Soccer: La Liga chases record Asian audience with early Clasico
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - La Liga's drive to build its audience in Asia and establish itself as the most popular league in the world prompted Saturday’s 'Clasico' between Real Madrid and Barcelona to be scheduled at 1pm local time, officials said on Thursday.
The showdown between Spain’s two most successful and popular sides usually takes place late in the evening.
However, Saturday's 1200 GMT kickoff will allow viewers in countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, where the game will start at 7pm local time, to follow the action in prime time. In contrast, last season's Clasico on 23 April started at 2.45am in the two countries.
"La Liga is... a global entertainment spectacle, last year 2.6 billion people around the world were following La Liga and many of those are in Asia," the league's head of global communications Joris Evers told Reuters.
"We are keen to give them the opportunity to watch the Clasico without needing to stay up until the middle of the night or set an alarm to wake up very early."
The move has been criticised, however, by Barcelona supporters group Seguiment FCB for ignoring the concerns of match going fans.
"It is very clear to us that football is undergoing a process of globalisation which benefits clubs economically but forgets about the loyal supporters who go to stadiums,” the group's chairman Carles Ordiales told Reuters.
"The television market has been prioritised with a kickoff time that favours people in faraway places who want to watch it but harms fans who have to travel 600km (from Barcelona to the Spanish capital) to the game are obliged to wake at the crack of dawn to get there on time."
Spain's top flight has long trailed England's Premier League in its international audience but there has been a push to attract more consumers worldwide.
In the past four years, it has set up offices in Shanghai, Delhi, New York, Johannesburg and Dubai. It now has representatives in over 40 countries.
La Liga says it increased its international audience by 501 million viewers last season to 2.59 billion. The biggest spike was in the Asia-Pacific region, where an extra 375 million began watching.
The 'Clasico' is one of the most-watched games in club football. Officials said an estimated 650 million people in 180 countries watched the last league encounter in April.
"We want to make sure we cater to Spanish fans but we believe Saturday 1pm works for Spanish fans as well as fans in the Asian markets," added Evers.
"The Clasico is a national event in Spain so it's important to us that Spanish audience gets to watch the match at a time that is convenient for them, but presenting La Liga as the world’s football league is key to us as well.
"We also see La Liga as an international entertainment organisation which contributes to Spain's brand. Promoting the league on the international stage ultimately promotes Spanish football clubs but it also promotes Spain, and that’s our objective too."
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)