Spanish football league La Liga has been slowly trying to internationalise, striking rights deals with key distributors in the US and Asia and growing its global team from 60 to 600 in just a few years. Its new head of marketing recently caught up with The Drum to outline plans for the region.
In America, La Liga has been moving quickly. Last year, it forged a $10m joint venture with sports marketing agency Relevent that would see it create more of its own content for social media and host its own live events in a bid to gain a stronger foothold in the market.
This is all in preparation for what La Liga anticipates could be a lucrative battle for rights to air its football matches in North America.
However, its approach in the east has been less aggressive.
Currently, the league has just 13 people working across South East Asia. Five are based in its Singapore headquarters which was set up just 18 months ago. The others are positioned in its key markets, supported by representatives in Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, China and Dubai.
Russell Tan heads up marketing for Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea and Australia, a relatively new role that has seen him take on responsibility marketing and communications, broadcaster relationship, activations, events other special projects, such as e-gaming.
Though he says Asia has been a key market for La Liga outside of Spain, its strategy is considerably less intense than that of his American counterpart.
This is partly due to the long-standing relationship it has with one key broadcaster in the region, BeIn Sports, which recently renewed the three-year rights deal it struck with La Liga in 2015. That deal will last until 2022.
“We have the closest relationship with a broadcaster out of any of the markets,” Tan recently told The Drum, explaining that means it’s less concerned with trying to scale the brand and regional audience in a short period of time. Instead, Tan's focus is on a long-term campaign to get more people interested in football.
“Our approach is simply to develop the standard of football and become the second league behind the domestic leagues. It's very different from what the other leagues or clubs are doing. Essentially, we want to share knowledge and apply what we know locally,” he said.
“So, we do many interesting things that aren't necessarily about football. We’re thinking outside of the box and seeing what works.”
In Singapore, for instance, La Liga has partnered with the Renault Formula 1 (F1) team in an effort to get more motor racing fans in football.
A particular passion point for Tan is the APAC team’s decision to spend more time in schools as a way to get kids interested in football from a young age.
“Even though Singapore is football crazy we're losing a lot of the youths. So, we're going to different schools, secondary and high school, to talk about issues (things like bullying, poverty and share player and club stories," he said.
Or take its sponsorship of Sitex, Singapore's consumer electronics fair. on the surface a strange tie-up, but Tan explained that given tech fans have a higher propensity to be football fans it opted to use that sponsorship deal to promote BeIn Sport’s OTT platform as a way to catch La Liga's games.
In the few markets where BeIn is not the rights holder, La Liga also been experimenting with how it broadcasts its matches. In India, it inked a deal with Facebook which allowed the social network to air all the matches in the feed.
Tan declined to comment on how successful the test had been but did say that the group was now “keen to explore such deals” elsewhere.
All this is in aid of simply improving its brand awareness, rather than the price of its rights (though that will come). However, one byproduct has been the advertiser deals it's able to strike on the side.
'Brands are looking to do more APAC-wide deals'
La Liga is now on the hunt for more advertisers to come on board as sponsors. Brands provide one of its biggest revenue streams in the region but ensuring there’s enough content to go round, without hampering the relationship with BeIn Sport, is the challenge.
Tan said it has signed on a fantasy football apps called Sports Hero in Indonesia for last season this coming season that deal will expand into Thailand and Australia.
“Brands are looking to do more APAC-wide deals,” he explained. "In China one match was watched by 24 million people. Brands are coming to us because they want to reach a wider audience. They don't just want to partner with one club, they want the reach that we can give. We've not closed any [APAC-wide] deals yet but we've had a lot of conversations. We’re nearing that point.”
Unilever is the only partner so far that’s “come close” to a deal of that scale.
Having forged a global partnership in 2018, Tan's team has been working on using La Liga’s reach with the young teen market to promote its Clear haircare brand. So far, it’s been focused on “content” and activating that for the local market. Though, Tan said the coming season will see it amped up, with La Liga branding set to appear on package designs, point of sale, and Unilever’s TV ads.”
While it’s a slow and steady approach to building the La Liga name in the region, Tan said it is beginning to stand out amongst its competitors.
“First of all when we started there was a clear understanding that it's an English Premier League-dominated market but there’s been a shift towards us. EPL is very club led and does a lot of commercial partnerships individually, but La Liga is about bringing [clubs] together,” he said.
“One of the key things is the AV rights. In the very end of last season, domestic broadcast rights increased by 30%. So that shows that what we've been doing in the last year has been working.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in social media followers, broadcast viewers are up and stadium visits are up - people are travelling to Spain [from Asia] more to see matches," he added.