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August 15, 2015

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La Liga president eyes closer ties with CSL

SPAIN’S football league chief backed the ongoing soccer reforms in China, saying it was a step in the right direction although he also urged both fans and officials to be patient as the reforms do not deliver results overnight.

“Spain waited for 100 years for a World Cup title and its current success, so you have to be patient instead of being too aggressive,” said the Spanish Football League (LFP) president Javier Tebas, who was in Shanghai recently.

“You should have confidence in the reforms undertaken by your football officials and work carried out at the grass-roots level. More pitches should be built to make sure that children can play football in their leisure time,” he said. “The direction of the ongoing reforms is correct. I believe the national team and the league will become better in the next eight to 10 years.”

Spain won the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa to become the first European team to win the title outside of Europe. It is also the reigning European champion, having won back to back titles in 2008 and 2012. From 2008 to 2013, Spain won the FIFA Team of the Year, the second-most by any nation, behind only Brazil.

Tebas also welcomed the transfers of big-name players to the Chinese Super League clubs as a healthy development.

“Big-name players are good for any league in any country,” he said. “They raise the popularity of the league and attract more viewers from around the world. But the balance and percentage of foreign and local players is important. As a football club, to bring up local players is the best way to build emotional connections with fans.”

As chief of one of the world’s most popular soccer leagues, Tebas and his team are mainly responsible for balancing the profits of the clubs in Spain’s first and second-tier leagues so as to develop a competitive balance.

“Like most European countries, we manage football as an industry — not only a sport,” said Tebas, who is at the same time a lawyer and entrepreneur. “Unlike amateur football, professional leagues create a lot of profit, so we need an organization to manage and distribute the profits.”

Tebas said LFP’s major duties include distributing La Liga TV broadcasting incomes, as well as to supervise the financial situation of the clubs.

One of LFP’s latest revolutions is a newly enacted distribution regulation of La Liga TV broadcasting profits among the 20 teams. From 2016, the broadcasting incomes will be distributed to the clubs under a fairer principle. The league winner will earn no more than twice what the teams at the bottom of the table receive.

Before the new regulation, top clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid were entitled to negotiate personal TV deals with sponsors. As a result, there was a huge gap between the money they earned and the smaller sides.

“It took over two years to persuade Barca and Real to accept the new distribution rule,” said Tebas. “The change will raise La Liga’s competitiveness. Apart from Barca and Real, other clubs will also be able to attract and keep talented players instead of watching them being transferred to other leagues thanks to the increased income.”

LFP will also work on decreasing the debts of smaller clubs in the league.

“Compared to the other four major European leagues, La Liga has lagged behind in attracting foreign investments. The debts of some clubs were the major reason,” Tebas said.

“The situation has been improved in the last three years, and to invest in Spanish football can be profitable now while companies gain wider profile.”

Dalian-based Wanda Group became a shareholder of La Liga side Atletico Madrid after purchasing a 20 percent stake in the 2014 La Liga champion earlier this year. Under Wanda’s operation, Liaoning-based midfielder Xu Xin joined Atletico and made his debut in Atletico’s friendly against Shanghai SIPG at Shanghai Stadium on August 4.

“It was a milestone for the two countries,” Tebas said of the stake purchase. “Wanda is now a representative of Atletico in China. They will cheer for the victories and be saddened by the defeats. I’m glad to see that.”

Tebas welcomes more Chinese involvement in La Liga, while promising more soccer related exchanges between the two countries. Tebas said LFP has reached an agreement with China’s sports authority to send some 40 football coaches to Chinese schools and open courses for local coaches and students. A Spanish second-tier league team will be sent to China for friendlies against Chinese second-tier teams in October. La Liga also plans to open a training school in China to help develop young talent.

The president also promised to bring more teams to China in the off-season as China is an important market.

“For the football industry, or for the development of any industry, China is a very important country. Chinese people love football and the country offers preferential policies. Being the world’s best league, we don’t want to miss China.”

According to Tebas, La Liga will arrange some matches to kick off early at 4pm in Spain this coming season, which means games will start at 10pm or 11pm for Chinese TV viewers.

“The matches will involve well known clubs like Real, Barca, Atletico, Valencia, Betis, Sevilla, and will also cover smaller teams to help Chinese fans get better knowledge of the smaller sides,” he said.

Earlier this month, La Liga signed a five-year TV broadcasting rights deal in China with, a video and live program provider. The deal was reported to be worth around 250 million euros (US$278 million).

Compared to their European counterparts, Chinese football clubs are not yet benefitting from match broadcasting rights. Chinese Super League (CSL) managing organization Chinese Super League Company is the sole owner of CSL’s TV broadcasting rights. The Chinese Football Association is the majority owner and pays back CSL clubs in the form of appearance fees and bonuses.

Defending CSL champion Guangzhou Evergrande said in its financial report that it had been paid 3.88 million yuan by Chinese Super League Company in the first five months of this year, which accounted for 4.6 percent of its total income during the period.

“In European countries like England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the TV audience ratings for football matches are always the highest,” Tebas said. “Football has an exclusive advantage over other sports in these countries.”


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