Stealing a march

The Barcelona players take a break from training this week.
The Barcelona players take a break from training this week. / EFE
  • La Liga is seizing a historic opportunity to get ahead of their long-standing rivals in the Premier League

Those fans who have been desperate for their fix of football, rehashing any fag ends from days gone by, need to be prepared for an overdose. From the famine of absolutely no live football since March, there will be a feast with plans for at least a game a day from 11 June for 32 days.

The Germans have been first to flood the market with their brand but La Liga is ready to steal a march on the world's self-professed leading producers, the Premier League, which won't be ready for distribution until late June. It's a very clever move by the Spanish bosses; it's a golden opportunity for them to get ahead in terms of marketing and make up for lost ground due to some left-field decisions in recent years when the Premier League has taken on significant global markets while the Primera División has gone for the niche approach.

In Spain there are plans for matches to be aired for free in retirement homes. They're also allowing limited free viewing in countries such as the UK as they plan to relaunch a product that has suffered a loss of television viewers by choosing to go down the streaming route a couple of years ago. They'll be hoping for the same reaction as the Bundesliga which was quickest off the mark. Fans have adopted teams, embraced the German version of the game and immersed themselves in the action.

In contrast to the Bundesliga, I understand the Spanish executives are considering using recorded crowd effects instead of allowing the normal atmosphere to bleed through when the language can be somewhat industrial. This is a lesson learned from the echoing ambience of the Bundesliga stadia and the positive experiment of the Australian NRL who pump a soundtrack through the speakers.

Breaking a trade secret I can tell you that this is nothing new. Quite often crowd noises are 'piped in' to an uncertain satellite feed of a foreign game and viewers don't notice the 'white noise'. Us commentators crank up the volume so we are 'fighting' the effects.

It's not new for games to be fan-free in Spain either. The Getafe-Real Sociedad game was played behind closed doors before lockdown and when Barcelona hosted Las Palmas in 2017 nobody was allowed into the Camp Nou because of public unrest over Catalan independence protests. The scorelines coming out of Germany suggest that home advantage appears to be reduced as a result. Since the restart, home sides have won 18 per cent of matches, compared to 43 per cent previously.

While matches will have to be played without them, clubs in Spain have been quick off the mark to keep fans involved. This week I received a press release from Barcelona plugging their new face masks - in three designs, locally produced with ecological cotton.

Of course, we've had the terraces filled by blow-up dolls in Korea, cardboard cut out supporters in Germany and A4 images of fans' faces stuck to mannequins in Belarus... So, to get into the spirit, it appears you have to don your face mask, grab your blow-up doll, pay a visit to the grand folks to take in your game of choice and lay your bet on the away team.