Revenue row threatens Liga start
Half of the top division has rebelled against the status quo that hands Real Madrid and Barcelona the lion's share of broadcasting rights income
The Spanish league is scheduled to start on August 18 but less than three weeks from that date a breakdown in negotiations between the two companies with broadcasting rights, Canal + and Mediapro, threatens to derail the beginning of the season.
Struggling to keep their heads above water - some are in danger of entering administration - there has been a rebellion among small and medium-sized clubs against the status quo: courtesy of their contracts with Mediapro, Real Madrid and Barcelona receive the lion's share of television revenues. Spain's is the only league that operates in this way, with the rest of the European divisions splitting the pot equally.
Mediapro left the negotiating table and announced an auction of the rights it holds to show two Primera matches and several second division games. Canal + immediately responded, calling the move illegal and pointing out that it holds the rights to show matches involving 10 of the 20 top-flight clubs.
The conflict is nothing new, because the model patently does not work. Before a ball is kicked it is impossible for a team other than Real or Barça to be crowned champion, and the third-placed team, often Valencia, will be 30 points behind. Most clubs are forced to sell their star players at the end of the season to make ends meet but Barça and Real do not have similar issues, partly because of the revenue disparity. The top two earn three times as much as the third-placed side, and 10 times more than the lower table teams.
The model is made possible because the Professional Football League (LFP), which supposedly acts in the interest of all the clubs but in reality is at the service of the big two, assuring Real and Barça of a vote-swinging duopoly through the machinations of Javier Tebas. A lawyer by trade, Tebas is LFP vice president and controls the so-called G-30 of clubs. Some of those teams in rebellion say Tebas is also an unofficial representative of Mediapro, which last season controlled the broadcast rights of a majority of Liga clubs and which assured the standard split: 140 million euros each for Real and Barça, 47 million for Atlético, for example, 32 million for Sevilla and a paltry 14 million for Rayo.
After several clubs jumped ship to Canal + in search of a more equitable deal, Mediapro retaliated by stopping back payments to four teams: Espanyol, Athletic, Real Sociedad and Zaragoza.
In England, Germany and Italy, the dates and times of matches are scheduled well in advance of the season and the television rights decided at least a year in advance.
In Spain, nobody even knows if there will still be a freeview game this season.
"This system supports two of the richest clubs in Europe and makes the other 18 ever more debt-ridden," said Atlético's chief executive, Miguel Ángel Gil. "What the majority wants is a more competitive and more solvent league, which means having more than one broadcaster."