LaLiga became the first European sports league to join Twitch in October 2020, but the Spanish football league operator is already expanding the initiative with an innovative new strategy to super-charge engagement until the end of the 2020-21 season, and potentially beyond.
LaLiga Casters, a community of Twitch influencers, has been established by the league to provide alternative match commentaries and tailored content to the digital service’s predominantly young audience.
The approach has quickly garnered impressive results. The first nine LaLiga Casters alternative match commentary streams reached an accumulated audience of more than 4.8 million viewers.
Whilst the initiative is strengthening the bond between the league and existing fans of Spanish football, it is also engaging new generations of followers, including the hard-to-reach Generation Z demographic. According to Twitch, nearly half of the service’s users are between the ages of 18 and 34, while more than one in five are between the ages of 13 and 17.
“Twitch has become one of the most popular platforms for Gen Z, so naturally it attracted our attention, but what has been particularly relevant to us is the partnership that has been offered,” LaLiga’s digital strategy director, Alfredo Bermejo, says.
“We are always keen to work with partners who are interested in creating new activations or experiences. These help us to show the full extent of LaLiga and bring people closer to our competition. Twitch wanted to be bold, inventive and try something that hadn’t been done before, which ticks every box from our point of view.”
The alternative commentary streams allow viewers worldwide to watch the reactions of the influencers to the action on the pitch – and hear their words – without the match footage itself being displayed on the screen. The influencers provide a relaxed and fan-friendly guide for those unable to watch the action, but also an option for those who are watching live coverage of a game to access a different voice.
LaLiga is working with some of Spain’s most prominent online streamers, including Ibai Llanos, Ander Cortés and Ulises Prieto, with the option of expanding the community of LaLiga Casters content creators into new markets.
“The project began with a handful of streamers based in Spain, but we are working with Twitch to review other candidates,” Bermejo adds.
“The first few matches have been successful, which shows us that the idea is worth developing further. These streamers have a global profile among Spanish-speaking audiences – particularly Ibai Llanos, who is one of the world’s most influential streamers – and the alternative commentary can be found on televised matches in Spain. In the future, it is possible that we could see this expand to other markets and languages.”
Llanos, one of the world’s most popular streamers, is one of the online influencers who has been part of LaLiga’s association with Twitch since the league first started using the service to show its competitive gaming competition, eLaLiga Santander, in 2017.
Having provided commentaries for the esports tournament on Twitch, the progression of Llanos – and others in the streaming community created by LaLiga – to provide running coverage of real-life fixtures, was a natural next step.
“Streamers offer something different to the world of football commentary and they bring a young and highly engaged audience along with them,” Bermejo says. “I think we will see more of these kinds of influencers entering the world of live sports and we should be excited by this. A wider range of voices attracts a more diverse audience, which for us is fundamental.
“We work with streamers who have built a significant audience and have a clear interest in LaLiga and football in general. Having a love of football ensures that the content is truly authentic, which makes people more likely to watch and listen to it.
“In many cases, the streamers have already done commentary work with our gaming competition, eLaLiga Santander, so we know they understand our competition and are able to keep their audiences entertained over the duration of a match.”
Some rights-holders could be wary of handing over the commentary microphone to online influencers, given the potential for something inappropriate to be muttered in a pique of excitement.
However, Bermejo plays down such a possibility by highlighting the professionalism of LaLiga Casters’ content creators and insists that attempting to exert too much control over the output would be counterproductive.
“You don’t start working with influencers like these and then hand them a script,” he says.
“Their natural passion and enthusiasm for what they do is the whole reason they have built their audiences. The streamers we work with are selected for their love of football and we want to hear their unique insights on the game.
“There are obvious restrictions around language or harmful content that any streaming provider or broadcaster has in place, but the streamers are already on top of this. They are consummate professionals.”
Twitch initially established itself in the online marketplace as a popular destination for gamers, and the service enjoyed a bumper 2020, with many turning to the Amazon-owned service for entertainment during the pandemic-enforced sporting lockdown. According to the TwitchTracker website, the number of worldwide active streamers rocketed from 3.75 million in February 2020 to 9.24 million in December.
Given the growing audience for LaLiga content on Twitch, some rights-holders would assume that combining esports and sports content into a single channel would provide a more powerful proposition. However, coverage of LaLiga’s esports competitions will continue to be shown on a separate Twitch channel, as Bermejo explains.
