Martin Mazur, digital editor, El Grafico
How do you assess the commercial performance of the Argentinian league?
MM: The Argentinian league has suffered major change in the last two years and been unable to present a ‘regular’ tournament.
From 1991 it was a stable 20-team league, with two short tournaments of 19 rounds, and two champions per year. But in 2014, the addition of 10 more clubs in Argentina’s Primera División complicated both the sporting competition and TV and commercial rights. Most of the 15 games per weekend lacked interest. Two transitional tournaments were held with different formats and all of them were unsuccessful.
The creation of Futbol para Todos, the statefunded programme that guaranteed free TV broadcasting of all Primera games since 2009, has also left few chances to generate commercial revenues abroad, since the games have been fully accessible for free from abroad via the FpT website or app.
The death of AFA president Julio Grondona in July 2014, after 35 years in office, quickly proved why he was such a powerful man, as he formulated all short-term decisions and long-term plans without opposition.
Everything changed after Grondona died. AFA elections in December 2015 ended up in a scandal as 75 voters produced a 38-38 result between Luis Segura, who represented Grondona’s heritage, and Marcelo Tinelli, a TV entrepreneur willing to modernise AFA structures with a clear commercial profile.
Subsequently, Fifa decided to impose a temporary ‘Normalisation Committee’ of four members. Its president, Armando Perez, who is also acting president of Belgrano de Córdoba, has full control – for instance, in appointing the new Argentina manager, Edgardo Bauza – but cannot sign contracts beyond the life span of the Normalisation Committee: June 30, 2017, at the latest.
In the meantime, following a proposal from Boca Juniors and River Plate, the major clubs created a Superliga, based on the Spanish LaLiga, so as to negotiate for themselves the commercial rights of the Argentinian tournament, leaving the AFA in charge of the national team, the organisation of lower divisions and women’s and beach football. The Superliga is still not officially active, but will be shortly.
Futbol para Todos will cease to exist in January 2017 and clubs are now trying to find a commercial partner for TV rights. Turner and DirecTV appear to be the main candidates and an alliance between the two would appear to be possible.
What is the potential for future growth?
MM: Argentina has had no dedicated structure and has shown no interest in exploiting the football league as a product.
However, in terms of spectacle and football level, it’s one of the top leagues in the world, with one of the most iconic clubs in Boca Juniors, exciting new prospects who will eventually end up playing at top European clubs, historic World Cup stadia and colourful crowds.
With plenty of cameras and talented directors, TV broadcasting is up to the necessary standards. However, TV graphics, logos and marketing images need an urgent rethink.
With only some European coverage, the US and Asia are two completely unexplored markets.
What are the main barriers to that growth?
MM: Lack of stability. The arrival of a new AFA president and the potential kick-off of the Superliga will at least offer a clearer scenario for the future of Argentinian football.
Issues under discussion include the number of teams, number of relegations, the playing season – February to December appears to be the most popular option – and the relegation system.
The only stable competition is the Copa Argentina, which is played throughout the year, starting with lower division and regional clubs and gradually involving Primera División and B Nacional clubs.
Also, the fact that government security agencies can change match dates and times based on safety issues has restricted the league’s ability to organise a stable calendar, with alterations being made only two or three days before kick-off.
If you could make one decision to transform the league, what would it be?
MM: I would leave 18 clubs in the Primera División, either by forcing 12 relegations to the existing B Nacional, or by promoting 18 to a newly-created Premier League.
Also the league needs to state very clearly that it wants to be normal: people abroad do not understand a relegation system based on a coefficient of points over the past three seasons – or why Boca and River (and the rest of derbies) are played in a two-legged tie (away fixtures guaranteed in ‘La fecha de los clásicos’), despite being a single-round tournament. This brings about massive inequality.
Ideally 18 clubs should play home and away in a long season, and the last two or three clubs in the table should be relegated.
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