Sponsored Content | A new broadcast era for LaLiga

The 2016-17 season has been a watershed for the broadcast product of Spanish football’s top-tier – not only in how the rights are sold and revenues distributed, but how it is presented on TV across the world.  Broadcasters and fans at home – and on the move – are benefitting from LaLiga’s innovative and ambitious new broadcast presentation.

MAY 1, 2015 is a date that’s now been firmly etched into the annals of LaLiga Santander history.

After a long and protracted period of lobbying and negotiations, the Spanish Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros) approved a Royal Decree to govern how broadcast rights for the top two tiers of Spanish club football and the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup competitions are sold, and how the revenues generated are distributed between clubs.

Primarily, the Royal Decree put into law that broadcast rights would be sold centrally rather than individually, as they had been previously. Traditionally, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid – the country’s most popular and historically bestperforming teams – sold broadcast rights for their home games individually, and therefore received far bigger broadcast revenues than their LaLiga counterparts because of the value of their matches to broadcast media.

Under a collective model – where the top-tier clubs pool their rights so they can be sold centrally by the league – LaLiga felt not only that it could increase the overall value of the broadcast rights for Spanish club football, but it could share revenues more fairly for clubs of all sizes.

Importantly, centralised rights would also enable LaLiga to introduce a better, more engaging visual product; a lack of a collective model meant it was difficult to have a universal approach to broadcast production, and therefore games broadcast on TV didn’t all have the same look and feel.

“The Royal Decree has changed the audiovisual backdrop for football in Spain,” says LaLiga president Javier Tebas who, in his first term in the position from 2013 to 2016, fought and lobbied tirelessly for Spanish clubs to embrace the collective model.

“The Decree now enables us not only to control our audiovisual rights, but to set ourselves an inspiring challenge: to enhance our brand, to add further value to our assets, and make LaLiga a desirable product in the eyes of the world’s media. Doing that will raise the profile of our teams and give them new opportunities.”

Words into action

From the 18 months since May 2015, LaLiga has been in front-foot mode, working out the many ways – both short-term and long-term – that Spanish club football can benefit from the new broadcast model. And it hasn’t taken long to activate the strategies.

The biggest headline since then came in December 2015, less than a year after the Royal Decree was put into law, when Tebas announced new three-year deals for selected packages of collective domestic broadcast rights from 2016-17 to 2018-19 worth €2.65bn ($2.5bn), a huge overall increase in value. Theory was comprehensively put into practice.

But it’s not all about broadcast sales – the new cycle has also given LaLiga the opportunity to introduce a raft of production changes that enhance the broadcast feel, and improve the viewing experience, of top Spanish football for the hundreds of millions of fans who span the globe.

“Football fans – in Spain and abroad – want to watch a show that’s full of emotion. But we also want to showcase a product that has the best possible image,” adds Tebas.

“From this season [2016-17] we have looked to put ourselves on an equal footing with the world’s biggest sports leagues and events. Competition for attention is becoming fiercer, and we need to be ambitious to increase the attractiveness, and therefore value, of our audiovisual products.

“When someone watches a LaLiga match, we want them to know immediately that it’s our product, with its own identity and the highest quality. It’s something that is non-negotiable now if we want to compete.

“We also believe that improving our broadcast appeal involves standardising and raising the quality of the stage for the show we offer – our stadiums – both for the fans who attend matches every week and for viewers worldwide. I firmly believe the changes will deliver huge returns across Spanish football both in the medium and longer-term.”

All the improvements and introductions to the LaLiga broadcast product from this season onwards – which, from new camera positions to 3D graphics and 360° replays, will be outlined over the next three pages – have viewers primarily in mind, and many are European football firsts.

And though the positive effects may still be in their infancy, there’s no doubt LaLiga’s commitment to innovation and embracing new technologies is a long-term one.

Part 2: Lights, camera, action

Huge advancements in technology are empowering sports properties to capture live action from perspectives thought unthinkable in the past. This season, LaLiga has adopted a number of new camera technologies to do exactly that, including installing mini goalmouth cameras, introducing polecams to get better floating shots, and steadycams around the pitch – alongside much more revolutionary innovations.

