From Rivaldo’s overhead to secure Champions League football for Barcelona in 2001, to David Beckham’s time at Real Madrid and later era-defining battles between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, LaLiga has been a longtime mainstay for football fans across Ireland and the UK.
Late matches on Saturday and Sunday nights involving the best players in the world drove interest in Spanish football all the way through the 2000s and into the 2010s as Sky Sports held a monopoly across much of top-level football.
However, when the broadcaster lost the rights after the culmination of the 2017/18 season, streaming service Eleven Sports took over but with little success. With sign-ups to the streaming platform not reaching the numbers hoped for, the company dropped the rights at the end of the 2018/19 season, allowing ITV to broadcast some matches free-to-air before Premier Sports struck a three-year deal in September.
€5.99 per month for 10 live matches every weekend does look like good value, particularly when factoring in big games such as El Clásico
The new agreement means that customers will be able to watch every single LaLiga match live on one single 24-hour channel called LaLiga TV – owned and operated by the league itself – which will launch in Ireland as part of Premier Sports’ package on January 29th. Premier – which is owned by Dublin businessman and Setanta Sports co-founder Mickey O’Rourke – has been showing matches on their main channels since September and will launch their dedicated LaLiga channel in the UK next Monday, January 13th. The Irish launch will follow two weeks later.
However, while the channel is part of Premier Sports, it will only be available on TV to customers who are signed up to Sky as their TV provider. It will not be necessary to have Sky Sports, but a Sky box is needed to access the channel. Viewers without a Sky box will be able to sign up to the Premier Player but will only be able to stream the channel online.
The channel will be priced at €5.99 a month for Irish customers and will operate as a standalone, meaning it doesn’t come as part of the Sports Extra package offered by Sky, which includes BT Sport 1, 2 and 3 and Premier Sports 1 and 2. Customers who want to sign up to LaLiga TV will have to do so separately through Premier Sports. They will then have access to the channel on their Sky box as well as on the Premier Player, meaning they can stream the channel wherever they wish.
While this adds another subscription onto the already expensive sports TV bills that many viewers around the country face, the price of €5.99 per month for 10 live matches every weekend does look like good value, particularly when factoring in big games such as El Clásico.
LaLiga has operated individual kick-off times for a number of years meaning that no two matches clash – they are spread across the weekend from Friday night to Sunday night. In the UK the Saturday afternoon kick-off will not be available to watch live due to broadcasting laws. That will not be the case in Ireland as those laws do not apply here – this enables Premier to show a live Premier League match at 3pm each Saturday.
The channel will also carry live analysis, debate and highlights programmes every day of the week with former Sky Sports pundits Graham Hunter and Guillem Balague alongside former Tottenham striker Gus Poyet, former Chelsea midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, former Arsenal defender Lauren and others.
LaLiga’s move to begin producing and broadcasting each match themselves started at the beginning of the 2017/18 season and is similar to changes that have also been seen in the United States, where the NBA has launched their own channel.
In the UK, the Premier League does produce matches for broadcast but only for highlights shows, while Sky Sports and BT Sport produce the live matches they show. The BBC does so for matches to be shown on Match of the Day.
At the Barcelona city centre offices of MediaPro, the production company for LaLiga TV, Roger Brosel, head of content and programming, explains that in-house production from leagues and clubs appeals to a lot of broadcasters while also benefitting the viewer as it is all in one place.
“The good thing about this agreement is that fans in the UK and Ireland will know that all of the content will be there,” he says. “For us it’s very important not to fragment all of the games through different broadcasters which can cause chaos for the viewer.
“A lot of broadcasters asked for this. It’s more convenient for them. This is like a turn-key solution, it’s readymade, they don’t have to do anything. You have the former players, you have the pundits, you have the studio all here, you wouldn’t be able to replicate that on a weekly basis in many television stations around the world. So we have a demand from the broadcasters to say ‘okay, we would be interested in this readymade product that we can just put on a channel and people can go there, they know that it’s all there and it’s better for them and it’s better for us.’”
The towering offices in Barcelona house the studios where all of the analysis and debate is filmed and where LaLiga use new technology – such as hologram post-match interviews where the player is projected into the studio in front of the presenter and pundits – to enhance the programme for the viewers.
In-house production is becoming more and more popular in sport and has led to questions about how honest and open clubs and organisations can be when talking about themselves. However, this does not seem to be the case with LaLiga TV where there appears to be little holding back in the punditry. Those behind the scenes want honesty and straight-talking to be a trait of the analysis.
Shortly after speaking on Viva LaLiga – the daily analysis and debate programme broadcast live on the channel – where he described Atlético Madrid's Thomas Lemar as “soft” and “useless”, Graham Hunter explains that honest punditry is what LaLiga are looking for.
“Nobody has ever said to us at LaLiga television this is institutional, it’s Sunday School language only, be nice to everybody, this is Cliff Richard in football boots; nobody has ever said that,” he says. “In Britain and Ireland sometimes you’ve got this knowledge but I better not say it because I might need a job or my mate might . . . it’s rubbish, because football’s too big and too pure for that.”
And while Spanish football may have faded a little from the conscience in this part of the world, long-time pundit Guillem Ballague is hopeful that this is the start of the comeback and that the different teams, players and styles of play – as well as the presence of one Lionel Messi – can act as an antidote to the saturated Premier League market.
“You’ve got a variation in tactics and other things that make it very interesting,” he says. “People may be surprised, especially if they’ve stopped watching in recent times, that the variation is still here. And if you’re looking for a league that’s got players you’ve never heard of and they give you something you’ve never seen before and they might end up in the Premier League in the future, it’s all here.
“It’ll be a time to discover again. The teams are still around, the same teams as always, the Barcelona and Real Madrid stories – we’ve got about 20 every week - so they’ll still be there, the conflict of personalities, all of that is still there.”
This article is part of a series of consumer-based sports stories. If you have any queries, stories or issues regarding travel, tickets, sport on television or anything else you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Ruaidhri_Croke.