La Liga leaps into standalone OTT, broadcasters will fight back

Spain’s prestigious soccer league La Liga is launching a self-branded sports OTT video service, a free offering showing an array of live and on-demand sports content. Due to live broadcast rights being tied up with majors like Mediapro and Telefónica, no top tier live soccer matches will be shown – but the new platform forms the foundations for disrupting how Europe’s most lucrative live content is consumed in years to come.

Set to launch next year, the service may show live matches from Spain’s second soccer division should La Liga decide to keep hold of the rights, rather than stick to its traditional business model of selling rights to broadcasters. This could lead to a situation where, in the future, La Liga will only sell part of the top division rights and begin distributing matches via its own platform for a subscription fee, and perhaps eventually keep the entirety of La Liga rights exclusively. The legality of this may be thrown into question and we would expect the broadcasters and operators to fight this fiercely. Certain market regulations state no single company can hold 100% of rights, particularly concerning soccer.

At present it is the only soccer league in Europe where one or two clubs dominate and retain ownership of their TV rights, rather than all the games being thrown into the same negotiating hat, which the league manages.

Cutting off even partial sale of broadcast rights would mean losing billions of Euros which are reinvested into Spanish soccer, so on the other hand, any decision to go down this path would be hotly contested by influential figures and considered commercial suicide. However, if La Liga can accumulate a few million users over the next few years and then introduce top tier games, the service could become a major money-making effort. Despite English Premier League having greater financial pull, the Spanish league is thought of as a better example of world class soccer skills.

In addition, La Liga President Javier Tebas confirmed there have been discussions with Amazon, Netflix and Rakuten about live streaming rights, so a sharing deal may arise. Of course, La Liga could continue to sell broadcast rights overseas and dominate sports streaming in Spain, but these are merely speculations and details are likely to change within the next six months before launch.

Tebas predicts a fundamental change in the sports viewing landscape between 2025 and 2030, when OTT video companies will out-bid broadcasters for soccer rights. In an interview with Spanish news outlet Expansion, Tebas cites the MLS, NFL and NBA in the US as inspiration, saying, “When the NBA sells its rights internationally, it always reserves space so that its customers can directly access its OTT service.”

This is the equivalent of the Football Association (FA) in the UK building a service showing English Premier League (EPL) matches, jeopardizing the £5 billion ($7 billion) it just made from selling TV rights to operators BT and Sky. La Liga is not nearly as rich as the EPL, so the move comes across as a way of setting the internet giants against the traditional broadcasters – triggering a bidding war to drive up prices. In Spain, the market is much less competitive as resources are so heavily concentrated in just two clubs, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the 2016 to 2019 domestic La Liga TV rights deal valued at €2.65 billion ($3.3 billion) in comparison, shared between Telefónica’s Movistar and Mediapro.

Details on technology behind the platform are not being released in the run up to launch. One vendor assumption is MX1, given its previous Spanish soccer streaming experience. The merged entity of RR Media and SES Platform Services launched an online sports platform in 2015 in partnership with Pi Telecom, which was tapped by FC Barcelona to stream on-demand matches on its Game Pass service.

Another vendor with La Liga experience is London-based video technology firm Grabyo, which began supplying its cloud-based video capabilities to La Liga in 2014 and was selected by Facebook for a La Liga venture two years later. Grabyo’s software can be embedded in broadcaster’s apps and enables viewers to quickly share a clip from the live broadcast on social media sites, along with tools for accessing data, analytics, advertising and management capabilities. We have reached out to both Grabyo and MX1 for comment.

La Liga’s new streaming service will initially show live and on-demand coverage of sports including hockey, swimming, gymnastics, chess, hunting, golf, horse riding and more. Replays, interviews and reports from soccer matches will be shown from launch.

La Liga’s new service will build on its existing LaLiga4Sports streaming site, which operates on behalf of Spain’s various sports federations. “In the future, these federations can monetize their sports through the OTT of La Liga, because they are not organized to have a good product on their own. That’s what time will tell,” said Tebas.

Financial gain is not the immediate focus of the venture, launching as a free service initially with registration. “The monetization will come later, we are not obsessed with this at launch. We want to optimize the data of our users, carry a good big data strategy to improve the experience of the fans and predict their behavior, know what they like or what they see,” said Tebas.