Can There Be a “Big Four” in the Spanish La Liga?

Khalid KhanCorrespondent IAugust 26, 2009

Over the years, Spanish La Liga has been one of the top three professional soccer leagues in Europe. It currently stands at a second spot in the UEFA League rankings this year, losing first place to Premier League for next year’s Champions League qualifications.

La Liga has also secured 12 Champions League titles, more than any other European league and 12 teams from La Liga have so far participated in the Champions League, higher number than any other European League.

In revenue La Liga stands at a combined second position with Bundesliga in annual turnover for 2007-2008 at eight percent annual growth. The decline in exchange rate of British pound and because of low tax rate of just 24 percent for temporary non-Spanish residents will help La Liga in luring foreign players.


The Big Two?

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are definitively the “Big Two” of La Liga by a large distance from other clubs and will not be relinquishing that place anytime soon by the looks of it.



Barcelona has 19 La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues peaking UEFA Club ranking five times. The third richest soccer club for 2007-2008, that despite no income from shirt sponsorship fee, and, currently comes off a best season for any La Liga team.

A Sport+Markt study earlier this year has concluded that Barcelona is the most popular soccer club in Europe with 44.2 million fans on the continent and Real Madrid was second with 41 million fans.

Club has a fierce rivalry with Real Madrid and game between them is called El Clásico, perhaps the most anticipated and watched soccer game in the world. Already fans on both sides are looking forward to this contest after the arrival of megastars at Real Madrid and Barcelona’s triumphant last season.

Barcelona’s local derby is called El Derbi Barceloní played against underdogs Espanyol but this has mainly been a one-way event making its result significant largely to Espanyol.

In all their history, Barcelona has not sold their shirt rights to any sponsor when they could have made a large sum from shirt sponsorship fees. In 2006, Barcelona reached a five-year agreement with UNICEF to wear its logo on their shirt. That when even the smallest clubs sell shirt space to get the money to bolster their finances.

Camp Nou—Barcelona’s stadium—with its official capacity of 98,787, is biggest in Europe. Year 2007 saw the announcement of remodeling of the stadium at the cost of €250 million, set for beginning in 2008, with enhancement of 10,000 in seating capacity along with retractable roof.

Expected to be finished in 2013, this will make Camp Nou one of the biggest soccer stadiums in the world.

Façade of remodeled Camp Nou will be covered in translucent mosaic of polycarbonate and glass panels, using colors of team uniform and flag of Catalunya, hanging in cable mesh. A beautiful facade will make, with light transitions with day and nights events, a riveting experience.

Club was not to raise ticket prices to finance the construction but instead improved broadcast deal with Mediapro and uniform sponsorship with Nike will help fund the project. Barcelona said officially "the remodeled stadium is designed such that it can be built with minimal disruption to FCB normal football activity."

Barcelona also had plans for a MLS franchise for 2010 season to be based in Miami, because of its predominant Hispanic population, but was forced to cancel this US$20 million enterprise due to the current global economic situation considering it a financial risk.

Yet this was an evidence of club’s efforts to build up its brand overseas and it may renew its interest once economic conditions improve.

Increased revenue may soon see Barcelona overhaul Manchester United or even Real Madrid as the richest soccer club in the world.


Real Madrid

The club is most successful Spanish club with 31 La Liga and nine Champions Leagues titles, receiving FIFA Club of the Century award for its achievements. Real Madrid was also the first club to win UEFA Cup back to back in 1985 and 1986, one of only two clubs to achieve that. Real has topped UEFA Club ranking an unrivaled 14 times.

Real Madrid is one of only five European teams to have received the UEFA Badge of Honor, qualified to wear it permanently.

Real is the richest soccer club in the world for 2007-2008 and have doubled its revenue since 2002. This is notwithstanding underperformance in UEFA Champions League and loss of lucrative BenQ shirt sponsorship fee through firm’s bankruptcy which was replaced with somewhat less fee with Bwin.

While no club has ever defended Champions League title in its current form, Real Madrid won it five times in a row when it started in 1956-1960 and also has played semis a record 21 times. Team captain Raúl is the Champions League’s all-time top scorer.

New York based BBDO Consulting in late 2007 put brand value of Real Madrid at higher than any other soccer club with FC Barcelona second on the list. This clearly demonstrates marketing potential of both clubs when it comes to attracting sponsorship revenues.

According to Sport+Markt survey it has 490 million fans around the world, more than any soccer club.

Galactico I

During Florentino Pérez's first presidency (2000-2006) of the club, he sought to make Real Madrid financially the most successful club in Europe and instituted a policy of signing the best players to harness their marketing power, in turn raising the club’s brand value and advertising revenues.

However, this policy failed miserably in generating team’s on-field success. Arguably his biggest mistake was to sell Claude Makélélé in spite of his pivotal role in the squad which precipitated the demise of Galactico I.

