Spain's La Liga aims to close income gap with Premier League

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - La Liga, which runs the top two divisions of Spanish soccer, believes it can close the gap in revenues between it and the English Premier League in the next 10 years with an ambitious plan to expand its international audience.

FILE PHOTO - Spain's professional football league (LFP) president Javier Tebas talks to the media after attending the draw to set fixtures for the next La Liga season at the Spanish Soccer Federation headquarters in Las Rozas, outside Madrid, Spain, July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Javier Tebas, La Liga’s president, said the Premier League earned about 40 percent more that the Spanish league, which draws in some 1.7 billion euros (£1.49 billion) a year in television rights.

“I have no doubt that within 10 years we will practically be equal to the Premier League or at least within 10 percent,” he said at the opening of a La Liga office in Brussels.

The main difference for now was that the British market itself was bigger than Spain’s.

“On an international level there is less of a difference, but that’s our main objective -- to get closer to the Premier League,” Tebas said late on Tuesday

La Liga, which already dominates in Latin America, has now set its sights on gaining ground in key markets China, India and the United States, with another eye focussed on Africa.

In the past four years, it has set up offices in Shanghai, Delhi, New York, Johannesburg and Dubai and had representatives in over 40 countries.

It has also changed the times of fixtures, so that one match was played earlier to catch viewers in Asia and one late on Sunday for an audience in the Americas.

Tebas said La Liga’s biggest advantage relative to the Premier League was the quality of its clubs and players.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo have won the Ballon d’Or for world’s best player for the past nine years and their clubs the Champions League for the past four years, with Atletico Madrid also in the final twice.

“This is an aspect we’re working on. We didn’t have a strategy before,” Tebas said.

La Liga was also looking into the possibility of playing one or two of its 380 matches per season outside Spain, noting the success of a pre-season Barcelona-Real Madrid game in Miami in July.

“We are thinking about it... The first match abroad would probably be in the United States,” Tebas said, adding he hoped a first such match could take place within two years.

While La Liga dreams of greater foreign riches, Tebas expressed concern that competition in Europe was being skewed by what he called state-owned clubs, singling out Qatar-owned Paris St Germain.

Tebas said the French club could not have paid the world-record 222 million euro fee to buy striker Neymar from Barcelona with their own funds, with state capital distorting the market.

If European governing body UEFA did not take measures by the end of 2017, Tebas said La Liga would address its complaint to the European Commission, which governs competition issues across the bloc.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by John O’Brien