Facebook has won the rights to screen La Liga matches across the Indian subcontinent in a deal that will allow hundreds of millions of south Asian users to watch top-tier Spanish football matches for free.
The social network has agreed a deal to broadcast Spain's national football competition, featuring the likes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, over the next three seasons in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives.
La Liga hailed the deal as a “one of a kind” agreement, with matches shown “free to air” in the region, giving it greater reach in the subcontinent and in particular to Facebook’s estimated 270 million users in India.
Facebook displaces Sony, which previously had live screening rights to La Liga matches in the subcontinent, having reportedly paid a total of $32 million (€28 million) between 2014 and 2018.
Financial details of Facebook’s deal with La Liga have not been released.
"As home to the two most-followed sports clubs on Facebook and some of the world's most iconic footballers, La Liga has a huge global presence on our platform," said Peter Hutton, the Facebook executive hired from broadcaster Eurosport to head up the US company's live sports strategy.
“It’s popularity is notably visible in the Indian subcontinent, so we’re delighted to be able to serve the community of fans there with free, live La Liga matches.”
Neil Shah, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, said that a dramatic drop in the cost of using mobile data, with the disruptive entry to the telecom sector of upstart Reliance Jio, had prompted millions of Indians to use mobile data and home broadband connections for watching sport and other live broadcasts.
While UK and European football still lags behind cricket in popularity in India, Mr Shah said securing the Spanish football rights was “a good start” as Facebook seeks to gain a video audience in its biggest market by user numbers.
“The biggest aim for Facebook is for people to spend more time on it, to get a bigger share of users’ digital life. So whatever they can offer in terms of content to create stickiness, that is useful,” he said.
Facebook said it would show all 380 La Liga matches a season, initially without advertising, although that may change later. The latest Spanish league season kicks off on Friday.
Facebook, like other major US technology groups, has been bidding on sports rights over the past two years in an effort to retain users and attract new ones to its platform.
These moves have resulted in digital players increasingly challenging traditional television broadcasters which have built audiences and subscription models around exclusive deals for live sport.
Facebook has screened Major League Baseball matches in the US, and this month reached a deal to show some La Liga and Italian Serie A football matches in the UK.
Last year, the social network made an unsuccessful $600m bid to acquire digital rights to show Indian Premier League cricket games in India. All live screening rights to the IPL, the most popular annual sporting event in the country, were won by Rupert Murdoch's Star India TV network.
This year, Amazon won the rights to screen 60 English Premier League matches in the UK over three seasons, and also gained exclusive UK rights to a range of other sports events including the ATP men's world tennis tour. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018