The Galactico I was fueled by revenues coming from the sale of training facilities, La Ciudad Deportiva del Real Madrid, which also cleared debt of €270 million and enabled the club to begin construction of ultra-modern training facilities, La Ciudad del Real Madrid, in the city’s suburbs.


Galactico II

With Pérez back as president, there was again a sense of déjà vu that he will buy big stars and soon this proved very real with acquisitions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, and Xabi Alonso in particular. Again, there are fears that this policy will fail leaving the club in dire straits.

However, he has not completely replicated his mistakes this time of only buying shirt-selling forwards and has signed Raúl Albiol and Álvaro Arbeloa to strengthen defense and Xabi Alonso to bring much-needed creativity to the squad.


Other Big Two?

So are there other clubs who could be big enough to be classified and included to form rest of the “Big Four” just like that of Premier League?

The answer is bit elusive as of now but there are strong candidates for the last two “vacant” spots of the so-called Big Four, amongst them Valencia, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, and relative underdogs Villarreal.


Valencia has been a third force in La Liga, with six La Liga titles and Champions League runners-up in 1999-2000, 2000-2001. Considerable success in Europe makes it one of the top ten soccer clubs.

But after 2003-2004 title and the departure of Rafael Benitez afterward, the club has suffered due to mismanagement and bad signings. Though it has failed to qualify for Champions League next season and tough times are far from over, it is only a matter of time before clubs begins to rise from recent lows.

Valencia also stands prominent in La Liga for having 50,000 season ticket holders and when 75,000-seater Nou Mestalla is completed there will be an addition of 25,000 more. Anticipated revenues from the new stadium are going to help a long way toward taking club one of the best in La Liga and Europe.


Atlético Madrid

Atlético Madrid has won nine La Liga titles, third on the overall list of league winners, last one coming in 1995-1996, and has spent most of its life under the shadow of city-rivals Real Madrid. When during '60s, '70s, and '80s Real Madrid overwhelmingly ruled La Liga, only Atlético were able to give them some competition in the league instead of Barcelona.

In their local derby with Real Madrid called “El Derbi Madrileño” Atlético has mostly been behind Real Madrid in terms of wins.

An important milestone was reached when mid-2007 saw Atlético signed an agreement for the City Council of Madrid to sell the land of their current stadium Vicente Calderón and move to Estadio La Peineta (Olympic Stadium, at present owned by the city).

The new stadium is to be upgraded and expanded to nearly 74,000-seater (and set to be completed in 2013) as part of giving boost to Madrid’s bid for 2016 Olympic Games by ensuring that stadium will be used after the Games depending on winning of the bid.

Atlético can play at Vicente Calderón till 2010 after that it will be demolished and turned into a riverside park to be called Athletic Park.

The club will pay expansion costs of maximum €195 million plus VAT and installation and removal of track and field runway if bid succeeds. Ownership of the new stadium will be transferred in 2016 (or 2020 or 2024 if current bid fails and city of Madrid retains the option of applying for future games).

Until then club will have “administrative assignment” over the stadium with full rights of use. Atlético are expected to earn up to €20 million from increased gate revenue after stadium is completed.

Atlético will get a modern and larger stadium that will be good for their image, enabling them to increase revenue to buy talented players and compete for top honors in the years to come. However, the move is controversial and fans are unhappy at the decision which will impose a lengthy travel upon them every weekend.

As of now, Atlético is seemingly well on its way forward in Europe after two consecutive Champions League qualifications.



Sevilla has also improved with two consecutive UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007 under former head coach Juande Ramos, but has only one La Liga title in its history which came in a distant year of 1946.

Its performance in recent years has improved and more spectators are now becoming season ticket holders, making a much welcome increase in revenues.

Club has qualified for Champions League after one year gap, but next time will have to compete with a Valencia hungry for return to the top.



This small town club, under former coach Manuel Pellegrini, has scaled new heights both in La Liga and Champions League despite its small budget winning fans for its beautiful style of play. Having finished second in 2007-2008 season, best ever, it dropped to sixth position last season only managing to qualify for Europa League.

While it has bettered its La Liga profile under stewardship of Pellegrini but it seems inevitable that Villarreal will be slipping down the table, a slow process it might be given the talent in the squad, and won’t be able to emulate same success in the long run.

Who has the better chance?

There is nothing in sight to suggest that Real Madrid and Barcelona will be moving lower in the league so there are only two other places available to complete the Big Four.

Sevilla has improved and will be playing Champions League next season but a longer term berth is not assured. Villarreal also may not make the cut and will have to be content to fight for Europa League qualification for the foreseeable future.

Valencia and Atlético Madrid have better prospects for filling the last two of the “Big Four” in the longer run. Both have been the most successful after Barcelona and Real Madrid. They have rich history behind them and bright future in front of them.

While Valencia can expect to achieve that relatively early, the route of Atlético may be precarious and fraught with pitfalls.


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