Opinion | Social Media can bridge gap to Premier League

The announcement that LaLiga will launch an OTT platform in August should come as no surprise. It is merely another weapon with which to take on the might of the Premier League.

Even though we were all sniffing the air for signs of fragility when the latter’s tri-yearly TV rights auction failed to deliver the same astounding returns as it did the last time around, the evidence suggests this was a market correction and a levelling off of total spend rather than an augury of decline. 

If one of the FANG platforms (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, or Google) should return to dip a furtive toe in the water by buying the league’s two remaining rights packages, it will more than likely spark a round of over-confident predictions for 2021.

The Premier League is also counting on international rights representing a greater percentage of its overall revenues in the future. However this is an area where LaLiga is also focusing resources to provide it with some competition. 

Javier Tebas, LaLiga president, has suggested that once the league has completed its domestic and international sales, it expects global media rights revenue to be €2.3bn per season ($2.83bn), of which about €1bn per season would come from territories beyond Spanish borders.  

In recent years, LaLiga and the Bundesliga have implemented concerted efforts to push their products overseas, opening offices all over the world, rebranding and revitalising their digital and social media output.

Each has a new slogan too. The Spaniards go for “It’s not football, it’s LaLiga” while the Germans plump for the more philosophical “Football as it is meant to be”.

LaLiga boasts impressive metrics for social media reach. It added 20.8m followers across all platforms in the 2016/17 season, which compared well against its top clubs, the two most followed in the world: Real Madrid (39m) and Barcelona (31m), plus Atlético Madrid 2.9m.

LaLiga ended the season with just under 100m followers on all platforms globally. For reference, the Premier League added 12.1m in the same time frame, for an overall reach of 66m. 

But although these follower numbers catch the eye of chief executives and sponsors they are often dismissed as “vanity metrics” by the digital community. 

They assert that engagement is the only meaningful yardstick because you can follow any number of social media accounts but pay little attention to most as you scroll through the feed on your phone. Metrics based on measurable activity – likes, shares, comments, depth of consumption etc – have far greater validity as they are logical precursors of a transaction.

I’m not saying that LaLiga isn’t concentrating on engagement. But I am saying that the Bundesliga concentrates on nothing else. Their reach figures in the same period were solid enough: 4.9m added in the 2016/17 season – compared to Bayern’s 10m and Dortmund’s 3.9m – for a total of around 25m. And the only platform upon which they had more followers than LaLiga was significant: Chinese giant Sina Weibo.

But as I said, it is all about engagement for the Germans. They have developed their own index, the article performance score, which dives deep into engagement metrics, analysing reach in relation to factors such as when users exit a page, how far they scroll, social sharing and video views. 

That is why their total social shares may be a tenth of the Premier League and half of LaLiga but their engagement-per-thousand users is much better. In February it was three times the Premier League and double that of LaLiga. For them, gathering together a passionate community is much more important than reaching a vast number of indifferent ‘fans’.

The Bundesliga approach also differs from LaLiga in its plans for OTT. It is not on the agenda at present and, anyway, remains impossible under current contractual arrangements.

But buried in the detail of the four-year, €4.6bn deal with Sky and Eurosport that launched this year, there was a small but perhaps significant move. Amazon secured a portion of the digital audio rights, the first time they had bought any kind of major football content.

Of course, the German league may well have to work harder purely due to historical and cultural issues. There are slightly more Spanish speakers than English speakers, 442m to 378m. Both figures dwarf the 78m who speak German.

England’s football has always gone around the world while Spain also have the world’s two undisputed star clubs and they are fully prepared to use them. 

The pre-season El Clásico in Miami last summer persuaded 67,000 fans to pay between $240 to $4,500 per ticket, plus $45 to $60 parking. Another 37,000 paid $20 just to watch the teams training the night before.

LaLiga has also talked seriously about staging competitive games overseas as soon as next season. Kick-offs have been re-arranged for Asia in the last few years.

It is always going to take a blend of physical and emotional tent-pole moments to capitalise on the constant drip of content.One secret of social media is talking to many but making it appear like you talk to the individual.

Crossing cultures, time-zones and languages makes this doubly difficult. But LaLiga and Bundesliga must take on the task in their pursuit of the Premier League.

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