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Social media giant Facebook is to broadcast Spain's premier soccer league live to viewers in India and other South Asian countries at no cost.
Announced Tuesday, Facebook and LaLiga's three-season deal will bring soccer to eight countries on the Indian subcontinent: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The first match kicks off on Friday.
The league, which features teams FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as Argentine star Lionel Messi, will be broadcast live and on demand via La Liga's Facebook page and individual club pages.
La Liga President Javier Tebas hailed the agreement as a win for Indian soccer fans: "La Liga sets the standard for football in the world and we are delighted that more people than ever before will have the opportunity to watch our matches live and for free through Facebook in the region."
Facebook's courting of India's consumer market, in particular, has seen a previous misstep. In 2015, the social network launched its Free Basics package in India, a platform through which a skeleton of popular internet services are offered to users in less economically developed countries. But in 2016, the scheme was banned by the Indian government for breaching net neutrality rules.
Nonetheless, India's demographics remain attractive, encompassing a consumer market of over 1.3 billion people. It is also expected to be the world's fastest-growing major economy this year.
Facebook has 348 million users in the Indian subcontinent. India is also home to its biggest user base, with 270 million signed up to the social network. The country is also the world's fastest-growing smartphone market.
Peter Hutton, Facebook Head of Global Live Sports Programming said La Liga was home to of the two most-followed sports clubs on Facebook in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, adding that "La Liga has a huge global presence on our platform."
Gaining Indian soccer fans could also equal big bucks for La Liga. Domestic soccer in India is in its infancy, although some clubs are owned by Bollywood and cricket stars. India did not qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia earlier this year.
Facebook and La Liga have not disclosed the financial details of the deal. But, according to Reuters, previous rights holder Sony Pictures Network paid a reported $32 million to broadcast La Liga in the region between 2014 and 2018.
The announcement marks La Liga's first broadcast agreement with a social media platform. Facebook, for its part, has already been moving into the sports broadcasting space. The social network already screens Major League Baseball in the U.S.
It is not the only social media platform to encroach on the business of sports viewing, a strategy partly employed to prevent user attrition. Amazon is to broadcast 20 U.K. Premier League soccer games next season through its Prime subscription service. These will only be available online.
But, Facebook's ability to monetize its latest foray into the Indian subcontinent raises a question mark for Elisavet Manoli, a lecturer in sports marketing and communications at Loughborough University in the U.K. She points out that the matches to be shown on the Indian subcontinent will be advertising-free. "Since Facebook is not a subscription service, it remains to be seen how this investment will pay off," she wrote in a note on Tuesday.