“We study audience data across all our digital platforms and find that their preferences are very specific; it does not follow that a fan of football gaming is automatically a fan of real football, and vice versa,” he says.
“Audiences are looking for deeper and more specific content in their chosen areas of interest rather than greater breadth, and this is certainly what we see on Twitch. If we saw behaviours changing, we would adapt, but this is not the case yet. Ultimately this data analysis is what informs our entire strategy at LaLiga.”
A focus on data persuaded LaLiga to launch LaLiga Casters halfway through the 2020-21 season, rather than waiting for the start of the 2021-22 season later in the year. With Spanish football fans – like many followers of sport across the world – still barred from attending games in person, digital initiatives are continuing to play an even more important role in fan engagement.
“Our initiatives are guided by fan behaviour rather than when the season starts. We have been interested in the Twitch service for over five years and have been closely monitoring its growth to determine when and if we should introduce LaLiga,” Bermejo adds.
“We began broadcasting our competitive gaming competition through Twitch in 2017 as this was what the audience was looking for. In recent months, interest in football content on Twitch has increased, which led to LaLiga Casters, an initiative that combines sports broadcasting and streaming to meet the needs of a new generation.”
Having established its reputation as a hub for gaming activity, Twitch created a new standalone sports vertical in July 2020 after agreeing deals with four top European football clubs, including LaLiga giant Real Madrid. The creation of the sports vertical helped to pave the way for LaLiga’s deeper commitment to the digital service.
Farhan Ahmed, strategic partnerships manager at Twitch, says: “What is exciting about this kind of strategic partnership is working with a partner that clearly has huge expertise in the traditional area, but that is looking to build a community on Twitch to provide the audiences we have with something authentic and relevant. They’re working with some of our endemic talent to build those content experiences.
“The idea is quite innovative. For some people in sports, if you’re not watching the live event then you might say, ‘how is that going to generate audience interest?’ But it clearly is. It works if you activate in the right way and use the right personalities.”
According to Bermejo, Twitch has played an active role in the LaLiga Casters project, helping to make the introduction of the initiative as seamless as possible, whilst providing the launchpad for a fruitful collaboration that can support future endeavours.
“Twitch has been an excellent and hands-on partner, helping facilitate contact with the streamers where necessary and giving us creative licence to build the LaLiga Casters idea,” Bermejo says.
“It is a relationship of mutual benefit: while we build closer ties to Twitch’s audience, they are adding content from a top global sports property to their service, which helps to develop their dedicated sports channel.”
For Twitch, the chance to work with a sports rights-holder that has carved out a reputation for digital innovation represents an ideal opportunity to develop its dedicated sports vertical.
Ahmed adds: “Being able to work with one of the biggest – if not the biggest – leagues in the world is great for everyone. It helps bridge that gap between sports and the content that we have on our service.
“Something fundamental we look at is how we can continue to support and help grow the creators on our service. It’s great when we work with companies and entities who look to service that.”
Discussions are already underway regarding the possibility of expanding the initiative next season, with Ahmed viewing the partnership as an opportunity for Twitch, its content creators and LaLiga to benefit in the long term.
“We hope that everyone wins,” he says. “The creator wins because they’re growing their community and have some exciting additional content to stream, LaLiga is reaching a new audience, and it is generating great excitement for our community on Twitch.”
The partnership could also lead to further commercial opportunities, given the impressive worldwide reach of the project so far.
LaLiga is certainly confident that LaLiga Casters will generate a positive return on investment as the number of youngsters following the unique content continues to grow.
“The idea is particularly cost-effective, because it’s about bringing together two elements that already existed. The streamers simply need to allocate time to the match they are commentating on, while for broadcasters it is simply about enabling an alternative commentary channel,” Bermejo says.
“In return, both sides reach a wider audience: younger audiences are engaging with football matches and the streamers are receiving more notoriety through TV broadcasts. Aside from our agreements with the streamers, there is very little additional cost involved.
“Our priority is to build a highly engaged and loyal community on all our digital platforms. Our objectives are focused on this because if the content is not right, the commercial opportunities will not follow.
“As the community continues to build, we will study audience behaviours and preferences which will create natural opportunities for brands to introduce relevant offers. This is the only way to approach monetisation on digital channels; anything else destroys the authenticity you’re trying to create.”
With influencers delivering the excitement of LaLiga to a global following of youngsters, establishing a flourishing audience on this engaging streaming service through credible content – rather than seeking immediate commercial returns – remains the priority.