Football, entertainment, twists and turns and new media: the winning mix of the competition that inflamed the Spanish supporters.
Twelve teams competing in a seven – a – side football league. Two halves of 20 minutes each. It would seem the story of one of the many summer tournaments that take place every year in oratories and suburban playgrounds: a little match to keep fit, beer and a sandwich after the shower, and hopefully some spectators on the sidelines.
Although with the same format, last 26 March the Kings League filled the Camp Nou in Barcelona with 92,000 masked supporters, who flocked to the Catalan capital to watch live the final between El Barrio and the Aniquiladores, the final moment of the competition.
The reason for this success, it goes without saying, is not to be found in the sporting characteristics of the tournament, but in the mix of sport, entertainment and engagement that the Kings League has been able to develop.
The architects of the Kings League “phenomenon” are first and foremost its founder: former Barcelona footballer Gerard Piquet and Spanish streamer Ibai Llanos, whose biographies reveal one of the secrets of the format that combines football and new media.
The tournament started last 1 January, on a weekend when the traditional football leagues stopped for the Christmas break, and was broadcast on Twitch by several Spanish streamers. The result: 15 million viewers glued to the screen to watch matches of… perfect strangers and old football glories. That’s right: one of the keys to the format’s success is the participation of former players (Casillas, Aguero and Ronaldinho, among others) who take the field together with amateur footballers, exasperating the “participation sports” model that is already making the fortunes of other disciplines such as running, mountain biking or swimming, just to name a few.
The Kings League format also “steals” other “goodies” from other sports: from hockey come moving penalties, from the world of cards come the jokers that teams can draw and use during the match, from tennis comes the VAR call, from the NBA the composition of the draft, from water polo the kick—off, from handball the unlimited substitutions. A mix of best practices and curiosities that contribute to making the game more exciting and less unpredictable, where football is only a part of the show.
The official channel of the Kings League is Twitch, where all matches are broadcast simultaneously. The “President” of each of the twelve teams is a famous streamer who broadcasts “his” team’s game for free and comments on it, interacting with viewers, just like in the world of gamers. The video production is one of the highest quality: 100 people employed, 13 cameras on the pitch, live on the bench and in the stands, replays, slow motion and VAR, just like in the top European Leagues. Replays and insights are broadcast on YouTube, reels and exclusive content on TikTok where the players are real creators.
Rakings, line-ups and statistics, photos and videos are posted on Instagram and there is even a kind of “fantacalcio”, available in an app developed in collaboration with the Spanish daily Marca. The watchword: interaction, at all times, with any means.
Since the matches are broadcast for free (at least for this first season) the revenue that allowed the affordability of the Kings League comes mainly from the sponsors.
The innovative format and the opportunities offered by the new media, in fact, attracted on competition the interest of several companies, particularly Spanish ones, who immediately believed in the project.
Infojobs, a recruitment company, has put its name to the tournament, is present in the player’s jerseys, which were recruited through the platform (13.000 i candidates, 170 chosen). The Cupra car company’s logo was on all playing fields and the company gave its name to the pavilions where the matches took place, the Cupra Arena. In addition, the snack company Grefusa is present on the referees’ uniforms, Xiaomi sponsors the VAR, Spotify the special cards that presidents can draw during the match, as well as the final’s stadium, which for the occasion has become the Spotify Camp Nou.
Although the President of LaLiga, Javier Tebas, called it “a circus” that has nothing to do with football, we can bet that Piquet and Llanos will continue to invest in the format to expand the entertainment offer. Some news have already been revealed: Higuain and many former footballers have asked to participate, Neymar will be one of the next presidents and will be ambassador of the competition in Brazil, and the Queens League has already been launched, namely the equivalent of the Kings league.
Other tricks will be introduced to further enhance the reality show effect, where the distance between spectators and players is reduced to a minimum, where the protagonists are distributed equally between the stands, the screens and the playing field. All these innovations will obviously be voted by the audience, who will be able to choose whether or not to make them in order to increase the show of which it will then become a spectator. As if everyone took part in a game whose rules they first wrote down. What’s not to like?!