TV Income vs Competition? What Does the Future Hold for Spain's LaLiga?

Homer SimpsonCorrespondent IMay 20, 2011

Barca, Real + 18...
Barca, Real + 18...

The TV cake for the domestic TV rights in Spain from 2014 is currently being decided. Except it is Real Madrid and Barcelona who are holding the knife as there is no equal share policy as exists in the positively communist in comparison to the other major European leagues. 

Instead, the two big fish of the Primera Liga have proposed awarding themselves around €150 million a year and throwing the rest to the stinky, filthy masses to fight over. 

Atlético Madrid and Valencia would get €50 million with the rest of Primera sides receiving a poultry amount between them—and being grateful for it, no doubt. 

Athletic and Almería, fall firmly into that lowest-caste category, meaning that the four-goal difference over the Basque side for the league leaders saw a financial and moral victory for Saturday's visitors to the Spanish capital, whilst Almería perhaps under-achieved by a goal or two in their 8-0 walloping before Christmas. 

Of course, this logic is admittedly a touch off-kilter, but so is that of Madrid and Barça in justifying poaching an obscene amount of the football pie. The argument in favour of their proposal goes that if those two clubs with juicy, attractive stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Leo Messi and David Villa didn't have the funds to pay their salaries, then these players would move to elsewhere and everyone would lose out. 

The counter-point from seven Primera sides who formally told the big two where they could stick their deal at Christmas is that a league that boils down to just two 'Clásico' matches each season is a waste of time and justifiably losing financial value by the day. 

"We have the worst of the big leagues in Europe," claimed Sevilla president José María del Nido. "If you broadcast a game that's going to be Real Madrid 3 Racing Santander 0, then people will switch off the TV. There's no colour." 

Another side who are refusing to prostrate themselves before Madrid and Barça's proposal are third-placed Villarreal. "I'm fighting to make sure that this is not just a league of two, although I know that a lot of you don't agree," claimed club president Fernando Roig to the radio station of Marca, a paper that barely acknowledges the presence of any other of the 18 sides that make up the top flight. "We need the league to maintain a competitive balance or it's finished," argued Roig. 

Espanyol, who are currently sitting in eighth are a team who would dearly love an extra €20 million a year, for example. Instead the Pericos are having to make do with a side packed with youngsters from their youth academy, but it's an approach that will only get them so far, argues club CEO, Joan Collet. "I have no doubt that over the next five, 10 or 20 years, Madrid and Barcelona will keep on winning the league," predicted the Espanyol executive. 

The €22.5 million that Athletic Bilbao are set to receive in the new deal which has been agreed by the vast majority of the Primera and Segunda division sides would pay for the club's impressive academy scheme for a year and not much else, meaning that Athletic will constantly be having to sell players such as Fernando Llorente to make ends meet. A repeat of the days in the 1980s when Athletic won the league two years in a row—and even came second, as in 1998— is simply impossible, so they say. 

The proposal that Sevilla, Villarreal, Málaga, Espanyol, Zaragoza, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and four teams from la Segunda made was for 40 percent of the pot shared equally amongst the top-flight sides with the rest being handed out depending on variables such as results over the last five years, league table position, and TV audiences.

However, the notion failed to tempt Madrid and Barcelona, clubs with big debts and big wage bills to fund. 

Ultimately, the "rebels" will have to fall in line in time, meaning that the already ludicrous gap between the top two and the rest will increase even further. Opponents will simply focus on winning what Del Nido describes as "the other league" and field reserve teams for the matches with Barcelona and Real Madrid, knowing that to do anything else would be a waste of time. 

Of course, Real Madrid and Barcelona are always going to be the dominant forces over a 38-game season, but the situation is now so dire that both sides are completely dominant in almost every single game. And when they do occasionally "struggle" against spirited opponents, they can look to a bench costing €100 million, whilst the opposition has to invariably bring on a youth teamer. 

The usual story each weekend this season and prior, is for Barcelona or Madrid to stuff team "A," their papers to crow over their magnificence, moan about how referees favour their rivals or how their star players are targeted by dirty tactics and move on to the next cannon fodder in the fixture list. 

Opposition managers go before the press like Joaquín Caparrós did on Saturday and point out that the odds are stacked against them every single time they face one of the big boys and then look ahead to games where they actually have a chance of winning.

"There's a big difference between what they and we get in TV money," said the Athletic Bilbao manager. 

With rival clubs clamouring for more parity, the big two resisting for fear of damaging their competitiveness in the Champions League, University of Barcelona professor José María Gay suggested that the status quo would have to change or the Spanish game would be left in its "death throes" (currently the biggest debt of all the leagues at €3.53 billion and rising).

"Who can win the league?" asks Gay. "The answer is obvious: Barça or Madrid. Madrid or Barça. Nobody else. Maybe now is the right time to renegotiate the rules of the economic game between all the protagonists. The current model was unsustainable. Let's not kid ourselves, Spanish football is in a very difficult situation, like our economy," wrote Gay. "You can't spend more than you earn. This is the fundamental rule for economic survival. Many Spanish clubs are even in a technical situation of bankruptcy, that is to say that their assets are lower than the existing debt and, consequently, with all their assets and investments, are not in a position to pay off their debts." 

The EPL may have its problems, but it also has the most equitable distribution of the major European leagues. It has the smallest difference between the champions and the bottom club in terms of the split of TV money. England's top club will earn less than double that of the bottom club from TV money, around 1.6 times as much.

By contrast, in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona earn 19 times more than the smallest clubs in La Liga. Football finance expert Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business at Coventry University, said the figures showed the need for balance in football competitions.

Chadwick said, "To have balanced competitions you have to have fair and equitable distribution of revenues. "In Spain, there is huge unhappiness with all the La Liga clubs, apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid, now petitioning the Government to change how they distribute television money." 

The Spanish League is often compared to its Scottish counterpart (SPL "with sun") with some justification due to the "two teams plus 18 also-rans" nature of the division. However, La Liga is now beginning to resemble the Scottish league for the rancour and downright nastiness between the top clubs as institutions and the rival supporters.

With each Clasico, we see insults between the managers before and after the game, songs insulting Spain and Catalonia from the respective sets of supporters and footballers diving, cheating, feigning injury, pushing and squabbling. This is a shame, as both clubs are amongst the greatest sporting institutions in the world, but alas, maybe it's human nature that the two alpha males in a pack will seek to destroy the others and then fight between themselves... 

With 197 goals scored between the big two, the 2011 season prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that La Liga is turning into a farce that is going to get worse in the years to come. But unlike most farces, this one isn't that funny, and sooner or later, the "small fish" will just not play "ball," leaving the big two to play amongst themselves.

So does the above matter at all? Spain are World and European champions, Barcelona have been playing the best football in Europe for many years and Real Madrid will again spend obscene amounts to bring more talent to the club. Do the doom-sayers have an argument, or are they talking nonsense?