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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

How did MTV wind up broadcasting La Liga

La Liga, which dipped its toes into unconventional broadcasting with the Facebook streaming deal three seasons ago, is now on MTV.

Written by Shivani Naik , Tushar Bhaduri |
Updated: September 2, 2021 8:46:38 am
MTV’s deal brings La Liga back to TV screens in India after a considerable hiatus. (File)

The M in MTV, says Anshul Ailawadi, the business head of youth, music and English entertainment at Viacom18, stands for all of these – “madness, matinee and moolah” going beyond musical heydays of Madonna in India. The M could’ve added ‘Messi’ too this year to MTV’s iconography, save the football star’s departure at the start of the season from Barcelona.

The former music channel “transcended boundaries” and in its 25th year dribbled its way into broadcasting Spanish football, perhaps the first such foray for the erstwhile music biggie world-over. LaLiga, which dipped its toes into unconventional broadcasting with the Facebook streaming deal three seasons ago, is now on MTV.

While the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry headed out of the El Classico sphere, LaLiga was bound to be delicately poised when selling its broadcast rights. Ailawadi recalls how the deal was sealed and MTV came on board after the vibe matched with Jose Antonio Cachaza, India managing director of LaLiga.

“LaLiga had launched the tender rights, and a presentation was made to Jose. We talked down the road from our office over drinks. And came back with a pilot bridge on streaming. It sounded great and after some very late calls, we closed it,” he says.

Cachaza talks about MTV addressing his doubts about fleeting attention spans of young fans, who couldn’t watch a video for “more than 2 minutes”.

“But that complaint basically meant that Netflix didn’t exist! Which wasn’t true. The MTV proposal fit exactly. At LaLiga we realised they can do things we can’t. Their social media is more cool. We need to be more serious and ‘institutional’. As soon as our digital teams saw their pitch, they said ‘this is really wild,'” Cachaza remembers of the unlikely tie-up.

THE MESSI SPLITSVILLA

lionel messi, messi barcelona farewell, messi used tissue up for sale,  million messi used tissue, messi panuelo, viral news, odd news, indian express Lionel Messi during his final press conference at Barcelona. (Reuters)

While MTV was prepping its promos, attempting to keep authentic fans happy while trying to hook the interest of new ones, La Liga’s almighty Splitsvilla was playing out in Basque land. Messi would eventually announce his departure to Paris Saint Germain, as MTV began summoning the next roster of faces to headline their broadcast.

Cachaza insists the fundamentals will ensure that LaLiga as a property remains relevant despite missing Messi.

“To lose Messi was no news,” says the league’s representative in India, calmly. “Clubs stay. Players come and go, and Messi himself said this. Clubs remain relevant. Of course, we need stars,” he adds, claiming that Spanish football has seen every top star except Pele and Franz Beckenbauer who never left their respective nations. “(Johan) Cryuff, (Diego) Maradona, (Zinedine) Zidane…” he reels off.

Cachaza lashed out against ‘financial doping’ of some clubs who despite the emptying funds, continued to spend copiously in inflated player buying markets.

“How much harm has been caused, PSG will know, while respecting no rules of financial fairplay,” he says, adding that despite losing 45 percent in broadcast revenues, states were pumping in money into state-owned clubs which could splash out 100 million Euro buys.

The Messi exit was inevitable, he added.

“Maybe two years later. Best to start moving on sooner,” he opines, adding that both Real Madrid and Barcelona were in rebuilding stages, while Atletico Madrid had enough idiosyncrasies to hold onto its fans.

The Indian market had seemed fiendishly star-centric in times of David Beckham. “But Manchester United fans from India were following the club even when their results were dismal. So fans are realising,” he adds.

AIM TV FOR NEW START

MTV might be the latest entrant – they also have Serie A in their bouquet – but sports broadcast is undergoing a massive flux with rights getting fragmented across traditional TV channels, OTT and online streams. More interactive with fans, the last few years have seen football itself wildly mushrooming on newer platforms and experimenting with interfaces. MTV itself had lulled the music to ambient and gotten more chatty and catty with shows like Splitsvilla and Roadies.

Unexpectedly cutting in from the football wings, MTV struck a chord with old fans. “We had a very strong Hindi speaking fan base last few years. Now in the first few weeks of LaLiga, we have reactivated our southern base: Kerala,” Ailawadi says. In all these years, MTV has also corrected its gender skew to 55:45 male to female, and boast of a 38 percent rural viewership, who they now plan to connect with Spanish football.

Pre-season promos have sought to – a little confusingly – underline their commitment to authentic ‘sports broadcast’ football with their “zero masala, pure football” campaign, while also leveraging Karan Johar and Rohit Sharma’s reach to point towards game times. Multi-pronged broad-basing of fans is happening concurrently with constructing the post-Messi world: leaning on young talent like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Jiao Felix, Lainez, Isak and Vinicius, while hoping Jan Oblak, Luis Suarez and the incoming Sergio Aguero can crank up new support.

So even as they gently ease newbies into what a ‘nutmeg’ means and not make football too intimidating for them, there’s a concurrent effort to keep broadcast evolved for the authentic fans.

LaLiga is perhaps at its most vulnerable phases in a long time, with Messi gone and an ultimatum served to the Big Two to not break ranks chasing the Super League dazzle. The MTV deal is thence both a lower key hum for the last decade’s hottest football property, yet also an apt early departure in a scarily changing world.

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