TOKYO -- Spain's professional soccer league wants to double its Asian viewership by 2020, and its president says it is well on the way to hitting that mark.
Javier Tebas, president of the league known globally as La Liga, told The Nikkei of the goal last year, when the viewer count stood at 200 million. One year on, he told the Nikkei Asian Review that the league has "already seen a 25% increase" in the soccer-mad region.
The Spanish league is battling England's Premier League for new fans in Asia, which is seen as a crucial growth market. Seeking an edge, La Liga opened representational offices in Singapore and Japan this year. It already had offices in China and India.
"We've also invested in technologies and implemented things like aerial cameras and 360-degree cameras at some of our stadiums," Tebas said on the sidelines of the Nikkei Global Management Forum. "This means that La Liga fans can experience match footage in ways they have never seen before, and share it on social media. We are aiming to bring this experience to all the matches, which will help us differentiate ourselves from other soccer leagues."
But perhaps La Liga's biggest Asia-focused reform was changing the kickoff times of some matches to make it easier for Asian fans to catch them live.
"It's true that when we put forward this change, [Spanish] people were surprised," Tebas said. "But data shows that after the time change, stadium attendance has gone up by 12%. It has benefited not only the Asian fans, but the Spanish fans also."
Tebas noted that like other industries, the soccer business is rapidly globalizing. "There are people who are afraid of making changes," he said, "but [in a globalized world] I think we should refrain from that thought."
Reflecting the globalization of soccer is the trend of Asian ownership of European clubs. Spanish clubs have been swept up in this wave: One of its best, Valencia CF, is owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim. Atletico Madrid is part-owned by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, who heads the communist state's biggest property company, Dalian Wanda.
Other, smaller clubs like Granada FC and RCD Espanyol are also owned by Chinese companies.
In a country where soccer clubs have strong bonds with their local communities, this has stirred controversy. But "this isn't something new," according to Tebas. Apart from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna, he noted that Spanish clubs are incorporated. "It is better [for clubs] to have 1,000 Chinese owners, rather than having one bad Spanish owner."
Tebas added: "We are talking about football here. Whether these [Asian] owners are good or bad, at the end of the day, will be decided on what happens on the field."