November 29th, 2010
10:31 PM ET

Can La Liga steal Premier League's Asian thunder?

Barcelona's David Villa, left, and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid are among La Liga's galaxy of stars. (AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona's David Villa, left, and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid are among La Liga's galaxy of stars. (AFP/Getty Images)

Like countless football fans around the world, the highlight of my Monday was watching the Clasico: Barcelona versus Real Madrid, two of the biggest clubs in world football going head to head.

Unlike countless fans, I had to wait until 4 a.m. for kick-off ... because I live in Hong Kong. But it was worth it to see a thrilling match in which Barca crushed their Spanish title rivals 5-0.

I am the reason Real Madrid president Florentino Perez signs players like Zidane, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo: I'm an Asian fan passionate about European football, eager to support a club in a far-off town as if it were my own, and happy to spend my money on all the shirts, shorts, balls and related merchandise that clubs mass-produce.

There's just one problem for Mr. Perez. My heart belongs to the English Premier League's Liverpool, and I'm not alone.

The EPL is the world's most-watched league. And it pulls in the most revenue by some distance. This despite the defection of its brightest star Ronaldo to La Liga in 2009, despite last season's faltering performances by English clubs in Europe and despite England's woeful showing at this year's World Cup – a tournament, you may remember, won by Spain.

There are plenty of other reasons for the Premier League's popularity over La Liga. I've heard arguments as varied as a greater parity of teams in the Premier League to the proliferation of English expatriates in Asia serving as walking advocates for their local clubs. But it's difficult to see past the simple fact that it is harder to watch Spanish football in Asia than its English rival.

English matches generally kick off at either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. in Hong Kong, which is late but not too troublesome in a society geared towards late nights like this one. There's also at least two fixtures each week that can begin as early as 7:30 p.m. - and last week's early kick-offs were matches involving Arsenal and Chelsea.

Compare that to La Liga, where Real Madrid and Barcelona are almost always assigned to the late matches, and rarely begin before 3 a.m. This is Perez's problem. What's the point in parading the world's best (and most marketable) players when a vast audience cannot watch them live?

There are plans to change that. Atletico Madrid have reportedly become the first Spanish club to request early kick-offs with the intention of grabbing an Asian audience. This would be a remarkable change for a country famous for the afternoon siesta, and an interesting turning point in globalization - the point where the demands of a potentially massive foreign audience trump the tastes of the loyal locals.

Whether that will be enough to wrest Asian eyeballs and dollars away from the English Premier League and to La Liga remains to be seen. But as I face the prospect of another bleary-eyed day at the office tomorrow, it's a change that I would certainly welcome.

Ravi Hiranand produces News Stream with Kristie Lu Stout (CNN.com/NewsStream), airing weekdays at 1300 GMT on CNN International.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. alehandro

    How arrogant can you get? La liga should change its kick-off times so that a handful of glory hunters in the Far East don't have to stay up too late! You must be joking. European clubs may want your money, but they couldn't give a damn about your beauty sleep. You'll still by the shirts and flock to the exhibition friendlies whether you see the big names live or not through the season. Instead of trying to hi-jack the game from the European locals, who are the heart of the clubs, what you should be thinking about is investing some time and money in your own teams so that you don't have live vicariously through clubs of which you have no real knowledge and with which you have no real affinity. Asia wants another World Cup last time I looked, so show you deserve it by investing in your own game instead of leaching off Europe's.

    November 29, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  2. JP

    @alehandro: Lighten up over there. Being offensive, rude and bordering on racism is no way to start a civilized discussion on the development of the beautiful game outside of Europe. The tone of the article is a bit arrogant, stating that (Asian) fans are the reason for European clubs signing big name players, but he's right in saying that if European clubs want to cash in on growing popularity in Asia and the rest of the world the way the EPL has, they are probably going to have to adjust (some of) their kick-off times. In any case, it isn't Asia per se that will dictate your precious kick-off times. It will boil down to how greedy European club owners are and how willing they are to compromise local fan preferences for profit. If they want (more) Asian money flowing into their coffers, the onus is on the owners them to balance the needs of their entire fan base.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:20 am | Reply
  3. ken from Chad

    Are you kidding me? "La Liga" consists of two teams, the rest at least last year's results of #3) were a full 18-20 points behind the number two, Madrid. Any weekend I watch the Premiership, I can either get a close, entertaining, physical match or upsets (Yes, even ties), or a more world-wide representation of skills. Premiership any day, leave la liga to insomniacs who need their sleep. Any wonder why their games gamesare televisd Sunday evenings? People need to rest up for the work week.

