How La Liga’s eSports FIFA Tournament Thrilled Fans While Raising Funds for Coronavirus Relief

Jamie Lang

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Things were looking grim for Spanish sports fans heading into the country’s second weekend under a government mandated lockdown, and grimmer still for those with rights to broadcast the nation’s favorite game of football.

An early outside-the-box idea materialized when football league La Liga, Banco Santander, Spanish broadcaster Movistar Plus and eSports celebrity Ibai hosted a first-of-its kind Unicef fundraiser pitting actual players from 18 league teams against one another in a three-day FIFA tournament broadcast and streamed globally. Barcelona and Malaga opted to sit out as both are sponsored by Konami, creators of FIFA competitor Pro Evolution Soccer.

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“We ended up with some top athletes who are very competitive and, even though this is for a good cause, they still really want to win.” La Liga digital strategy leader Alfredo Bermejo tells Variety, adding that some players were more nervous for this tournament than their normal games.

In Spain, the competition was broadcast Friday and Saturday on Movistar’s paid sports package network Deportes 1 before moving to basic pay network #Vamos for Sunday’s matches. Following the tournament, a Movistar representative explained to Variety that the company, inspired by the tournament’s success, is working diligently to come up with other innovative ideas to keep a sports-hungry population fed.

Speaking with Spanish business publication Expansión about the potential financial losses for La Liga clubs, La Liga president Javier Tebas explained that across Europe’s 30 professional leagues, €7.5 billion ($8.1 billion) is at risk should the 2019-20 season be canceled, noting that 28% of the television broadcast contracts revenue, which amounts to more than €549 million ($611.3 million), is also at stake, as well as €88m ($97.9 million) for La Liga TV subscriptions and €41.4m ($46.1) in stadium gate receipts.

“We’re looking at problems that not only affect clubs but also the wider economy that depends on football,” Tebas later told Mundo Deportivo, Spain’s largest sports publication. “Over 150,000 people in Spain base their livelihood, either directly or indirectly, on football. Football accounts for 1.67% of our GDP.”

Movistar is already offering one month of free content to pre-existing and non-customers through its Movistar Plus Lite app, which is being filled with extra catalog sports and family content for Spaniards doing their best to stay home during the outbreak.

It has also temporarily increased all mobile subscribers’ data allotments by 30GB per month and made its film and TV packages available to TV subscribers.

Internationally, the eSports contest was broadcast by BeIN Sports in the U.S.; Eleven in Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal; and DirecTV, ESPN and Gol TV across Latin America.

The matches were streamed online via the Twitch Channels of Ibai, LaLiga, Real Madrid and several players, the eLaLiga YouTube channel, La Liga’s Facebook account and LaLigaSportsTV.

When the final whistle blew, club soccer’s most decorated team were once again champions with Marco Asensio’s Real Madrid besting city rivals Leganés, represented by Aitor Rubial. Although Asensio’s two-day glut of goals was impressive, five against Villarreal, seven against Eibar and four more in the final, the most uplifting number were the total donations to Unicef, which surpassed €142,000 ($151,810).

For their part, La Liga wants to work on “large formats each week that allow us to entertain our audience and contribute in our own way to the citizens who are staying in their homes and helping to overcome this situation in doing so,” Bermejo explains, adding, “If we can do that while also generating resources through donations to help this cause, all the better.”

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