La Liga’s trial by television

This week, our Falklands-defending man behind enemy lines, Argie Bargy, wrote about the social-life destroying situation in Argentina where every top flight league game is available for free on terrestrial television.

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Towards the end of the last campaign in la Liga, it was a similar affair in Spain.

The Fourth Great TV War was coming to a climax, with the two pugilistic parties holding the rights to la Liga stitching each other up by blocking camera access to stadiums – cutting international broadcasts in the process – and televising matches that they weren’t supposed to.

Contracts were gleefully shredded, toasted, fed to camels and blasted out of the solar system with each side finger-pointing the other as the ones to blame as bored-to-tears judges listened to their infantile claims and counter-claims.

But life is very different in la Liga this season, with a whole new world of mess.

Instead of matches, matches everywhere, the two parties (Mediapro and AVS) have conspired to go in the other direction and make it a true test of stamina and skill for fans who want to watch what sponsors BBVA call “the best league in the world.”

Round one of la Liga was a fine example of the shape of things to come, with Saturday’s opener between Real Madrid and Deportivo broadcast on a new football-dedicated channel called Gol TV.

How La Liga Loca covered Madrid-Depor on Twitter

The problem is that there were only two ways to catch this particular encounter.

The first was if you happened to be a subscriber to one of the select number of cable operators that carried the channel as part of the package for free (the channel itself is available to most others with a standard digital box, but is scrambled).

Those in the second group – i.e. the rest of the country – had to either have a very modern TV or purchase a decoder box and a special card.

Except that the decoder box and card weren't actually on sale and the pay-per-view (PPV) network wasn't set up.

Now, La Liga Loca has been lingering in Barcelona this week, where Gol TV is based, and went to visit its studios.

And they looked very fancy indeed, with plenty of impressive screens and complicated equipment.

Unfortunately, no one can watch their Primera product unless they have the decoder card – and these are like gold dust.

Gol TV blame a very late – and political, some say – decision from the Spanish government in giving the PPV channel permission to broadcast, which meant that there wasn’t enough time for the card manufacturer to ramp up production.

But that’s no help to viewers, because the channel isn't even available on the main cable network (and Gol TV competitors) Canal Plus, the platform used in Spain’s millions of bars where football is mainly watched.

To comprehend the awkwardness of this situation, imagine what would happen if you couldn’t get ITV on your Sky Digital box.

At 10pm on Saturday night, it was as-you-were from last season with a live match on terrestrial TV that the law declares should be of national interest.

So, it was a little disappointing to see Zaragoza against Tenerife served up.

A day later and there were yet more problems for those trying to see their favourite teams in action, this time on the Canal Plus PPV platform.

Two of the five matches didn't have their rights issues sorted until 40 minutes before kick-off.

One of those games involved Atlético Madrid, the third-best supported team in Spain, whose fans jammed the PPV ordering network to see their eventual 3-0 defeat to Málaga.

At 7pm, the tie of the round between Sevilla vs Valencia was back on the Gol TV platform – thus suffering the same problem as Saturday – with the ever generous Canal Plus offering up the less than tempting clash between Almería and Valladolid for free to their subscribers two hours later.

The last match of the round between Barcelona and Sporting was back on Gol TV, with Catalan paper Sport reporting that desperate fans were flocking to Irish bars to watch Sky TV’s coverage as a last resort.

So, it’s another typical, confusing mess where media companies have once again failed to co-operate and are more interested in ruining each other’s businesses and making sure the least amount of viewers can watch la Liga.

And as ever, it’s the game in Spain and its fans that continue to suffer in another gigantic mess.

“Every one is losing in these wars,” wrote AS editor Alfredo Relaño, predicting that fans of la Liga will be forced to watch games online over the next season.

If this explanation of the current situation is almost impossible to understand, it’s because it’s almost impossible to describe – even by La Liga Loca, which has tried digging into what’s going on.

As far as can be ascertained, La Liga Loca needs to buy equipment that isn't yet available, or head to bars that may or may not have the right platform to catch matches – an experience that will be shared by millions more in Spain as la Liga’s big bosses find yet more ways to shaft their supporters.

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