    November 30, 2010 at 10:49 am | Reply
  4. WP

    The author of this article seems to forget that there are two mayor football markets outside of Europe... The intention of scheduleding la Liga games late probably has more to do with the fact that the largest market for Spanish football lies in South America and not in Asia.

    November 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  5. alehandro

    @JP.... How is anything I wrote bordering on racism?... The author describes himself as "an Asian" fan", the whole piece is about European football catering to Asia, and the last time I looked in the dictionary calling someone "Asian" is not an insult but a demographic description. So maybe YOU should be the one to lighten up.

    And as for me being rude - you call European clubs "greedy" for wanting to encorporate Asia into their market reach. Why is that greedy? Every industry in the world hopes to maximize its profits. It's called Capitalism. Why should those in the business of football behave any differently?

    And as for adjusting kick-off times to suit foreign markets, that's unworkable. With so much global interest and so many different time zones the big clubs of Europe could end up kicking off in the middle of the night to cater to some markets, which in turn would affect the revenue from their domestic audience.

    Look, if you're not based in Europe but love the European game, make the sacrifice and get up early or stay up late. If not, then tape the games or find a local team to follow. Simple as that. Don't try and reinvent the wheel.

    November 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  6. Manuel Angel

    Getting away from the viewing time argument. In my opinion the reason why the EPL in head, and shoulders over the LFP is mainly because of "Drama". Have you seen how the players in La Liga dive with the slightest of contact trying to get the referee to call a foul. That, soccer fans is deplorable and detrimental to the sport. In England the mentality is that of a physically challenge event . If and when players challenge for the ball there is going to be contact. In EPL the players go on playing with out a blink. In LFP the "Drama" takes over, the match is stopped, the flow is changed, and soccer suffers. This to me is why I watch Premier soccer. I’m from Spain my heart is ruled by Deportivo de La Coruña

    December 1, 2010 at 10:07 am | Reply
  7. Harry

    The whole of Asia cannot be "a handful of glory hunters in the far east"
    no no no!

    December 1, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Reply
  8. vidal castillo

    I am a fan of European football too, especially Spanish La Liga, English Premier League, and Italian Serie A. I regularly watch the games of Barcelona, Madrid, Liverpool, Arsenal, AC Milan, and AS Roma – if and when I can. And I live here in the Philippines.

    If it won't inconvenience their local supporters, I will surely enjoy the early kick-off times in La Liga – it will be around mid-morning to noontime for the South American viewers, and around 22:00 to around midnight for us here in East and South East Asia. =)

    December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  9. stanley

    English EPL is the best and will still remain the best for now , and will still remain the most watch in any part of the world even in south american countries where la liga seems to be popular. the reason is obvious in EPL there are up to six clubs that are fighting to win the title at the end of the day , like , man united, arsenal , chelsea, totoham , liverpool, etc. But in la liga there are only two teams that always compitite for the title madrid and barcelona , no matter how valencia , villariall, Alt madrid, Alt club , español fc struggled at the begining of the leauge , the must surly bow down to either barcelona or madrid. , that is to say we have BIG TWO IN LA LIGA , while we have big six in epl, am from spain and fan of barcelona . what of the fan or crowd that comes to watch the matches it is only matches that involes bar and maf that u will see crowg or stadium will be filled to capacity , but in epl all stadium full to capacity .

