El Clasico kick-off time changes to catch Far East audience

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are big draws, but La Liga is chasing the Asian audience.

For the first time, Spanish football’s showpiece event, El Clasico between giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, has been scheduled for a lunchtime kick-off (1600 GST) on Saturday as La Liga seeks to capture Asia’s attention and its cash.

“We are keen to provide our fans in Asia the opportunity to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona face off at a time that is convenient to them,” La Liga‘s Chief Communications Officer Joris Evers told AFP.

With a potential television audience of 650 million people, according to La Liga, El Clasico is the most watched club match around the world thanks to its unique mixture of star protagonists and a fierce rivalry fostered over decades both on the field and off it by the distinct cultural differences between Catalonia and Madrid.

“It is the ideal shop window, the marquee match to show to people Spanish football,” Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, professor of economics at Barcelona University and an expert in Spanish football finances, said to AFP.

However, it is not just a boom in lucrative television rights that La Liga and its two biggest clubs are seeking with an early start this weekend, but a showcase for all of their lucrative sponsorship contracts.

Last year Barcelona signed a club record shirt sponsorship deal worth a minimum of $258 million over four years with Japanese online retailer Rakuten.

“They want to sell their products to international markets, above all in Asia,” added Gay de Liebana.

According to a study carried out by consumer analytics specialists Nielsen Sports, last season’s corresponding first La Liga Clasico of the season generated more than $42.5 million in media value for sponsors.

“The kick-off of the next El Clasico on December 23 is at 1300 Madrid time, 2000 in Shanghai, 1900 in Jakarta and 1730 in New Delhi,” continued Evers.

“These are all locations where we know there are many La Liga fans and where we will be hosting events to celebrate El Clasico.

“Additional events are being held in various locations around Asia. Through this and other initiatives we want to make existing fans even bigger La Liga supporters and, of course, we want to attract new supporters as well.”

Along with Messi, Ronaldo should help attract audiences all around the world.

Along with Messi, Ronaldo should help attract audiences all around the world.

LA LIGA LAGGING BEHIND

Such events are a sign of La Liga’s awareness of how the Spanish top flight lags behind England’s cash rich Premier League in the battle for Asian based fans.

The Premier League’s estimated $3.9 billion income from domestic and international TV rights a season dwarfs La Liga’s $1.9 billion revenue.

Moreover, whilst Asia is the Premier League’s biggest international market, it trails behind the Americas and the rest of Europe in La Liga’s rights deals.

“We have changed kick-off schedules so that they can be seen at reasonable times here in Asia and we will continue to take steps to ensure that this part of the world can enjoy La Liga as much as possible,” La Liga president Javier Tebas said at the opening of the league’s new Singapore office earlier this year, just one of a series of new La Liga bases across the world.

Tebas is acutely aware that Spain’s privileged position at the top of the European game is coming under threat from the Premier League’s economic power.

He has repeatedly warned the Premier League could become the NBA of European football, capable of poaching Barca and Madrid’s stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same way Barca were powerless to stop Qatar-backed Paris Saint Germain paying a world record €222million for Neymar in August.

Madrid and Barca have combined to win the Champions League in seven of the past 12 years. However, for the first time ever England will have five of the last 16 of the competition in 2018.

However, Gay de Liebana believes La Liga’s focus shouldn’t rest solely on Asia, but take advantage of the cultural and linguistic advantages they have in Latin American markets, from where many of its current stars like Messi and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez hail.

“They have to gamble and look towards South and Latin America. They are emerging countries where there is a rising middle class and greater spending power,” he added.

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Ronaldo v Messi - Who is the bigger El Clasico star?

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The El Clasico is just around the corner and as it’s been for the better part of a decade, the build up to the clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona features its obligatory narrative.

We’re talking about the Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi story line, of course.

The duo can’t help but be among the main protagonists of La Liga‘s and possibly club football’s most theatrical rivalry.

Here’s how their records in the derby compare.

GOAL-SCORING

When it comes to their form in front of goal, it’s difficult to choose between the two superstars with both scoring almost at will for so much of their careers.

Messi is well ahead in El Clasico goals though, with 24 to his name compared to Ronaldo’s 17. However, it’s worth noting that the current Ballon d’Or winner has played in only 28 editions of the derby while his Argentinian counterpart has featured in 36.

The Portuguese holds the record for scoring in the most consecutive El Clasicos with a run of six games.

Winner: TIE

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

SUCCESS

In the many heated encounters between the two Spanish juggernauts, Messi has been on the winning side more often than not. The Barcelona man has won 16 times, drawn eight matches and lost 12.

Meanwhile Ronaldo, who arrived in Spain during Barcelona’s golden era under Pep Guardiola, has had to endure more defeats. He’s been on the losing side 13 times, drawing six matches and winning eight.

Winner: MESSI

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

CREATOR

One of Ronaldo’s biggest critiques is his selfishness in front of goal. He’s desperate to get on the score sheet and sometimes, setting up a team mate in a better position doesn’t occur to him.

