Another week, another major European soccer league returns! This time it’s LaLiga who resumed their 2019/20 season on Friday, June 11th. We previously covered the Bundesliga’s return and we’re sure to cover the return of the Premier League, along with the NWSL and MLS summer tournaments in the future.
If you like LaLiga or are interested in watching the Spanish league then you’re in luck as there will be 39 straight match days of LaLiga now that they’re back. There will be two match days per week with one “week” encompassing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and the other occupying Monday – Thursday. That’s a lot of action.
We’ll dive into what LaLiga did to keep busy during the break due to COVID-19 while engaging the North American (and global) audience, how they’re using technology to enhance fan viewing experience without people at the matches, and look at what the league and clubs did to build momentum ahead of the return.
How did LaLiga handle the COVID-19 pause?
In the days leading up to the resumption of play, Boris Gartner, the CEO of LaLiga North America joined Ian Thomas of Front of Sports for a Zoom video session where they talked about a variety of topics. Chief among them was how the league handled COVID-19 and their content response.
The first weekend after games were postponed saw a LaLiga Santander FIFA 20 Challenge with one player from each of the clubs participating. They raised over $200,000 for UNICEF to the pandemic response in Spain. “After that everyone was doing it. We were the first ones to do it,” remarked Gartner.
A fortnight later saw another charitable activation with the LaLiga Santander Fest – a massive concert for a good cause. More than 50 musical artists participated along with LaLiga players over the 4-5 hour-long event. The concert was a massive hit with 50 million people consuming content related to it around the globe, while raising over 1 million Euros to fund the purchase of medical supplies needed in Spain.
We previously touched on another EA Sports FIFA tournament that LaLiga did in conjunction with Uninterrupted and Women’s ICC. The unique aspect of this tournament was how it combined LaLiga players with American athletes from the NFL, NBA, NWSL, and USWNT. It was LaLiga’s way to adapt the concept of LaLiga and FIFA with a U.S. flavor. The tournament was a great success with more than 8.8 million video views across digital channels. Additionally, all global broadcast partners had the option to air it over television and it was shown by 50 broadcasters in 90 different countries around the world
“It was exciting to see that the stuff that we thought would work well for the U.S., and it did, and it also has some global recognition.” – Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America
You can watch the whole interview here in which Gartner discusses other topics including additional marketing efforts and activations toward the U.S. market, media strategy, and the prospect of bringing a regular-season LaLiga match to the United States.
— Front Office Sports (@frntofficesport) June 9, 2020
Enhancements for fans viewing at home
For the Bundesliga return, FOX Sports’ broadcast tested out both no added noise and then piped-in crowd noise during matches. Borussia Mönchengladbach also had tens of thousands of fans pay for a cardboard cutout that was displayed in a seat to simulate fans in the stands, while most clubs opted strictly for empty seats and/or tarps. For LaLiga’s return, the league has a pair of solutions for crowd noise and no fans in the stands that benefit corporate partners.
Crowd noise will be supplied by EA Sports FIFA, who is already an official league partner with full rights to stadiums, kits, and teams. They’re able to dynamically respond to the match happenings with sounds that are right for the situation – the fans roar for a goal, reactions to a foul, etc. When watching “El Gran Derbi” between Sevilla and Real Betis to kick off the season, the atmosphere felt right. While it’s hard to fully replicate a derby atmosphere via artificial crowd noises, I appreciated how well it was done in this instance.
In addition to crowd noise, fans who tune into beIN SPORTS will also see “fans” in the stands. The league partnered with Norwegian based company Vizrt to showcase virtual fans across the main camera angle. While not exactly a lifelike representation – with many on Twitter saying it looked akin to a 90s or early 2000s video game – it adds a layer of depth that empty seats are lacking. Combined with the crowd noise from EA Sports FIFA and you have what could pass as the real thing if you were to only catch a quick glimpse of the action. It feels about as natural as natural can be with no fans in attendance.
Opening Weekend Coverage
For the American audience, one of their key initiatives was a content piece that tied LaLiga in with other sports. With American sports still slowly coming back, the juxtaposition of LaLiga game footage with other sports showcased a nice comparison as it hopes to draw in new fans over the coming weeks.
As Gartner says at the end of the Zoom conversation, “Our success is going to be determined by being able to super-serve our existing core fans and reaching new fans outside.” Opening weekend is a key flashpoint among the consumer journey over the next 30+ days that will hopefully lead to new fans who weren’t familiar with LaLiga before.
Missing your favorite sports? #LaLiga has something for everyone! 🏀🏈🏒⚾️
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) June 9, 2020
Other initiatives of note included:
- Sevilla following the route of FC Schalke 04 in utilizing a Twitter thread to showcase why fans of each Premier League team should follow them
- Highlighting safety precautions that the league is taking place
- Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid paying respect to those who lost their lives due to COVID-19 by laying flowers pre-match
- A unique street art installation in Mexico highlighting the return of games