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El Clásico | Is this the biggest game in the world?

  • LaLiga estimates the global audience for the last El Clásico encounter was 400 million
  • The highest price paid for a ticket on the resellers market for the last El Clásico was €2,775
  • Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s most-followed athlete on social media with 267.3 million followers, while Barcelona is the most-followed sports club

In sporting terms it is easy to argue that El Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is the biggest match in world football. From Di Stefano’s early European heroes to Cruyff’s dream team or the modern-day clashes that pit Ronaldo against Messi the match has involved many of the game’s legends.

The two sides have won 66 per cent of all Spanish titles, explaining the importance of the fixture in Spain. Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated arguably the best league in the world for almost all of its history.

They also account for more than a quarter of the titles in Europe’s top club competition – including the first five editions of the European Cup and the last three of the modern-day Champions League.

The two won’t meet in this season´s Champions League following Barcelona’s elimination at the hands of Juventus this week, but the Spanish giants play each other on Sunday April 23 in the Santiago Bernabeu as yet another LaLiga title goes to the wire.

Financial rewards

On-the-pitch success has translated into financial rewards. Both sit at the top table of clubs, according to Deloitte’s annual Football Money League. With almost identical turnovers, Barcelona currently ranks second with €620.2m ($663.9m) for 2015-16, just €100,000 more than their rival, in a league topped by Manchester United. The two Spanish clubs have occupied two of the top three spots for all but one year since Deloitte started the study in 1997.

LaLiga understands the match is the jewel in its crown. Cuba, North Korea and Mongolia are a few of the handful of countries around the globe where the game will not be shown, but the league is expecting another global audience of about 400 million.

LaLiga’s managing director of sales and marketing, Adolfo Bara, tells SportBusiness International: “El Clásico is without doubt the biggest sports event in the world at the moment.”

The game is key to LaLiga’s brand and audience-building strategy, and recent kick-off times dictate that. You have to go back to 2011-12 to find two league Clásicos played in the traditional late evening kick-off slots that Spanish audiences traditionally prefer.

Bara explains: “One of our main aims is to increase our global TV rights and that comes from increasing viewing figures. Since we took control we have new kick-off times with games across the weekend and tactically important matches when the whole world can see us.”

His logic is clear when he points to an accumulated global audience for LaLiga games of 1.2 billion two seasons ago that grew to 2.1 billion last year and is anticipated to be between 2.7 and three billion for this season.

“We have almost tripled our international audience in two seasons,” he adds. “The kick-off times have been the main reason for that. This season the first Clásico was at 4pm, primetime for Asia, and that helped us there. The return will start at 8.45pm, which is great for the American market. It is morning or lunchtime there and we won’t compete with their big domestic sporting events.”

With such an event to promote, Bara is not afraid to discuss the global ambitions of his organisation.

“Our market is global and digital,” he says. “Our social media figures are huge if you compare them to the Premier League, NBA, NFL or NHL, we top that list with more than 1.6 billion interactions if you add up all the clubs, players and our own platforms.''

Social

Barcelona and Real Madrid account for much of that and they top the ranking for followers of sports teams across social media. Barcelona recently celebrated 100 million fans on Facebook alone while Real star Cristiano Ronaldo was the most-followed athlete on the planet in March 2017, according to Hookit, with a total of 267.3 million followers.

To capitalise on this, LaLiga has upped its game considerably since Javier Tebas took over as president in 2013 and now heavily pushes El Clásico as its shop window to the world.

Bara adds more detail by saying: “Apart from helping our broadcasters show it in the best possible light, we have taken the game to the streets with large public screenings in places such as Miami, Johannesburg, Lebanon, Beijing and Mumbai, where we had 15,000 people at a street party with our sponsors, famous La Liga ambassadors and fan-engagement activities.”

This month, LaLiga is organising similar events in New York, India and Angola and other locations across Europe with the help of 11 global offices. “These events act as ways in which LaLiga’s sponsors can get involved with this huge event,” Bara adds.

“Although we have other clubs doing well, El Clásico is a hugely important brand for LaLiga. The latest stats we have show we can attract more than double the global audience of Super Bowl; around 400 million compared to approximately 160 million global viewers. That popularity is helping us grow our league and invest in the future. It is not just about money and numbers, but building academies so we can train the talented players of the future.”

Asked to expand on the figures around the game, Kevin Alavy – the global managing director of Futures Sport + Entertainment, a company that analyses the sport-media landscape – agrees that LaLiga has upped its game, but challenges El Clásico’s position at the top of the list.

“While time zones mean you can’t please everybody all the time with the kick-off times, LaLiga has certainly done a good job in broadening the quality of its content distribution. Strong audiences in Asia, particularly from Indonesia and India, point to that. Fandom there is driven by marquee players who fans sometimes identify with more than the clubs.

