BARCELONA/GURGAON: La Liga, the top flight of Spanish football, has agreed a deal with Facebook to show all 380 league matches on the social network to viewers across south Asia with games available, at first, without ads as part of a strategy that prizes reach in the region.

Reuters reported that the deal, which covers India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and will last three seasons, is worth an undisclosed amount but has unseated the previous rights-holder, Sony. The Japanese firm was reported to have paid $32m for the south Asian broadcast rights of the league between 2014 and 18. Facbook has 348m users in the region


Speaking to Reuters, Peter Hutton, Facebook’s Director of Global Live Sports, described Facebook’s purchase of the La Liga rights as an experiment, adding “we’re looking at a few other deals that are quite close to completion but this is not about going out and buying a huge amount of content worldwide”.

La Liga’s head of digital strategy, Alfredo Bermejo, noted that the free-to-air strategy had been a compelling part of Facebook’s offer. “One of our goals for the last two years has been to offer content to the widest audience possible, so partnering with free platforms like Facebook, which has 270m users in India, is key to us.”

Meanwhile, Facebook has been talking about how sport’s social currency fits with social media - and La Liga, with its world-famous clubs, is an ideal candidate. “Its popularity is notably visible in the Indian subcontinent, so we’re delighted to be able to serve the community of fans there with free, live La Liga matches.”

It’s not Facebook’s first attempt at sports broadcasting. The social network already broadcasts Major League Baseball in the US. And in the UK,  it has agreed a deal to stream one game a week from Italy’s Serie A or La Liga as part of an agreement with Eleven Sports, the new rights holder.

“This partnership reflects our commitment to helping broadcasters reach new audiences, build their brands and deliver a great viewing experience for sports fans on Facebook,” Rhys Beer, Facebook Live Sports Programming Lead, EMEA, told the Independent.

Working with broadcasters

For Facebook’s part, the network won’t advertise against La Liga matches at the beginning, although Hutton told Reuters that the company was trialling advertising on live content in the United States.

Commenting on his company’s threat to traditional broadcasters, traditionally the custodians of live sport, he brushed off any worries. “This is one deal, it’s not something that is a big threat to the broadcast world,” he said.

“We have rights to work with broadcasters and we may bring in partners to make sure the experience is right. What’s clear about this is that 380 games will be available on Facebook, then we’ll keep our options open as to how we spread that content out so people can see it in as many ways as possible.”

Speaking to the FT, Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, believes that cheap mobile data and a large user base has made the Indian sub-continent a prime target, with sports a fundamental way to gain eyeballs. The aim, he said, was of course to get a bigger share of users’ digital life.

For the leagues themselves, the aim is not necessarily to sell exclusively to platforms or to broadcasters. Rather, a streaming-only deal is a safe entry point to one of the biggest reasons people continue to watch live TV.

Opening shot

Facebook is allocating serious money for sports broadcasting and has poached senior figures from organisations like the NBA and Eurosport in preparation. In December of last year, the company was said to have set aside “a few billion dollars” as the budget for a live sports exec. In January, that executive was named at an auspicious time – just before the deadline for Premier League rights bids – Peter Hutton, the former CEO of Eurosport was the man to take on the job.

The La Liga move is the opening shot and follows September’s statement of intent, when Facebook bid $600m for the rights to stream India’s IPL, the country’s top-flight cricket league.

Sourced from Reuters, The Independent, Financial Times, WARC, The Guardian, Recode; additional content by WARC staff