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UPDATE 1-Soccer-La Liga deepens ties with Microsoft to try to lift revenues

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MADRID, May 19 (Reuters) - Spain’s La Liga is expanding its partnership with Microsoft as it looks to boost revenue for its pandemic-hit soccer clubs and re-energise a fanbase that is consuming ever more digital products.

The Spanish league, which announced its closer ties with Microsoft on Wednesday, sees the fast-growing world of sports technology as a way of offsetting a cooling television rights market and helping clubs develop on and off the pitch.

“We want to launch a new company... to generate revenue so we are able to redistribute and have better clubs, better stadiums and better players,” Oscar Mayo, La Liga’s head of business and international development, told Reuters.

Mayo said LaLiga Tech, as the business is styled, was valued at over 450 million euros ($550 million), noting it would generate a significant chunk of the league’s overall revenue in the future.

“Media rights aren’t going to grow as they used to in the next 10 years,” Mayo added.

Microsoft executive vice president Jean-Philippe Courtois said his company hoped to help the sports industry to digitise and to make money from its data insights for the fans.

“Because of the pandemic, most consumers have turned to more digital content,” Courtois said. “Leagues cannot be exclusively dependent on TV and digital rights... It’s not easy to sustain.”

SEEKING CASH

La Liga and Microsoft’s enhanced partnership will commercialise existing services by focusing on three main areas - fans, rights holders and commercial partners, plus venue managers, with a view to selling some of the technology on to other leagues.

It is developing personalised OTT (over the top) streaming options to allow fans to choose the camera angle they wish to watch games from, as well as offering augmented reality, virtual reality and 3-D replays.

It is also targeting venue managers, helping stadiums install 5G telecoms and deploy COVID-19 safety measures.

Another product LaLiga Tech hopes to export more widely is Mediacoach, a statistics platform whose algorithms analyse data about players’ performance and which is used by Spanish clubs.

It will also commercialise other existing services such as its anti-piracy software which has clamped down on illegal streams of matches.

Although La Liga last week agreed an eight-year deal with US broadcaster ESPN worth around $1.2 billion, the overall picture in European soccer is gloomy, with stadiums shut for over a year due to the pandemic and fans switching to at-home streaming services.

A thirst for new revenue spurred last month’s doomed attempt - led by Real Madrid and backed by Barcelona - to launch a European Super League.

La Liga has vehemently opposed the Super League, with president Javier Tebas saying it would destroy domestic leagues and the very clubs proposing it.

Tebas sees technology as a major growth area.

“We are moving into a new era in which technology will become the center of the fan experience and data insights will power the next stage of global growth,” he said in La Liga’s statement. ($1 = 0.8188 euros) (Reporting by Richard Martin and Clara-Laeila Laudette Editing by Keith Weir)

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