LaLiga aligns with Mediapro and Super Sports Media in Chinese commercial JV

Real Betis celebrate a goal during their 2-1 LaLiga win over Real Madrid on March 8 (by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

LaLiga, the organising body of the top two divisions of Spanish club football, has formed a joint venture with Spanish rights and production agency Mediapro and Super Sports Media, a subsidiary of Chinese sports and entertainment giant DDMC, to market its commercial rights in China and the surrounding region.

The initial 15-year agreement will involve LaLiga holding a 49-per-cent stake in the Spanish Football Commercial & Marketing Company (SFCM) venture, with Super Sports and Mediapro holding the majority stake. LaLiga will continue to market its broadcast rights in the region, with the JV intended to exclusively target sponsorship and licensing deals.

SFCM intends to enhance LaLiga China’s promotion and activation capabilities, benefitting clubs and sponsors at a local level with exclusive advertising packages, the organisation of esports tournaments and the exploitation of other assets relating to LaLiga.

Sergi Torrents, managing director of LaLiga in China, has been appointed chief executive of the JV. Alongside Torrents, the board will be formed by Pilar Jiménez, chief executive of Mediapro Asia Pacific, as president; Oscar Mayo, business, marketing and international development director of LaLiga, as vice-president; as well as LaLiga president Javier Tebas; Jaume Roures, sole administrator of Mediapro; and Yu Lingxiao, chief executive of Super Sports, as board members.

Torrents said: “The joint venture represents an important step in LaLiga’s commercial strategy in China. Mediapro and Super Sports Media become part of our development in the country, adding local expertise and new assets with which we hope to expand our pool of partners and licensees in the region.”

The main local partner will be Super Sports Media, which is currently the exclusive media-rights holder of all LaLiga rights in China distributed through its majority owned OTT platform iQiyi Sports and 18 regional television channels in the country.

Taken over by Chinese private equity group Orient Hongtai Capital Management in 2018, Mediapro works with LaLiga on its sale of broadcast rights internationally, while DDMC last year extended an agreement for rights to LaLiga. DDMC’s three-year deal covers rights in the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Macau from 2022 until 2025, and is said to be worth €100m ($108.1m) per season.

LaLiga and Douyin last month inked an agreement whereby the Chinese platform will become an official social media partner of the league until March 2021. In January, LaLiga made Chinese mineral water brand NongFu Spring its official drinking water partner in China.

The JV aims to boost the presence of Spanish football in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Mayo told Spanish newspaper El País: “Three years ago we were around €3m ($3.2m) in local sponsorships and licenses. We are now at €9m. And we hope to reach €30m in about five or six years.

“The agreement is similar to the one we have in the United States with Relevent, which is a success, but without commercialising the television rights in China in this case, which will continue to be done from Spain.”

In August 2018, LaLiga partnered with sports and entertainment agency Relevent on a first-of-its-kind promotional agreement that aimed to introduce regular-season matches played in the United States. The 15-year joint venture is seeking to promote football in the US and Canada, and had intended to lead to LaLiga staging its first-ever regular season match outside of Europe.

However, LaLiga and Relevent have since hit multiple stumbling blocks in this effort. In March, a Madrid court dismissed an appeal from LaLiga against the Spanish Football Federation’s (RFEF) decision not to authorise a match between Girona and Barcelona in the US city of Miami. The JV with Super Sports and Mediapro will reportedly not include the organisation of games in China.

Mayo admitted that the Covid-19 pandemic had complicated talks over the venture. He told the Financial Times: “The business plan for next year obviously is not going to be the same that we were talking (about) one year ago because the world is different. We all understand that this is a mid-term project so there has not been a big change in the ambition of the project.”