November 30th, 2010
08:04 PM ET

Can Spanish football catch up to the Premier League?

Like countless football fans around the world, the highlight of my Monday was watching the Clasico: Barcelona versus Real Madrid, two of the biggest clubs in world football going head to head. (Or perhaps just the best football club in the world... and Real Madrid.)

Unlike countless fans, I had to wait until 4 a.m. for kick-off ... because I live in Hong Kong.

I am the reason Real Madrid president Florentino Perez signs players like Zidane, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo: I'm an Asian fan passionate about European football, eager to support a club in a far-off town as if it were my own, and happy to spend my money on all the shirts, shorts, balls and related merchandise that clubs mass-produce.

There's just one problem for Mr. Perez. My heart belongs to the English Premier League's Liverpool. And I'm not alone.

The EPL is the world's most-watched league. And it pulls in the most revenue by some distance. This despite the defection of its brightest star Ronaldo to La Liga in 2009, despite last season's faltering performances by English clubs in Europe and despite England's woeful showing at this year's World Cup – a tournament, you may remember, won by Spain.

There are plenty of other reasons for the Premier League's popularity over La Liga. I've heard arguments as varied as a greater parity of teams in the Premier League to the proliferation of English expatriates in Asia serving as walking advocates for their local clubs. But it's difficult to see past the simple fact that it is harder to watch Spanish football in Asia than its English rival.

English matches generally kick off at either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. in Hong Kong, which is late but not too troublesome in a society geared towards late nights like this one. There's also at least two fixtures each week that can begin as early as 7:30 p.m. – and last week's early kick-offs were matches involving Arsenal and Chelsea.

Compare that to La Liga, where Real Madrid and Barcelona are almost always assigned to the late matches, and rarely begin before 3 a.m. This is Perez's problem. What's the point in parading the world's best (and most marketable) players when a vast audience cannot watch them live?

There are plans to change that. Atletico Madrid have reportedly become the first Spanish club to request early kick-offs with the intention of grabbing an Asian audience. This would be a remarkable change for a country famous for the afternoon siesta, and an interesting turning point in globalization – the point where the demands of a potentially massive foreign audience trump the tastes of the loyal locals.

Whether that will be enough to wrest Asian eyeballs and dollars away from the English Premier League and to La Liga remains to be seen. But as I face the prospect of another bleary-eyed day at the office tomorrow, it's a change that I would certainly welcome.