Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the best teams in world football. They are, quite possibly, the two best teams in world football. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with this, especially since it is not the first time that Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the two best teams in the world. They have great support, great youth academies, and great international marketing. They also benefit from an income from television rights that is wildly disproportionate to the rest of La Liga.
Unlike most of the major leagues in world football, La Liga does not negotiate their television and other media contracts as one organization. Instead, the teams negotiate their television contracts separately. This causes Real Madrid and Barcelona to make significantly more money than the rest of La Liga, and the gap between them and the rest of the league in revenue - as well as quality and depth of squad - increases every year.
Last week, SB Nation's Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid had an excellent post outlining the TV revenue disparity between Spain's big two and the bottom of the league as compared to the other major leagues in Europe. The numbers are staggering. Real Madrid and Barcelona make nine figures more than the teams at the bottom of the barrel in Spain off TV revenue alone. The next largest gap between the richest and poorest clubs - the one in Serie A - is less than half as large.
This has been a problem in Spain for quite some time, but the other clubs have finally reached a breaking point. Sevilla FC president Jose Maria del Nido announced on Monday that he was calling a meeting of all first division club presidents to discuss La Liga's television contract problems. In protest, Real Madrid and Barcelona were not invited to the meeting; that meeting is taking place on the day of this article's publishing, Thursday, September 8.
A week prior to calling this meeting, del Nido made his thoughts known on what the lack of a collective television contract has done to La Liga.
'Our league is not only the biggest piece of rubbish in Europe, but in the world.'
This is a harsh, but understandable statement from del Nido, a man who runs a well-supported, financially responsible club in a large market who cannot currently challenge the big two. At Thursday's meeting, del Nido continued to make bold statements, claiming that he will not be backing down. From a story in MARCA, translation via Gabe Lezra of Managing Madrid and SBNation.com:
"We can't turn this movement around now, not even to gain momentum," he said. "It's irreversible, and at the end, we'll reach the conclusion that either we can keep going down this road to end the lack of competitiveness, or we won't be able to fix football."
In another statement, del Nido called the league 'Third World.' This may sound like hyperbole, probably because it is, but it's only a mild form of hyperbole. It's also fairly effective, and it's resonating with fans of Spanish football in general, as well as fans of clubs outside of the big two.
There's a wild rumor flying around the football-loving world that Financial Fair Play will reign in Barca and Madrid when it goes into effect, but that's simply not the case. Without a re-vamped television contract system in La Liga, the disparity between those two clubs and the rest of the world will only grow. Financial Fair Play is designed to keep clubs from going into debt and out-spending their rivals with money they don't have. If everyone is only allowed to spend the money they're making in revenue, Barcelona and Real Madrid's advantages will grow significantly. They make more off of domestic television revenue than every other club in the world in the current system.
This system isn't just bad for Spanish club football, it's bad for football in general. Football is better when all of the best players are playing regularly. The ability that Real and Barca have to build massive squads of world class players does not serve the consumer in the least. Consumers want to watch high quality players play.
Right now, because of the income that they earn in proportion to other clubs in world football, Spain's big two can buy superstars from smaller clubs and turn them into bench players. Sergio Canales and Pedro Leon, both of whom have recently left Madrid for smaller clubs on loan, suffered that fate. Last season, they rotted on Madrid's bench behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil.
Barcelona have recently purchased Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas for large sums of money. While both will see playing time, neither is expected to be first choice in major matches when everyone is healthy. They've left Udinese and Arsenal to scramble to find cheaper, lower quality replacements. Meanwhile, Thiago Alcantara will spend most of his time on the Barcelona bench while Sergio Roberto and Jonathan dos Santos - both La Liga quality players - will play in the Segunda for Barcelona B.
The general consensus around the world at the moment is that Barcelona has the best team that the world of football has ever seen. Meanwhile, Real Madrid and Manchester United could have the second and third best teams in the history of world football and we wouldn't even know.
Next time the club presidents meet, they plan to invite Real Madrid and Barcelona to the table, as well as presidents of Segunda clubs to discuss a partnership between the top two divisions regarding sales of media packages. The big two won't want to give up their biggest advantage over the smaller clubs, but fans of football in general are holding out hope that they see the light.
After all, the current domestic television contract structure is a big advantage for Real and Barca, but it isn't the only advantage. La Masia and La Cantera are still world class youth academies and will continue to produce high volumes of quality players. The names Real Madrid and Barcelona still ring out around the world, and they will continue to attract more lucrative global sponsorships than their rivals. They will continue to sell more merchandise than their rivals. They're still Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Despite the fact that the Premier League television contract is among the most fair in world football, Manchester United still manage to dwarf the smaller clubs in the English Premier League in revenue, and it's not just because of their match day income at Old Trafford. Their global marketing arm is unbelievably good at what they do, and they've turned Manchester United into a global giant, even in the post-Beckham and post-Ronaldo eras. The name and the badge brings in more money in merchandise sales and sponsorship than TV rights ever could.
If del Nido gets his way, La Liga will be a more fair and balanced league, but Real Madrid and Barcelona will still out-earn and out-spend their rivals. They'll still be highly favored for the top two every year, they'll just have a little more competition. Sevilla and Valencia might not compete for Champions League titles, but they won't have to bow down and sell players like Daniel Alves and David Villa just because the big two picked up the phone and asked.
The ultimate winner in all of this, more than the smaller clubs in La Liga, is football.