Aerial cameras

Aerial cameras have been set up in seven stadiums to date (Atlético Madrid’s Calderon, Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, Barcelona’s Camp Nou, Valencia’s Mestalla, Sevilla FC’s Sanchez-Pizjuan, Athletic Club’s San Mames and Villarreal CF’s El Madrigal).

Known officially from a product perspective as the ‘OmniCam4Sky’, the aerial camera gives viewers unmistakably modern and unique shots of both the action on the pitch and fans in the stadium.

Sitting inside a four-cable-winch set up in a stadium, the aerial camera is a suspended, 4K camera that’s able to move freely through space – both vertically and horizontally – at around 21 metres above the pitch. During a game it produces a moving camera angle that can show action both live and in replays from nearly anywhere, both high and low. When live action isn’t taking place – such as before kick-off, at half-time and post-match – the cameras can be lowered to between three and 10 metres to take more ground-based shots.

Three people are in charge of the system: a cameraman controls the framing, zoom and focus; a pilot operates the camera flight; and a technician changes the batteries and monitors the motors while the camera is in action.

“We need to work hard to give satisfaction to our fans and ensure their LaLiga experience gets better and better… that is why we’re making many changes, such as introducing aerial cameras,” said LaLiga president Javier Tebas at the 2016 Sportel Asia conference in Singapore, just ahead of the 2016-17 season. Sportel is the must-attend convention for sports marketing and media industry leaders and last year Tebas took to the stage to outline many of LaLiga’s plans for broadcast innovation.

OmniCam, the company behind the aerial camera, is a Portuguese subsidiary of Spanish media giant and LaLiga partner Mediapro that began life in 1996 creating remote-controlled camera systems solutions. Previous to LaLiga, the 4Sky system has been used in major sports events such as the Fifa Club World Cup and Champions League Twenty20 cricket competition.

LaLiga intends to introduce three additional aerial cameras before season 2017-18, and has two mobile units that can set up aerial filming systems in stadiums where a permanent Skycam set-up is either technically or architecturally unfeasible.

Intel 360° Replays

LaLiga matches are some of the most popular sports events in the world. However, in their lifetime a significant number of fans across the world may never get the chance to watch a game live and in person due to a variety of time, location and cost constraints. Getting fans ever closer to experiencing a LaLiga game in the comfort of their home has therefore been a number one objective.

LaLiga became the first European league to introduce a permanent 360°-replay system in a stadium in December 2016, when it installed the leading technology of Intel – which had previously installed systems across stadiums in the United States that host American football, baseball and basketball – at both the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu, homes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

“As a player, you experience the match as if you were in a bubble, but after you retire, you realise the importance of giving the viewers the best game experience possible,” added LaLiga ambassador and former Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes. “Having 360° replays is a huge step towards making the game as real as possible for the fans.”

The Intel, 38-ultra-HD-camera stadium set-up gives LaLiga broadcasters across the world the opportunity to offer viewers a replay of any incident or piece of play from any vantage point in the stadium. The replays can be frozen, rotated to a different angle and then unfrozen to give several different angles in one replay clip.

The technology works by having several cameras installed a specific distance between one another around a stadium; the 2D videos from each camera are processed through the powerful Intel back-end system that creates a new image of the action on the pitch from any position or angle.

The technology was first tested in October and 360° replays offered to broadcasters for the first time with the El Clasico encounter between Barcelona and Real Madrid on December 3, 2016.

“These replays are what the viewer has been looking for in a TV experience. We have an infinite number of camera positions and the game will be able to be seen from any angle. It’s every producer’s dream to be able to choose where the action on the pitch can be viewed from,” said Oscar Lago, the producer who called the shots of the Intel 360°-replay system in December’s El Clasico.

4K Ultra HD

Many broadcast experts believe 2017 will be the year 4K starts going mainstream to become the regular and standard way fans watch sport on TV in their homes.

Put simply, 4K enables fans to watch the action in a much clearer picture and in more pixels – 8,294,400 to be exact. It’s much crisper, and capable of showing more details, than standard HD, which has become the accepted standard of quality for sport on TV for a number of years now.

