Spain – TV deals

Soaring TV deals for Real Madrid and Barcelona have left the rest facing an ever greater struggle to compete. Phil Ball gets out his calculator and an impressive array of signal boosters and cable boxes

Just how much money does any one team need? Real Madrid’s projected deal with Telemadrid, timed to run from 2009 until 2013, would earn them across five years the equivalent of the gross national product of Mali. Who needs an Abramovich?

At present, Real Madrid earn a pretty decent seasonal whack from Sogecable (part of the media giant Prisa), to the tune of €55 million (£37m). Games are shown via digital platform Digital Plus. Sogecable have the deal until 2008, with an option to extend for a year – but Telemadrid’s offer may change all that. In cahoots with local bank Caja Madrid, the offer on the table for exclusive rights to Real’s matches has been quoted at €120m per season for five years.

In Barcelona the tills have been ringing, too. In June the club agreed a TV deal with Mediapro, who are a major shareholder in the new (free-to-air) Spanish channel La Sexta. The package is worth around ­€1 billion, over seven years. Mediapro will be hoping that Barça change their minds over the policy of avoiding commercial sponsors’ names on their shirts. No pressure will be applied, of course. La Sexta arrived only last year and availability is patchy, but they outbid TVE1 – who have national signal coverage – for the World Cup, leaving half the country desperately either chucking out their analogue sets or buying a booster to capture the unreliable pictures. Now La Sexta has outbid Audiovisual Sport, the autonomous regions’ broadcaster, for live Saturday night matches and offers us a commentary team of ex-players who talk about themselves, not the football.

Barcelona have never been averse to having a few bob in the bank, but Real Madrid have for years harboured pretensions to convert themselves from a football club into a multinational enterprise. The resignation of Florentino Pérez has made no difference. When David Beckham joined in 2003, he came as a major player in the club’s marketing drive, with the dual powers of commerce and imagery finally coming together in a takeover bid for the planet. Now they can afford to do without him. It’s no coincidence that the contract negotiations (going on for some months now) have resulted in the sudden dispensability of Beckham. The lap-dog Madrid press would have us believe that it is all down to Fabio Capello’s authoritarian approach, but the truth is more mundane. José Antonio Camacho resigned because Pérez overruled him and allowed Beckham to travel to Germany to shoot an ad for Adidas. Two years on and an injured Becks is told he cannot attend Tom Cruise’s wedding because he has to be back from the prenuptial supper in Rome on the Friday night to be on the treatment table on the Saturday. Times change – due to sums of money that even Becks cannot dream of.

Of course, the amounts that the two clubs are about to pocket (Real’s new president described the Telemadrid deal as “the ­biggest ever in world sport”) come with political strings attached, particularly in the case of the team from the capital. Esperanza Aguirre, formerly minister of ­education in the government of the right-wing Partido Popular, is now the president of the Madrid autonomous community, still controlled by PP despite the party losing the 2004 national election. It was she who brokered the deal between Telemadrid and Caja Madrid, with the TV station settling for 32 per cent of the shares and the bank 48 per cent. The exclusive rights will include, of course, the games featuring Atlético Madrid and Getafe, the other two teams from the region who are in the top flight (no one wants to watch Rayo Vallecano any more), but this is a sop to the potential controversy of a deal set up by a politician who cannot count on even 55 per cent of the local electorate’s vote.

Since there are plenty of Madrileños who voted for PSOE (the Socialist Party that leads the national government), a deal that only mentioned Real Madrid would never get past the company lawyers nowadays. It has to look all-inclusive, even if it isn’t. Getafe and Atlético are doing well, but their share of the money is minimal. They know their place – the deal would never have come about ­without the attraction of the Bernabéu.

Real Madrid have noticed, in the past three seasons, that match results can have an influence on a club’s financial health, so have decided to protect themselves from the effects of them. The amount of money they are set to earn cannot guarantee success, but it almost can. It certainly means that the yawning chasm between the top two and the rest is set to widen further, which is the whole point, of course. The outbreak of democracy in the Spanish league that occurred between 2000 and 2004, when Valencia and Deportivo won three league titles between them, cannot be permitted to happen again. 

From WSC 239 January 2007. What was happening this month