“However, Super Bowl would still get a larger audience due to its huge domestic figure. LaLiga’s Spanish audience is tiny compared to the NFL’s big game in the US, especially with the current pay-TV coverage in Spain. Another game that would have a similar global audience to the Clásico would be Liverpool against Manchester United in the Premier League.”

Esteve Calzada sees it as a bigger game, though. As CEO of sports marketing agency Prime Time Sport, after spending five years as chief marketing and commercial officer at Barca from 2002, his opinion is also a qualified one.

“It is one of the biggest, not the only one as there is the Champions League final every year and the World Cup final every four years, but definitely in terms of a match that is played every season at least twice,” he says. “It is big due to the stature of both teams, what they have won, the fact the Golden Ball winners are involved and of course the huge rivalry.”

Revenues

On the other side of the fence, Alfonso Roberes de Cominges was international sponsorship director at Real Madrid for 15 years and now heads up Madrid-based agency Mabel Sports. He too underlines the work LaLiga has put into El Clásico.

“They are doing a great job and the increased broadcast revenues are helping all clubs in Spain and making LaLiga more competitive, and it is El Clásico that gets those international audiences,” he says.

Another recent LaLiga innovation is the LFP World Challenge which has organised over 50 friendly games for all LaLiga clubs around the world, with the exception of the big two. Shortly after taking over, Tebas announced: “The sponsorship market does not have to be restricted to national sponsors,” and a number of international sponsors have since been attracted to the clubs and LaLiga itself.

Meanwhile Barcelona and Madrid have been able to attract sponsors for many years. Currently Barcelona can count on 42 including 21 regional sponsors, while Madrid has 24 of which 13 are regional.

For Calzada, there have been many good examples of sponsors using El Clásico to activate their deals.

“I would highlight Audi,” he says. “They have been sponsoring both teams for years which gives them great content to activate when they play each other. Of course very few brands can afford to invest in both teams simultaneously, but the benefit of that is it offsets alienation, which has always been a big concern to brands.”

While the investment is large, Audi executives have suggested the return is around three-to-one on deals with Madrid that date back to 2003 and the Barca partnership that started in 2006.

A major part of those deals is the presentation of Audi´s latest models to the players of both squads which has become a feature of the Spanish sporting calendar at the start of every season. Before each edition of El Clásico a video is produced to underline the association between the three parties, while the latest aligned the brand to the iconic match suggesting that both are simply ‘untaggable’, or impossible to be pigeonholed.

For Roberes de Cominges, El Clásico was one of the key moments in a season when sponsors could really take advantage of their investment.

“At Real Madrid we always tried to maximise every opportunity between the previous match ending and the end of the Clásico game itself,” he says. “We began working with sponsors using PR activities on the club’s own platforms up to the moment the doors opened on the day of the game where all potential activations would be explored. All sponsors love to activate around El Clásico, but one that sticks in my mind as being very effective involved Emirates, Real Madrid’s current shirt sponsor.

“We had specific points around the stadium where their flight attendants took photos of fans celebrating or with a nervous look on their face, then at half-time we put the winner up on the stadium scoreboards who received a free trip to Dubai as a prize. We would make sure our sponsors had as many tickets as possible to give away as prizes and for hospitality to entertain guests, because the best players in the world are involved and everybody wants to get in to see this game.”

Interest

The huge interest from around the world to witness El Clásico live means that season-ticket holders of both clubs can cover their costs by selling their ticket for the big one on a resale website.

The highest price paid for a ticket for the last El Clásico was €2,775 while the average was €897, according to Spain’s largest ticket reseller, Ticketbis, which was recently acquired by StubHub. That was a slight drop from the previous fixture in Barcelona in April 2016 when €961 was the average price paid – the highest since the websites started collecting such information in 2011.

This huge price hike on ticketing platforms comes in the main from outside Spain. Seventy-two per cent of all tickets sold were to foreign visitors, 15 per cent were bought in US, six per cent by UK-based fans and four per cent by South Koreans.

Stadium hospitality and the local tourism industry also benefit as the 'fully booked' signs come out in the build up to the game. Competition is fierce too in the tourism market from two cities that go head-to-head all year round to fill hotel beds. Before last December’s game at the Nou Camp, the Madrid regional government made sure the tourist buses circling the Catalan city were plastered with ads promoting the Spanish capital that cheekily asked tourists if they 'knew Madrid yet.'

Another game between the two is already in the diary for July 29 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Tickets priced between $200 and $4,500 sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale for only the second time that the two sides will have met on foreign soil in their history.

The legend of the Clásico will live on. And while it continues to attract millions of eyeballs around the world it will be LaLiga’s main weapon in its battle against the Premier League and the Bundesliga.

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