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La Liga Dominates Europe But Continues To Be Plagued By Internal Issues

It’s safe to say that Spain has been the most dominate footballing country over the past decade at both the club and international level. Since 2005, a team from La Liga has won the UEFA Cup/Europa League seven times and the Champions League on six occasions. Of those 13 titles won by Spanish clubs, four of those finals have pitted Spanish clubs against one another in the final.

At the international level, the Spanish national team has won two European Cups (2008, 2012) and a World Cup (2010).  

UEFA Cup/Europa League

Sevilla: 2005-06, 2006-07, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16
Atletico Madrid: 2009-10, 2011-12 

Champions League

Barcelona: 2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15
Real Madrid: 2013-14, 2015-16 

All Spanish finals

UEFA Cup/Europa League

2006-07: Sevilla vs Espanyol
2011-12: Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao

Champions League 

2013-14, 2015-16: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid   

Despite this success and the global reach of La Liga, the league still struggles in many areas of management. It has one of the worst TV revenue distribution models in Europe, a majority of the stadiums are half empty on match day, its scheduling of kick off times hardly makes sense and its handling of disciplinary issues is poor. 


TV Revenue Distribution

While the English Premier League and other European leagues have an equal distribution model, La Liga’s clubs negotiate their own individual broadcasting contracts. The problem is that since Real Madrid and Barcelona spark the most interest in Spain and around the world, they take the largest slices of the pie, causing a massive disparity with the rest of the clubs.

This is the simplest way to explain Real Madrid and Barcelona winning 11 of the last 12 league titles, with Atletico Madrid being the last team to break that hegemony in the 2013-14 season. 

Half Empty Stadiums

Almost every La Liga club, including the top sides, struggle to fill their stadiums on a regular basis. Unless it’s a marquee match, such as a local rivalry, you’ll see swathes of empty seats. This is down to two reasons:

  1. There’s no traveling support in La Liga. You can literally count the number of traveling fans in the away section. For example, Real Madrid only sold 11 tickets for their away match against Granada last season. 
  2. Ticket prices are too high. In the midst of a national economic downturn and global recession, La Liga still manages to have some of the highest ticket prices in the major European leagues. The cheapest prices you’ll find in almost every La Liga stadium are the most expensive tickets at most English and German stadia.   


Fixture Scheduling

Out of all the big European leagues, La Liga does the worst job when it comes to scheduling its fixtures. It’s no secret that Spain has a notoriously late life style, but people still need to wake up early to go to work or school from Monday to Friday. 

Despite this, there are still games that are starting as late as 9:30 PM on a weeknight. Over the past couple of years, the Spanish Super Cup has started at 11:00 PM. One game between Barcelona and Sevilla in 2003, where Ronaldinho debuted and scored his first goal for the Catalan side, famously started on a Wednesday at midnight. 

 Another notorious example is when the La Liga scheduling committee, during the 2011-12 season, decided to set a midweek game between Getafe and Racing Santander for 12:00 PM. I wish I could say that match was during a holiday period, but it was played on a regular workday in late May.  

In La Liga, weekend fixtures are played from Friday to Monday, a staple adopted from the Bundesliga and EPL. However, the league is inconsistent when it comes to scheduling the big clubs versus their smaller opposition. 

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid rarely play on Friday or Monday because of the low television ratings on those nights. It’s understandable that La Liga would want to try something that’s been so successful in Germany and England, but it’s unfair to the rest of the teams who are forced to play on nights that attract a small audience in Spain.  

What’s even more interesting is that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid only play on Friday or Monday if it is absolutely necessary. I say this because I’ve seen these teams have a crucial Champions League semifinal fixture on Tuesday and still play their respective league games on Saturday instead of Friday, which probably gives us a good idea of how low those TV ratings are. 

In Italy, Serie A allowed both Napoli and Juventus to play their leagues games on Friday in order to have more days to rest and prepare for the Champions League. 

England, Germany, Italy and France have Friday and Monday night fixtures, but the difference is that all their big clubs could possibly play on those nights. Just this month, we saw a Friday night game between Juventus and Milan and a Chelsea versus Manchester United match on a Monday. 

If La Liga wants to continue playing league games on Friday and Monday, then the big clubs have to play on those nights as well. However, if the ratings are so bad that not even Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid can get a good audience, then just eliminate those nights and play only on Saturday and Sunday.   


Disciplinary Issues

La Liga doesn’t always have a strong hand when it comes to disciplinary issues. In fact, the league only does two things right when it comes to taking action:

It’s assured that each player completes their suspension after a fifth yellow card or a red card.

They review any questionable yellow or red cards handed out after an appeal is presented by the club.

Everything else is inconsistently implemented and delayed, at times for weeks, before a decision is finally made. In Spain, the only time a player is suspended multiple games is if a player is red carded for violent conduct or inappropriate behavior towards the referee. 

Things like off the ball aggressions not seen by referees, post match criticism of officials or offensive chants in stadiums, aren’t properly enforced. 

We just saw it last week with Gerard Pique. Pique was handed a €3,000 fine for his repeated criticisms of Spanish officiating. How is that sending a message to Pique and the rest of the players? They make that sort of money in a couple of hours. 

In the EPL, Jose Mourinho has had to pull back from questioning referees because of heavy sanctions.  

Sevilla FC were sanctioned with a partial stadium closure after some offensive chanting in their Copa del Rey match against Real Madrid. The game took play in January and it took almost two months to come to a decision. The intention of trying to eliminate those inappropriate chants from stadiums across Spain is good, but the problem is that Sevilla’s stadium is not the only one that’s housed these offensive chants.

Last week’s Galician Derby between Deportivo la Coruña and Celta Vigo contained offensive chants against Celta’s Iago Aspas after scoring the only goal of the game. To date, Deportivo has not been sanctioned nor has a report to investigate those chants been made.   

That’s just one example of the rules not being applied. Personally, I’ve seen several La Liga games where offensive chants are heard, but no sanctions are handed out. As I previously mentioned, the intentions to eradicate this issue are good, but it’s absolutely useless if the rules aren’t properly implemented for all teams.    

La Liga’s Silver Lining

Despite all these issues, there are some changes brewing. Starting this season, La Liga will be adopting England’s TV revenue distribution model having signed three-year TV deal worth €2.65 billion. TV revenue will now be equally distributed and that’ll make La Liga more competitive from top to bottom.

But there is a lot more that La Liga needs to address if it really wants to be considered the best league in the world.

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