Fans of Spanish soccer may see their beloved pastime cut short this season.
Spain’s soccer federation says it will halt all professional games “indefinitely” starting May 16, to protest a new law regulating the sale of television game rights. But Spain’s professional soccer league said today it had begun legal proceedings to prevent the games from being canceled.
At issue is a new law approved last week by the Spanish government, designed to break the monopoly of Spain’s top two teams, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The law would allow poorer, less winning teams to share TV airtime and revenue more equitably. Teams will no longer be allowed to negotiate their own TV deals. Instead, rights will be auctioned through collective bargaining, in a system similar to that of the world’s most-watched soccer league, England’s Premier League.
European champion Real Madrid is the world’s richest soccer team, valued at $3.26 billion. Barcelona is close behind, at $3.16 billion. The players union also supports the suspension of games.
The suspension would affect the final two days of games for Spain’s La Liga, as well as the King’s Cup final scheduled for May 30 between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. It would also cover 17 regional soccer federations, governing more than 600,000 players and 30,000 games at the local level.
But Spain’s professional soccer league, which opposes the suspension, says the “objectives of the strike are illegal.” The league stands to lose millions in revenue if games are not held.
“This is all about two big rich teams throwing around their influence. Real Madrid and Barcelona have all the sponsors and all the power, just like any big multinational company,” said Nacho Marco, 42, chatting with friends at a Madrid bar Thursday night about the upcoming suspension.
He acknowledged nevertheless being a Real Madrid fan.
“It’s true they have all the power, but the smaller teams just don’t have as much voice,” he said.
Last year marked the first time in nearly 20 years that neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona won the Spanish league title. Instead, the winner was Real’s hometown rival, Atletico Madrid, whose revenues of $192 million in 2014 were less than a third of Real’s and less than half of Barca’s.
Frayer reported from Madrid.