Soccer: Betis concerned by impact of Barca potentially leaving Liga
By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona's hypothetical expulsion from Spanish soccer in the event of Catalonia breaking away from Spain would leave a huge hole in La Liga, Real Betis's general manager said on Wednesday, and negatively impact on clubs such as his own.
La Liga president Javier Tebas, a former member of a far right group and strong opponent of Catalan independence, has repeatedly threatened to banish 24-times champions Barca and all other teams in the region if Catalonia were to secede.
In the latest sign of the Catalan independence drive impacting sport, Tebas has delayed negotiations to renew the league's international television rights deal due to unrest in the wake of Catalonia's disputed Oct. 1 independence vote.
Betis general manager Ramon Alarcon said kicking out Barca would have huge ramifications on Spanish soccer and negatively affect clubs like his.
"The unease that Catalan society could break from Spain affects every sector, including football, and the departure of Catalan teams would be a real shame because they are clubs with a lot of tradition," Alarcon told Reuters in Madrid.
In addition to Barcelona, Catalonia is home to two other La Liga clubs: Girona and Espanyol, as well as a host of clubs in lower leagues.
"La Liga is not just Real Madrid and Barca. But if Barca left the other teams would have to work a lot harder to fill that gap if La Liga were to remain the best in the world."
Barca, which is owned by more than 140,000 club "members", says it respects their diversity of opinion by not taking a position for or against independence, but supports the right of the people of Catalonia to decide their own future.
On Oct. 1, the day of the banned referendum, the team played its match with Las Palmas at the Nou Camp behind closed doors, which club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said was to show opposition to police violence against voters.
After the referendum, the club said in a statement it would not speculate on the future, but was "not planning for any other scenario than playing in the Spanish league. The club is competing in this competition and wants to win it."
Tebas has said Barca's hypothetical departure would see the value of La Liga's television rights drop by 20 percent.
Alarcon has no doubt losing Barca would seriously damage the league's brand and hurt other Spanish teams such as Betis.
"Having a global brand like La Liga logically helps us, and obviously the success of Real Madrid and Barcelona helps the brand of Spain and La Liga," he said.
Betis, Liga champions in 1935, are one of the best supported clubs in Spain, with 50,000 season ticket holders. They are ranked fourth, behind Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in social media engagement.
The Seville club are ninth in the standings after making their best start to a season since returning to the top flight in 2015 and beat champions Real 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in September.
Alarcon called Betis "a sleeping giant" and hopes they can harness their huge fan base to become one of the top teams in Spain again, but is wary of the impact the current political uncertainty in the country could have on his club.
"Tebas has said that [Barca staying in the league if independence were declared] wouldn't be legal, so logically it couldn't happen. But sincerely I think Barcelona will stay in the Spanish league and we'll come to an understanding over this situation, which is very painful for everyone."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Peter Graff)