It’s a move that could have far-reaching effects for Spanish football. Atlético Madrid this week became the first Primera Liga club to formally ask the Liga de Fútbol Profesional if they can move all home games to a 12 noon kick off when the second round of matches begins in mid-January. ‘Los Colchoneros’ have acted quickly in trying to secure their share of the lucrative Far and Middle Eastern markets, believing the club would double its income if fans in that part of the world were able to see their live games at peak TV viewing time.
Atlético first raised the subject over a month ago, having already reached agreements with Shanghai Shenhua of China and Thai outfit Muangchong United; another arrangement is due to be signed this week with Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates. On 20 November Chief Executive Gil Marín will also travel to Mexico for talks with Club América. The league has now to be persuaded their endeavours would bear fruit financially, as it is a market that has previously remained untapped by Spanish clubs – unlike their English Premier League counterparts who have cashed in for quite some time.
Nonetheless, Atlético are even convinced attendances at the Vicente Calderón would rise if they were allowed an early start, citing a precedent set in the 2000/01 season. At that time Atlético were in the Second Division, where Canal Plus Television has screened a live midday game for some years, and two of their home games – Real Betis and Recreativo – were completely sold out. They have also received a favourable response from their own peñas (supporters clubs), who have agreed that the change of hour is the way forward.
While the Real Madrid and Barcelona brands are well known throughout the world, it would surely take an effort of monumental proportions for Atlético to corner even a small percentage of the Far East market – particularly since English is predominantly the second language in the area they covet. The league is now considering the request, knowing full well that other clubs are watching carefully and will be sure to follow suit if the venture is successful.