Tebas slams ‘deceitful’ A22 for free-to-view Super League promise

(Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
(Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Javier Tebas, president of LaLiga, has reignited his war of words with A22 Sports Management, the backers of the proposed breakaway European Super League (ESL), claiming the organisation is attempting to deceive fans by promising to show matches for free.

A22 chief executive Bernd Reichart, a former chief executive of German free-to-air commercial broadcaster RTL, unveiled the newest proposal for a men’s and women’s ESL late last year, championing that it would be streamed for free around the world on a newly-launched, direct-to-consumer platform called ‘Unify‘.

The streaming platform would generate income from advertising, premium subscriptions, distribution deals, interactive services and sponsors, A22 said.

The announcement came hours after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had ruled that Fifa and Uefa had abused their dominant position by forbidding clubs outright to compete in a ESL, albeit warned that does not mean a revised Super League will get approval.

Speaking at the Financial Times Business of Football Summit in London today (Thursday), Tebas claimed that the economics of financing a major competition, said to have a prize pot of up to €5bn ($5.4bn), does not add up without any media rights fees.

Hitting out at who he calls “Bernd Copperfield”, a reference to the illusionist David Copperfield, “because he’s a magician, he wants to deceive us so much,” Tebas said: “To say it’s innovative to offer matches free on OTT, it’s not, it’s deceiving people. People who understand the broadcasting world know that it is not possible.

“Bernd Copperfield knows this. In fact we debated this recently in Antwerp [at the Pro League Business School]. There he said, ‘ah actually it won’t be totally free. It will be a hybrid system, with and without advertising.’

“They cannot get to this €5bn from advertising. That is simply not true. He comes from a TV background where there was strong advertising in free-to-air TV. That was 15 years ago. I hope he’s more aware of how things are now.”

Reichart had said at the time: “The current fan experience with multiple TV subscriptions is becoming prohibitively expensive and needs fresh thinking. Other entertainment options are continuously improving their content offerings and football needs innovative ideas especially to attract young fans. We want to take this powerful and amazing competition to fans around the world in a way that provides easy access to the best matches and an unrivalled, cutting-edge fan experience.”

The ESL project first emerged in April 2021 with a proposal put forward by 12 leading clubs that centred on a closed structure with no promotion or relegation. Widespread backlash from fans and politicians led to nine of the clubs pulling out of the proposals within days. These were Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Atlético Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Juventus indicated its plan to leave the ESL in June of this year, but Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid remain interested in pursuing the venture.

Tebas continued: “A22, they act like they’re an NGO. But who is behind A22? It’s Florentino Pérez [Real Madrid’s president]. You have to be very clear otherwise you’ll think it’s someone who’s come to do good for European football.”

European leagues pooling media rights?

In recent weeks it has emerged out of Germany that LaLiga is keen to work closely with the German Football League (DFL) and other top European leagues to pool their media rights in certain international markets in a bid to drive greater revenues.

Tebas told German media during a roundtable earlier this month that LaLiga is studying “whether in certain markets it would be worthwhile for us and the Bundesliga or other leagues to cooperate in the sale of our TV rights”.

LaLiga’s analysis and broadcast teams are thought to have studied the possibility.

Tebas would not be drawn on the details of the league’s conversations with its European counterparts, or indeed whether he has had them, but in response to a question from SportBusiness said: “We are undergoing a period where there’s a lot of audiovisual entertainment, whether it’s Netflix, films, HBO or at an international level there are hugely popular local sports, like cricket in India. So, we think, it’s an important moment in time in certain territories in the world to go together, not separately.

“And it’s not about competing with the Premier League. It could be with them as well. It’s something that needs a lot of reflection if we want to be more competitive in more markets, especially at an international level.”

The notion is not itself new as agencies such as IMG and MP & Silva in the past sold rights to top leagues together in certain international markets.

Tebas continued: “It’s not all markets. It’s certain international markets where you go together to get the best football on one single platform. For example, if you’re a fan in Japan, you have to go here for EPL, here for LaLiga, here for Bundesliga, here for Champions League. We think synergies are better.

“And when it comes to distributing the money, it is quite easy now as the OTT platforms give you the precise data so it will depend on the viewers and users we have. Let’s include the Premier League in this example. Say we sell in ‘x’ number of territories and the Premier League has 40 per cent of the viewers, well then they get 40 per cent of the revenue. If LaLiga only gets 1 per cent of the viewership, we get 1 per cent of the revenue.”