Anticipating the growing consumer demand, from this season LaLiga has been producing one match per gameweek in 4K for its broadcast partners, making it one of the very few sports competitions to be providing regular action in the much-improved broadcast quality. But that’s not to say 4K is a brand new concept for LaLiga; the filming and broadcasting of games in 4K have been tested by LaLiga since March 2014, when Mediapro filmed footage of the El Clasico game at the Santiago Bernabéu and provided the images to international LaLiga broadcast partners for use in highlights coverage.

The first live 4K broadcast proper was April 2016, when LaLiga broadcast partners covering over 90 countries were given a custom 4K stream of the El Clasico game at the Camp Nou.

With 4K sports consumption only going to increase rapidly in the years ahead, LaLiga is already thinking ahead and planning to increase one 4K match per game-week to three 4K matches per gameweek from the 2017-18 season.

The on-screen look and feel of sports coverage plays a large – and often underappreciated – role in the positive impression of a sports fan towards a brand. So too does the content around the live action help to engage and draw in viewers. Enhancing the on-screen coverage has therefore been a high priority for LaLiga, with a number of new features added this season.

Part 3: Enhanced on-screen coverage

The on-screen look and feel of sports coverage plays a large – and often underappreciated – role in the positive impression of a sports fan towards a brand. So too does the content around the live action help to engage and draw in viewers. Enhancing the on-screen coverage has therefore been a high priority for LaLiga, with a number of new features added this season

On-screen graphics

LaLiga has invested in a number of new and improved graphics packages for match build-ups and analysis for 2016-17.

Realistic 360° replays, virtual player runs and automatic player-tracking are just three of the graphics now used for global broadcast coverage – all a result of the league’s partnership with Norwegian-based, global real-time 3D graphics provider Vizrt and its Libero product.

With player-tracking, for example, players’ movements are automatically tracked on the pitch and their runs accurately shown virtually. A producer or a presenter simply clicks on one or more players and the Libero software automatically tracks the players, with the software correcting itself if the view of a player becomes obstructed at any point.

As LaLiga has a commitment to universal standards of production, it has also recorded players walking towards the camera for use on team line-up announcements on every LaLiga game broadcast both in Spain and internationally. Other major leagues only have players walking to the cameras on a select, and minority, number of matches.

Dressing-room content

From 2016-17, cameras have been allowed in the dressing room at a select number of top-flight games – making LaLiga one of the few major football leagues in the world to capture such interesting and emotional live content in the lead-up to a game. The dressing-rooms footage gives broadcasters – and fans – fly-on-the-wall scenes like pre-match rituals, the manager’s final words and the tension in the players’ circle just before kick-off, encouraging fans to tune in to matches earlier and help drive conversations around the game on social media.

Highlights and magazine shows

Spanish football fans around the world have an insatiable appetite for LaLiga football, so programmes that supplement live coverage have been revamped and introduced from 2016/17 to satisfy demand.

LaLiga WORLD, the magazine show broadcast on Tuesdays featuring interviews with – and stories around – current and former LaLiga players, managers and fans has been completely rebranded for 2016- 17 and introduced fresh features. LaLiga SHOW, meanwhile, is shown on a Thursday and recaps the previous gameweek and previews the following one; this has also been rebranded and benefits from the numerous new camera angles used this season.

In addition, new for this season is LaLiga DOCS – a monthly, documentary-style show that goes in-depth and behind-the-scenes at LaLiga clubs – and LaLiga FILES, a monthly programme that features four, 10-minute segments that relive some of the brilliant moments of LaLiga history, including the likes of Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Johan Cruyff, Rivaldo and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Second division coverage

Second-tier Spanish football – LaLiga1|2|3 – has also received broadcast investment from 2016/17, with innovations introduced to increase interest and satisfy the demands of supporters of teams outside the traditional Spanish footballing powerhouses. However, it must be said that this season’s LaLiga1|2|3 does feature several clubs with large fanbases, including Levante, Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Real Zaragoza and Real Mallorca.

The most notable change has been the production and international distribution of two live LaLiga1|2|3 matches per gameweek, in addition to a weekly highlights show, and a new magazine format that features interviews, light-hearted features and the build-up to the next LaLiga1|2|3 gameweek.

LaLiga1|2|3 clubs also now receive greater revenues from LaLiga’s centralised rights-selling approach, emphasising LaLiga’s commitment to promoting football at all levels – not just the top tier.