for TV revenue enabling all the clubs to earn substantially from a central pocket. League TV revenue is expected to grow by 40 percent to 2.3bn euros in the next three seasons. Still a far distance from the EPL’s 5bn euros, one of the strategies of Tebas is to ensure that interest grows in the product across Asia and Africa.

In 2016, LaLiga set up one of two African offices in Nigeria to oversee the continental expansion. Last year, Javier del Rio arrived to head the operations in Lagos. LaLiga’s services have included partnerships with the Nigeria Professional Football League, which saw an All-Star side go on a tour of Spain in 2016. They also began investing in an annual Under-15 youth tournament while they signed an agreement with the Nigeria Women’s Football League in February that will see a sharing of technical expertise, management training and sundry other assistance.

Three weeks ago LaLiga clinched an agreement with Big Cola that will see the beverage company get access to intellectual property and other marketing rights. While the EPL marketing has been led by the big clubs, LaLiga has gone ahead to be the arrowhead for its own expansion, according to Inside World Football.
Del Rio told me this week that they are excited at the engagement with the Nigerian and African market.

“Our goal is to bring LaLiga closer to the Nigerian fans,” del Rio said. “We want to promote the LaLiga brand and to increase the number of people watching LaLiga.” And through the agreements to train administrators and coaches they also hope to improve the professionalism in the domestic sports scene.

This week, Barcelona played a friendly match against Mamelodi Sundowns in South Africa. The club has one of its franchise schools, the FCB Escola, running in Lagos. Real Madrid is set to lay the foundation of its own academy in Rivers State. And with Atletico Madrid’s coming to Uyo, the increasing impact of LaLiga’s growth will continue to be felt in this part of Africa.

An important aspect of the increase in eyeballs towards LaLiga would be for more Nigerian footballers to be picked up by Spanish teams. “It’s up to the clubs,” said del Rio. “We’re trying to open their eyes to see that there’s a lot of talent in this country.”


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