When the Spanish federation (RFEF) took over the organization of Spanish women’s football (Primera Iberdrola) from La Liga, its president Luís Rubiales promised we could watch all the games of Primera Iberdrola (we already did) and some of Reto Iberdrola. This promise, as you all know, has been broken every single matchday. Why is that? Because there is an open battle for the broadcasting rights of the league, which is just another battle for power and revenue in Spanish Football.
First of all, as Primera Iberdrola and women’s football, in general, are not considered “professional” by law, and because of it, the clubs hold the broadcasting rights of their matches. In March 2019, the teams forming the women’s football club’s association (ACFF) sold the broadcasting rights of their matches to Mediapro for 9 million euros for 3 seasons. Why can’t we watch the games if Mediapro has already bought these rights?
For starters, not all Primera Iberdrola teams are part of the ACFF. Hence, teams such as FC Barcelona, Tacon CD (now Real Madrid), and Athletic Club de Bilbao held the broadcasting rights of their own teams. Second, when later in 2019 the RFEF took over the competition organization, they aimed to obtain the broadcasting rights of the totality of the competition. To do so, the RFEF made an offer of 500,000€ to each Primera Iberdrola team, as well as 100,000€ to each Reto Iberdrola team for the broadcasting rights. Whereas most ACFF teams stuck with Mediapro, Madrid CFF decided to take the RFEF offer over Mediapro’s and even blocked the entrance of the producer’s cameras to their stadium during their first home game. Finally, Barça Femení, Tacon CD, and Athletic de Bilbao held their own TV rights. The diversity of interests and broadcasting right-holders resulted in a still-ongoing conflict that has resulted in very low TV coverage.
What happens when an ACFF team and a non-ACFF team play against each other? According to the so-named Stadium Law,
“The ownership of the right to broadcast each match of the competition to the local club, although it must have the consent of the visiting club”.
In this regard, Barça understands they hold the right to broadcast their home games, and they have done so via the club media channels. Mediapro, however, believes that Barça needs their consent to do so. The conflict reached its pick when the producer tried to block the broadcasting of the FC Barcelona Femení vs Atletico de Madrid match via BarçaTV by taking Barça to court. Still, Barça refused to obey the precautionary court prohibition to suspend the broadcasting, and we could watch the game via BarçaTV. Yet, their YouTube channel got blocked, and a fair share of fans from both sides could not watch the game. Also, Barça made it very clear they will not oppose the broadcasting of their away games by any producer, but Mediapro has so far refused to show any of those games.
The 20/21 season starts with the conflict unsolved and with the RFEF trying harder than ever to get the totality of broadcasting rights. Again and again, courts have ruled that broadcasting rights are the property of the clubs and not the RFEF. However, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the law regulating the rights of non-professional sports was modified, provoking a new chapter in this ongoing battle. More precisely, the law states that
“The RFEF may directly market the audiovisual rights of the King’s Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and other national competitions that he organizes, both male and female, in accordance with article 4”.
Thus, the rights are the property of the clubs, who would be economically compensated, but the commercialization of those rights are of the RFEF. What happens then with Mediapro who has paid 9 million Euros for those very same rights? My guess is that a new wave of court trials awaits.
What about the upcoming Real Madrid – FC Barcelona game? Contrary to the 19/20 season, both teams have registered in the RFEF Elite plan, thus selling their TV rights to the RFEF. The match, hence, will be broadcasted on Sunday at 13:30h CET via Teledeporte and Esports3. What about the rest of the matches and season? Spanish public television has recently announced they will how 18 games of Primera Iberdrola, mainly FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Club de Bilbao, Madrid CFF, and Santa Teresa. Which suggests they all inscribed in the Elite plan and sold their rights to the RFEF. Hence, in an ideal world, we should be able to watch all the games either via Mediapro (ACFF home games), RFEF providers (Elite’s Plan clubs home games), or clubs specific media channels.
Nonetheless, if the conflict continues, we could end with two sides battling for the rights and blocking each other every matchday. On one side, Mediapro and the ACFF, on the other side RFEF and Elite Plan clubs. The victim? Spanish women’s football. Also, the fact that the first matchday schedule was published just on the 1st of October, makes it hard to organize the game broadcasting, and we cannot solely blame Mediapro for the lack of visibility at the start of the 20/21 season.
Was the schedule delay part of a strategy from RFEF to push the supporters against the producer and, in turn, push, their agenda? Was it just gross incompetence? Until the different right-holders reach an agreement and stop their power battles, we depend on their good faith to follow our beloved teams. So far, they have shown very little of that. Meanwhile, matchday after matchday supporters and media will be wondering TV or not TV? That’s the big question in Primera Iberdrola.