    December 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  10. dony

    Manuel Angel are you joking??????, you have to realise in which continents is the EPL popular: Africa and Asia (countries with poor football histories and mediocreclubs) specially Asia is too anglophile:(. I am south american (teh aprt of teh world were 4 out of 5 best footballers all-time were born, Pele, Di Stefano, Maradona, Garrincha. I am not anglophile or I do not have any admiration for teh Queen, but I hate players with too much muscles and not brain , diving all the time, do you know that anybody take seriously the EPL in South America???, why maybe is the reason that La Liga and Serie A are popular in South America, maybe is the best footballer all-time played there:
    Real Madrid=Zidane, Di Stefano Puskas
    Barcelona=Maradona,Cruyff,Ronaldo
    Juventus=Sivori, Platini, Rossi
    AC Milan=Van Basten, Gullit, Papin

    and your EPL????????, also if you want to speak with Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Di Stefano and Zidane, you can do that in Spanish, but English is not useful in the football world, sorry Britain is not a real superpower in the FIFA

    December 23, 2010 at 5:09 am | Reply
  11. Juan Sello

    Alehandro, Perez has clearly stated that he would like to capture more of the Asian market. The writer is merely highlighting the issues facing Perez. I think its a good article for its intended purpose. La Liga has to decide how serious it is about competing with England for worldwide viewership an TV dollars.

    Dony. EPL is the most popular league on the planet, hands down. More money and growth potential is to be found in Asia Africa and India than in South America. Not to mention North America. When was the last time a European side toured South America? By the way, is Messi still taking English lessons?

    January 12, 2011 at 6:49 am | Reply
  12. dony

    well maybe is true, sorry I am a romantic and I enjoyed Pele, Garrincha, Di Stefano and Maradona ( and the fottballers nowadasy look pretty average in comparisson with them), also maybe in South America we have to realise that probably in anotther parts of the world prefer runners like CR than artists like Pele, but that is another issue; by the way I am pretty sure that will be really interesting look at the performance of Japan in the next Copa America (because it is the last Asian's champion), and they had a good performance in the WC 2010.

    February 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  13. George

    The popularity of English football in Asia has deep roots predating the Premier League. I grew up in Singapore in the 1960's and 70's and fell in love with the game by watching "Division One" football in black-and-white. I still remember the excitement when Arsenal came to town to play in an exhibition in the 70's (the other teams were Celtic and Red Star Belgrade). My schoolmates and I would spend countless hours taking about Leeds, Forest, Manchester United, etc. And yes, I'm one of those fans who has hopped on a plane to London just to watch a match.

    March 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  14. dony

    They should be ashamed of supporting a football club which plays miles away from their hometown rather than their own......

    February 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
    • Jose

      should argentines be ashamed to play in the premier league thousands of miles from home?

      March 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  15. dony

    Juan Sello: Well , maybe European teams will not have a tour in South America for economic reasons, but most importantly we do not support foreign teams!, we are not football’s newbies, if tomorrow my River play against Barça, I want to see River trashing them, well you look down in economic terms to us, but we can look down the rest of the world in football terms (but we do not do that) because despite the fact that we are the smallest football confederation in the world (only 10 remembers!), we have won 9 WC, and in this landmass the best footballer a-ll-time (Pele , Di Stefano, Garrincha, Maradona) were born, also the currently best footballer in the world is South American; and let me tell you that nobody here is obsessed about European football and the tv channels only show some matches on weekends of Serie A , La liga and Bundesliga ( nobody cares about EPL, who want to see a rudimentary high-tempo unskillful football style?); and about the language , sorry but Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff, Maradona , Zidane and Bochini, usually write in newspapers articles about football in Spanish not English!, and the quality of books about football is incredibly high with writers like, Valdano(WC 1986 winner), Menotti (WC 1978 winner), Zagallo (WC 1958,1962,1970,1994winner); what is more, is usually to see in football programmes (which discuss about football concepts not tactics) in the same panel to Spaniards, Italians and South American journalists (which is easy because Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and intelligible, apart from UK, which Anglophone country has a long football tradition or history?);finally, we consider that a footballer in his prime should play in La Liga or Serie A , and that is the reason that the new Pele, Maradona or Messi will play in Serie or La liga and the new Nakata and Park in EPL (that was not sarcasm only the sad true ).

    March 25, 2012 at 12:52 am | Reply

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