Following a weekend that saw it become the first European football league to live stream a match to Facebook Live, La Liga now wants to use the technology to rival the Premier League’s dominance of broadcaster’s wallets.
While a certain final in Milan might have enthralled the majority of football fans, a match between third-placed Athletico Madrid and first-placed Athletic of the Spanish Women’s First Division was the one offering them a glimpse into the sport’s future. It was the first competitive football fixture to be streamed to Facebook by a European League in what its executives believe will be the first of many matches.
And while fans won’t be watching the ‘classico’ between Real Madrid and Barcelona’s mens teams on Facebook anytime soon, it could be sooner rather than later. “It’s a good question and it could be two or three years from now,” mused Nacho Trujillo, managing director of innovation and global development at La Liga, who admitted nothing is planned for now but teased next year or the year after “who knows?”
“We have to assume that the Premier League has won the TV battle but we want to be on top when it comes to new ways to deliver content online…now more than ever before we have the opportunity to express our brand worldwide,” continued Trujillo. “There’s no doubt that in three or four years our business model will be different because the way fans are consuming content is changing so quickly.”
For some time, La Liga has begrudgingly played second fiddle to the commercial juggernaut that is the Premier League but believes digital could give it the reach needed to be the sport’s brand all media owners want. That’s media owners rather than broadcasters because La Liga is all too aware a more expansive distribution strategy is needed if it is to unseat its long-time rival – hence why it’s already working with video startup Grabyo to push short-form video clips to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram simultaneously.
However, in order to ensure it’s not giving content away to these platforms for free, La Liga is demanding the viewing data from them. “That was the first condition we had with Facebook,” explained Trujillo of what convinced it to live-stream the women’s match, with the executive mindful of the conundrums some publishers are faced with when working with the likes of Facebook and Google.
It’s a concern echoed by BT Sport. The broadcaster streamed the Champions League final on Saturday to YouTube fans in a deal that was underpinned by a data exchange between the two. Using the viewing data from YouTube, BT Sport plans to retarget those who watched it with special offers to sing up to the broadcaster. While La Liga has no plans to do the same, it believes that deals like this can only be commercially viable if it can access the data.
“It’s not easy for them [Facebook] to share this information but for us it’s crucial,” added Trujillo. “We’re already sharing information with YouTube and Twitter because it’s so key to have all the data.”
Moving forward, Trujillo and his team are busy extracting insights from the weekend’slive-stream and collaborating with its broadcasters to see how the technology can be mutually beneficial for them.
“One of the most difficult things for our future regarding our business model is to understand the new complexity of how people want to watch content differently and create more ways to broadcast,” added Trujillo. He went on to admit that La Liga will need to create a “new ecosystem” between itself, broadcasters and technology platforms in order to futureproof its commercial model.
As social video becomes more like TV, major rights holders recognise that they will need to deliver content fans in the most relevant way possible – and that increasingly means via the likes of Facebook and Google. On the flipside, rising costs to manage own those rights is whittling down the number of media owners that can realistically snap them up. Last year, the BBC said it would slash £35m from its sports rights budget, while BT Sport famously pipped Sky and ITV to the £1bn Champions League rights. It’s a developing situation many media and sponsorship experts believe will pave the way for the technology players to buy rights, with Twitter’s recent deal with the NFL viewed as just the beginning for deals of that type.
With that in mind, could La Liga bosses start selling rights tailored to these emerging channels? Trujillo argued it’s not as straightforward a question as that, likely mindful of the tensions this could cause with broadcasters and its member clubs. “We know that technology is here and that it’s going to change our business model,” he continued. “The same happened with our other industries like movies and music and now we have to sit together with our broadcasters in order to understand the future of media.