TV Rights, Part ∞: LFP v. RFEF

Spring in Sevilla: a time for rains, La Feria, and apparently deep, deep enmity between governing sports bodies.

On March 26th, a scheduled meeting of the RFEF and LFP (the respective national and league entities governing Spanish soccer) was intended to outline a path forward for both bodies to carve out the future of TV rights together. This path is called the Real Decreto para la venta centralizada de los derechos televisivos (Royal Decree for the centralized sale of TV rights). The gathering was to be a particularly momentous one considering the growing optimism for a more equitable restructuring of TV rights within Spain’s top two divisions, which the LFP oversees. Recent developments, though, have seen the RFEF and LFP moving in opposite directions on the planned accord, with Villar seemingly less enthused with the whole idea now. He called Javier Tebas “gilipollasin January. Look it up. There is little respect between these leaders.

In recent months Tebas, who is almost certainly a naked mole rat and also definitely is the president of the LFP, has been vocal about a couple of the most odious skeletons in Spanish football’s closet: supporter violence and TV rights. As previously agreed upon on March 6th in a combined meeting of the RFEF and the LFP, March 26th was the day to move things forward concerning the latter of the two skeletons. This is a big deal evidenced by the attendance of the Spanish government’s Minister of Education and Culture, José Ignacio Wert. Only one person’s absence seems to have dampened the mood. Who was missing? Only the president of the RFEF, Ángel María Villar.

The backstory to this whole mess is that Tebas has been gunning for Villar’s job even though 27 years into his tenure he is presently just about as bulletproof as any national sporting president can be with 2 EURO Cups and 1 World Cup in the last 7 years. Tebas is nonetheless charging ahead leveraging issues such as Villar’s chummy support of Sepp Blatter, the recently installed and relatively tame RFEF anti-violence propositions, and now his hesitance on the TV rights quandary. Knowing that Tebas would use either his presence or absence against him, Villar skipped out on the meeting he agreed to on March 6th.

You may wonder why Tebas and the LFP don’t just plow ahead and push for reform against Villar’s will. Well, the answer is so perfectly predictable you’d have to be living under an alcázar to not know about it by now: the big clubs stand with the RFEF. In fact, in a delightfully backhanded bofetón to the face of Tebas, it was Atlético president Enrique Cerezo who called up the LFP to inform them that Villar would not be attending. Usual suspects Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Valencia have also made known their allegiance to the RFEF, basically saying “not my president!” of Tebas and appealing to a higher power that isn’t trying to strip them of their freedom to unfairly earn more money than their lesser brothers in the league.

And this is where we pick up the story, with Tebas and the LFP denouncing Villar and the RFEF’s attempts to “sabotage” a more equitable TV rights deal. Yesterday all but one of the 42 professional clubs from first and second division met in an extraordinary assembly of the LFP (Elche was barred due to accounting irregularities–or, as they call it in Spain: “jueves“). Tebas, speaking on behalf of the clubs, says they don’t feel adequately represented by their sport’s governing body. The RFEF has responded by announcing an emergency meeting today (Tuesday) to take up the issue while the league heads are still gathered in Sevilla from the recent Euro qualifier with Ukraine. And so it is that Sevilla is once again the epicenter of the TV rights push as it was formerly with His Shadiness José María del Nido at the helm of the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. It was no surprise to see Sevilla president José Castro come out strongly today in support of Tebas and the LFP.

This story is turning into a fascinating look inside the mechanics and rivalries of a country’s sporting bodies. We will be following closely and updating the blog as news becomes available.