Millions to watch ‘El Clasico’

The hype around the La Liga ‘Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid continues to burst through all barriers — with millions worldwide due to tune in this afternoon to see Lionel Messi and company take on Cristiano Ronaldo and his colleagues.

This week even brought news that the fixture forms a central part of Iraq’s official foreign-language Oscar submission for 2016. El Clasico features two brothers, one a Madrid fan and the other a Barcelona supporter, who set out on a road trip to try and meet Cristiano Ronaldo — with one brother hoping to win his sweetheart’s hand in marriage by presenting the Portugal captain with a pair of traditional homemade shoes.

The Norway/Iraq co-production features a scene set in Kurdistan where the would-be bride’s father, a huge Madrid fan, watches his team take on Barcelona live on TV.

That part of the plot is actually quite believable — as today’s game will be broadcast in over 180 countries worldwide, giving it a potential viewing audience of as many as 650m people [although the real figure will not be quite as much].

Such worldwide interest in what is after all just a domestic league game, being played quite early in the season, has not come from nowhere. The Spanish football authorities do not just rely on the fame of Messi and Ronaldo to sell themselves, but have in recent years been ramping up a major push to market their product globally. La Liga’s managing director Adolfo Bara said this week that his organisation had been working to an international development strategy aimed at attracting fans overseas.

“Four years ago these games were being watched a lot, but we were like a local business,” Bara said.

“Since then, we have followed an international development strategy, opening offices in many countries. This is a special week for La Liga.

“The Clasico is the sporting event with the biggest audience in the world, above even the Superbowl.”

This strategy includes five ‘big screen’ #ElClasico events being held this afternoon — in Beijing, Shanghai, New Delhi, Mumbai and Johannesburg. Fans attending can play interactive games and get their faces painted — or meet with official ambassadors who have travelled from Spain.

Ex-Barca playmaker Gaizka Mendieta has spent the week doing preview work for the game in China, while former Madrid striker Morientes has been doing media interviews in India.

The Spanish authorities have also opened permanent offices in recent years in New York, Dubai, Johannesburg, Beijing and Abuja [Nigeria] — with the aim of building relationships with local broadcasters and sponsors. This week they signed new partnership agreements with IT partners Microsoft and Intel — with the latter rolling out a new 360° and super slo-mo technology.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said at the Microsoft launch the aim was to provide an “experience” to attract more people to the product.

“Our 360° strategy is key,” Tebas said. “180° refers to live games, but that didn’t cut it for our supporters. The 90 minutes isn’t enough nowadays. If we don’t do more, we won’t grow. Years ago we were speaking about club’s heavy debts and tidying the Spanish game up. We’re over all of that now.”

The 4.15pm local time kick-off (3.15pm Irish) has been specially chosen with a view to maximising the total number of people who can see the game live, in particular in India and China.

It however means Irish viewers can only watch the game on a delay today due to [British] broadcasting restrictions aimed at encouraging supporters to attend 3pm matches played locally. This did not seem to concern Tebas when he spoke recently.

“To play at 6pm is too late in Asia, while to play at 1pm is too early for the American market.”

La Liga still has a way to go to match the Premier League’s domestic TV revenues, and interest in other games [for instance Alaves against Las Palmas on Sunday afternoon] is not so great. But nothing can match the Clasico, as Cristina Sanchez, LaLiga’s corporate brand activation director told ESPN this week.

“We’re lucky that the two most important clubs in the world play in La Liga,” Sanchez said. “That is something that no other league, not even the Premier League, can boast.”

In team news, Barca captain Andres Iniesta has been declared fit, while defenders Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba are likely to start despite carrying knocks. Madrid holding midfielder Casemiro is available after two months out with a broken leg, however Gareth Bale is out following his ankle operation, and playmaker Toni Kroos has not yet returned to full fitness.


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