By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Spain’s top flight soccer division La Liga announced on Tuesday a landmark deal with Facebook which will allow viewers in the Indian sub-continent to watch every game over the next three seasons for free on the social network.
A statement from La Liga said all 380 league matches for the new season, which begins on Friday, would be available to viewers in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“We are really happy to be on a free to air service in such an important territory as the Indian sub-continent,” Alfredo Bermejo, La Liga’s head of digital strategy, told Reuters ahead of the announcement.
“One of our goals for the last two years has been to offer content to the widest audience possible, so partnering with free platforms like Facebook, which has 270 million users in India, is key to us.”
Facebook and La Liga declined to give financial details of the deal which sees the social network giant unseat Sony Pictures Network as the rights holder in the region.
Sony paid a reported $32 million for the right to broadcast La Liga between 2014 and 2018.
Facebook began venturing into sports streaming in 2017 by broadcasting weekly Major League Baseball games and earlier this month agreed a deal with broadcaster Eleven Sports to show one La Liga and one Serie A game per week on its platform.
The deal with La Liga is the latest statement of the growing interest of tech groups in showing sports in order to keep young viewers on their platforms.
Earlier this year Amazon won rights to show 20 English Premier League matches a season from 2019 in Britain.
Peter Hutton, Facebook’s Director of Global Live Sports, however, described the deal with La Liga as an experiment, saying that while the company has other agreements in the works, he ruled out an immediate land grab of rights deals in sport.
“Were looking at a few other deals that are quite close to completion but this is not about going out and buying a huge amount of content worldwide,” he told Reuters.
“We’re looking at specific rights in specific markets and to try to learn from data from those experiences and work out what the next step is. If you rush into too many deals at once, you can’t do it properly.”
Facebook’s monitoring system will prevent against leakage, ensuring only viewers inside the Indian sub-continent will be able to watch the games on its platform.
The games will initially be shown without any adverts, although Hutton said Facebook is doing trials in advertising on live content in the United States which may be replicated on its La Liga coverage at a later date.
“This is one deal, it’s not something that is a big threat to the broadcast world,” added Hutton, a former CEO of Eurosport who was hired by Facebook in May to oversee its live sports operation.
“We have rights to work with broadcasters and we may bring in partners to make sure the experience is right. What’s clear about this is that 380 games will be available on Facebook, then we’ll keep our options open as to how we spread that content out so people can see it in as many ways as possible.”
The deal with Facebook is the latest and most significant step in La Liga’s expansion strategy in India, which began with the opening of an office in New Delhi in September 2016.
Facebook has 348 million users in the Indian sub-continent, while figures provided by La Liga show a rise of 2.2 million users in the league’s social network platforms in the last year.
“We have grown our presence in India a lot and we have pretty strong numbers in this territory,” added Jose Antonio Cachaza, La Liga’s country manager for India.
“This is the first step for us, we’re excited to see it and we want make it as successful as possible so we can unlock other territories around the world.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)