In El Clasicos though, it must be said that Real Madrid over the last 10 years have seen very little of the ball during their clashes with the Catalans and the plan quickly became to get Ronaldo on the end of the chances they were able to muster on the break. That definitely factors into things when you look at the Portuguese’s one assist in 28 games.

Messi on the other hand is renowned for his exceptional playmaking and so it’s no surprise that he has bagged 13 assists in El Clasicos, an all-time record.

Winner: MESSI

Lionel Messi (2ndR)

Lionel Messi (2ndR)

VERDICT

The debate over who is better between the two five-time Ballon d’Or winners will rumble on as it has for so long. However, when it comes to their performances in El Clasicos, Messi is the undisputed winner.

In Ronaldo’s defence, Madrid have been second best as a team to their La Liga rivals for much of the time he has spent at the club while Messi has flourished in the more dominant side over the last decade or so.

Messi 3-1 Ronaldo

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Top 10 memorable El Clasico matches

Stuart Appleby 20/12/2017
Messi scored a double at the Bernabeu last season.

Ahead of Saturday’s mouthwatering El Clasico clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Bernabeu, we look back at 10 past matches between the two bitter rivals in years gone by.

10) PIG’S HEAD THROWN AT FIGO

Former Barcelona star Luis Figo, who crossed the divide to join Los Blancos for a then world-record fee of €60m back in 2000, stirred up much controversy over the move. Indeed, in his second visit back to his old stomping ground as a Madrid player, he was pelted with many objects – including a pig’s head – as he went to take a corner. The encounter, which finished 0-0, was abandoned for several minutes while the authorities tried to keep the hatred of the Catalonian crowd underwraps. (November 2002).

9. LATE RONALDO HEADER SECURES CUP FINAL WIN

The 2010-11 season was dominated by Barcelona, with Pep Guardiola’s men winning both La Liga and the Champions League – but Jose Mourinho’s side denied their rivals a treble by winning the Copa del Rey trophy. Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning extra-time header was enough to put a small cog in the wheel of Barca’s dominance. (April 2011).

8. REAL BEAT BARCA EN-ROUTE TO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GLORY

Zinedine Zidane got one, and Steve McManaman the other – both goals being delicious chips – as Madrid defeated Blaugrana 2-0 in the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final clash at the Nou Camp. The two sides finished all-square at one apiece in the return as Real went onto lift the trophy that season, thanks again to a ZZ special against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park. (April 2002).

7. DEMOLITION JOB PUTS REAL TO SHAME IN CATALONIA

In arguably one of the best performances under Guardiola’s trophy-laden reign, Barcelona thrashed the Whites 5-0 on home turf. Goals from Xavi, a brace from David Villa, Pedro and Jeffren shook Madrid to the core in a dominant display in which Sergio Ramos also saw red. (November 2010).

6. MESSI SHIRT STAND-OFF WITH BERNABEU

The Argentine genius scored a brilliant last-minute goal, his 500th strike in a Barcelona jersey, to hand the away side a famous 3-2 victory at the Nou Camp. Although Real still went on to lift the La Liga title last term, Messi’s celebration – in which he took off his shirt and held his name and number up towards the Bernabeu faithful – will live long in the memory. (April 2017).

5. GUARD OF HONOUR EMBARRSSES BARCELONA

Real celebrated their 2008 La Liga title success in style as Barcelona were forced to form a guard of honour to welcome their rivals onto the pitch in an end-of-season clash. To make matters worse for the travelling side, Bernd Schuster’s Whites ran out 4-1 winners in a convincing, celebratory display. (May 2008).

4. MESSI NETS FIRST EL CLASICO HAT-TRICK

The mercurial No.10 is the leading all-time goalscorer in El Clasico meetings, having netted 24 times in the fixture over the years. It was back in 2007, though, where he made his first real telling contribution – scoring a hat-trick in a 3-3 home draw with Real. (March 2007).

3. ALL APPLAUD BRILLIANT BRAZILIAN RONNIE

It’s not often the Bernabeu crowd cheers a Barcelona player, actually, that never happens. Well, in 2005, we witnessed the unthinkable. Ronaldinho, who was easily the world’s best player then, scored two goals in a 3-0 Barcelona win and was so good that the Madrid fans stood and applauded his performance. It was one of the those pinch yourself moments. (November 2005).

2. GALACTICOS PUT ON A SHOW IN STUNNING CONTEST

Barcelona cruised to a 17th La Liga title back in the 2004-05 campaign but this was one of the rare occasions that Madrid’s Galactico side came together and produced the goods as one. Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul and Michael Owen all got on the scoresheet for the Whites as Vanderlei Luxemburgo’s men recorded a 4-2 win. Ronaldinho also netted a superb free-kick goal for Barca. (April 2005).

1. MESSI SCORES SUPERB HAT-TRICK IN THRILLING BARCA WIN

Magic man Messi scored a stunning hat-trick in a vital 4-3 success for Barcelona at the home of their rivals, which ultimately proved a crucial title decider. Barca went on to win the 2014 La Liga crown, finishing on 94 points – just two ahead of Real. (March 2014).

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