When football returned to the stadiums of LaLiga from June 11th onwards, it also returned to Facebook Watch on the Indian subcontinent. Since 2018, when LaLiga announced its pioneering agreement to broadcast all matches for free via Facebook in this part of the world, the millions of fans in these countries have developed connections with their favourite hosts and pundits and it was important to maintain these bonds as Spanish football made its comeback.
This presented a technical challenge, however. LaLiga Facebook Watch presenter Joe Morrison and regular pundits such as Kevin Campbell, John Burridge, Gurpreet Singh and Jamal Bhuyan were all located in different countries and coronavirus restrictions meant they couldn’t all meet in the usual studio in Barcelona for pre- and post-match analysis. As such, LaLiga and broadcast partner Mediapro had to be creative, using remote production technology to bring these familiar faces together and maintaining their natural chemistry.
To do this, the team combined feeds from Spain, England, Germany and the UAE before producing a programme signal in Barcelona, sending that signal to the Facebook servers in Los Angeles and then distributing that signal across the Indian subcontinent to the millions of fans watching along. All in all, this broadcasting journey spanned over 30,000 kilometres.
“We needed to be creative and for that reason we turned to technology,” Natxo Imaz Erdoiza, Mediapro’s digital projects CTO, explained. “We created a fast workflow to capture user comments and share them with our presenters and pundits, who had the final decision on what to publish. It had to be seamless and fast. In the end, we created something new and it felt natural for those involved.”
For host Joe Morrison, it was vital that the show remained as familiar as possible to LaLiga’s ever-growing audience in the Indian subcontinent. “Our USP and the unique element of the show is the direct fan engagement,” he said. “We receive fan comments and feedback in real time with a delay of mere seconds. In this new workflow, we had to make sure we did not lose that. Our system operates in a portal that can be connected anywhere in the world, allowing us to be a dynamic show that creates debate and engages the audience. Keeping those elements was a huge part of this new workflow.”
The figures prove that fans have been as engaged as ever with LaLiga over the final rounds of the 2019/20 season. “We increased audience by 72% after the lockdown,” LaLiga India’s managing director José Antonio Cachaza revealed.
With LaLiga now having 11 million followers in the Indian subcontinent, the partnership with Facebook is clearly helping to boost Spanish football’s popularity in the region. As Cachaza explained: “LaLiga is very happy with how the relationship with Facebook is developing. It is important for LaLiga to be ahead of the pack in an increasingly competitive environment. We are confident that Facebook is the right partner for this continent and the viewing figures suggest we are right. Football in India is growing. It’s not just about audience, but also engagement, which is very high. But we need to keep pushing and growing. No matter how good the numbers are, we know there is more work to do.”
“I think Facebook has an advantage over other providers because it integrates the fan interaction,” he continued. “We don’t need to run a Zoom party. It’s already designed that way and we could do this before anyone thought of Zoom parties.”
Building the growth of football in India
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, broadcasts of LaLiga matches in the Indian subcontinent were incorporating the latest technological innovations. “Since Javier Tebas took over the presidency in 2013, we established two core directions: digital and international, both with the aim to connect better with fans,” Cachaza explained. “India is one of the key digital markets in the world and we have the most unique broadcasting agreement in the world through them. When the pandemic hit, this focus on digital helped us. Our international structure was already in place and we had a well-developed way of remote working. I think we were better prepared than other leagues.”
Further evidence of LaLiga’s success with Facebook is that fact that 82% of those watching match broadcasts are under the age of 35. “Football has a very youthful audience in India,” Morrison explained. “Young fans in the cities love football and it is also connected to technology consumption.
With this technology penetration, young fans can choose what programme they watch. This young audience is only going to grow and get stronger.”
Morrison has more than 15 years’ experience of broadcasting in India and is excited about the current growth of the sport as well as LaLiga’s increasing profile. “We are trying to expand the league and help it reach as many people as possible,” he said. “We need as many people as possible to get engaged. We have seen a jump in audiences who were simply not there before Facebook came in. When I started broadcasting in India 15 years ago, football was the fourth or fifth most popular sport. It’s now number two, which I think says a lot about its growth.”