Ever since LaLiga set up base in India, the league has been trying to penetrate the Indian market and capture the imagination of football fans. In Jose Antonio Cachaza's words, the main objective of LaLiga is that it wants to be the second most popular league after the nation's own domestic league. Cachaza, who is the managing director of LaLiga India, is optimistic despite the challenges of making in-roads in a country where football is not the No 1 sport.
There's no question about the popularity of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even in India, where Premier League attracts more eyeballs, both Barcelona and Real Madrid have a considerable fan following. The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo also played a big role in popularising the league and their clubs in India. But Cachaza wants the Indian audience to know more about the league and not limit themselves to just two clubs. And keeping that in mind, the LaLiga will be showing all their matches in India on Facebook Watch.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Cachaza spoke about LaLiga's India journey so far, their vision, the role of football superstars, the deal with Facebook and more. Excerpts:
It has been over two years since LaLiga came to India and opened an office in Delhi. The focus has been to penetrate the Indian market and popularise the league in the country. How has the journey been so far?
Well, the first thing we kept in mind before getting into India is that we considered it more of a future market than a present-day market. So for us, it is a market in which we have invested and we are trying to go up. And this has to be done in parallel with growth of football in India. When compare to our offices in other countries, in India, football is not the first sport and it creates quite a specific situation. We know football is growing in India but it is not like other countries where football takes centre-stage. Also, Indian fans did not use to follow our league (LaLiga). Yes, they watch Barcelona and Real Madrid matches but it is part of our job to bring other clubs and experiences to the notice of the fans. We want them to understand Spanish football at large beyond the big clubs. So in terms of job done, we are happy. I can tell you, outside Spain, LaLiga has the most number of followers from India on Facebook.
In India, there's still a lot of dependence on TV to attract audience. I understand the revenue from broadcast is crucial and the deal with Facebook has been made taking the business interests in mind as well. But do you think the audience are prepared to go these social networking sites and watch a football match rather than watching it on TV?
We need to look at how the market in evolving. Take a look at cricket for instance. In Indian Premier League, the audience is growing but not on television, it is on Hotstar. I think the growth in numbers has been from 29 percent to more than 50 percent in this year's IPL. That tells you a lot about consumption through digital media. It is clear we are proceeding to digital ways of consumption. In a sense, we are forcing the fans to change their habits. Basically, we want them to change their way of watching sports on traditional mediums. You can watch it on a big screen too, but in a different way. The world of sports is evolving so we are happy with the experience. There's a still a long way to go but it is going in the right direction.
LaLiga had Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and a lot has been spoken about their rivalry. But Ronaldo has now moved on to Juventus. So when you are trying to break into a new market, what role do big players play and does the challenge become tougher without these superstars?
Players come and players go. We are happy that Ronaldo played the best years of his career in LaLiga for Real Madrid. Now, he's approaching the end of his playing career, so he wanted to experience another league. So it doesn't have much impact on us. This is the cycle of sport. We still have Messi with Barcelona and we have other big players are coming in like Joao Felix, who has joined Atletico Madrid. Of course, having the best players in the league helps to draw the attention of fans. The rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo was special and I know it will take a long time to find something similar like that. But at the end of the day, football is a team game.
In LaLiga, there are three dominant clubs and they also have the financial capabilities to attract talented footballers. Football leagues are increasingly becoming lopsided and teams with greater financial muscle are able to win most of the trophies. In this day and age, how do you make the leagues more exciting when they are trying to attract more fans?
If you want to develop a league in a new country, you have to depend on big players and popular clubs. At the same time, our challenge is to bring fans closer to others clubs " teams like Real Betis, Valencia, Sevilla or Celta Vigo. It is also our job to bring these brands closer to fans. I'll give you an example. Espanyol, the other team from Barcelona, has a huge presence in China because they have Chinese owners. Eibar, which is a really small club, they have a huge following in Japan because of Takashi Inui. So there are ways to popularise the league. At the end, there are 20 clubs who are also trying to do their business and our job is to help them.
Last year, Girona FC had come to India and played a pre-season friendly tournament. What happened this time?
We did work on that but unfortunately, it didn't happen. Last year, it worked out well with the local promoters and that's why Girona FC had come. Of course, LaLiga is always ready to help the local promoters when they want to conduct these events and make it successful. Hopefully, before the start of the next season, a LaLiga club will come to India. And in the future, the bigger clubs will come too. I'm pretty sure of that.