Thursday, November 3, 2011

The sports newspapers in Spain

The importance of sport in the Spanish media is reflected in the presence and the space they occupy in the overall Spanish media. But, when we refer to sport, we should mainly focus in football. A report of González Ramallal in the year 2004 said that football was the 70% of the total content of the sport information. And, when we refer to football, perhaps we should talk about Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The information about these clubs are between a 9% and a 12% of the total space of sport information, while the rest of the sport clubs gather a 6% of the total space in the sport information, but depending on their success in a certain moment. Only the Spanish national team gets near the figures of Barcelona and Real Madrid in times of international tournaments. This statistics show the specific weight of football, in general, and Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, in particular.

Let's make a bit of history. The first sport newspaper in Spain was the Catalan "El Mundo Deportivo" (nowadays, just "Mundo Deportivo"), which was born on 1906 and it is the second sport newspaper in Europe. The first was the Italian "Gazzetta dello Sport" (1896). At that time, "El Mundo Deportivo" was not essentially a football newspaper. In fact, football was a small part of it, among other (if not more) popular sports in Catalonia. Football was a relatively new sport and the popularity of cycling, athletics, boxing, motor sports or hockey, to name a few, was as important as football can be.

El Mundo Deportivo in 1912, without football

The changes started to happen in the 1920s. The silver medal of the Spanish NT in the Olympics Antwerp 1920 was a reason of pride for the country. The importance of this medal was huge in the development of football as mass social event. The interest on football grew and, as a consequence, new big stadiums were built and professionalism became a fact during the decade. At the same time, these changes were evident in the media too. The only sports newspaper, "El Mundo Deportivo", started to dedicate more and more pages to football in comparison with other sports. In the general information newspapers saw the impact of football too and their sport sections started to grow, essentially dedicated to football.

El Mundo Deportivo in 1925

But another change was evident. Football had crossed the borders of sport to be used as a way to create a sense of nation and even race, which started to be dangerously mixed in this decade all around Europe. So the silver medal in Antwerp was used to set terms like "Furia española" (Spanish fury) and football was definitely used as element of prestige and propaganda tool. It is important to remember that Spain fell under a military dictatorship, which had reflections of the Italian fascism, although it was more catholic-nationalist-conservative than really fascist.

In the 1930s, the political events stopped this use of football. The democracy of the II República was a constant earthquake, the radicalism of the ideologies in all Europe reached Spain too. The radical left and right movements were peaking in all Europe, creating the appropriate atmosphere for the war that was about to start. In fact, the Spanish Civil War has often been seen as a prologue or rehearsal of the World War II.

In this environment the popular sport newspaper "Marca" was created. "Marca" was born in the Basque city of San Sebastián in the year 1938, during the Spanish Civil War. San Sebastián already was under the fascist occupation of the Franco troops, which were already suffocating the last Republican zones. The Marca journalist Miquelarena stated their intentions and the necessity of a "change in the conception of football to make it fit in the new values of the State. During the II República, football was a red (communist) orgy of the lowest and evil regional passions". The journalist highlighted that "almost everyone was separatist -and rude-. The pro-Basqueism was seen in the stands of San Mamés and also in the tribunes of Chamartín. In most of the cases, a madridista was a pro-Basque of Madrid; that is, a localist mental retard against the national limits". Obviously, after the fascist occupation of Madrid and the end of the Civil War, "Marca" moved its headquarters to Madrid. At the same time, "El Mundo Deportivo", which had closed as a consequence of the Civil War reopened at the end of 1939, with a big picture of Franco in their cover and a tribute to those "who fell in defense of God and Spain". As it was obvious, the Catalan newspaper had been "domesticated" too. As an example of it, the analysis of the 11-1 defeat of Barcelona against Real Madrid in Chamartín in the year 1943. Barcelona had won the first leg in Les Corts with a clear 3-0. "Marca" created a hot atmosphere with insulting words against the Catalan fans, which had created a hot atmosphere in the stadium, and "surprisingly", the Catalan "El Mundo Deportivo" joined the party attacking the local fans, their readers. The defeat of the Catalans was a question of state and many Barcelona players and managers, many years later, ended up denouncing that the Director General de Seguridad (the boss of the repressive police of the fascist regime) had entered in the locker room of the visitors and "suggested" the necessity of a passive attitude in this second game. The 11-1 was labeled as "abnormal and absurd", but no one was able to write about these pressures, which were in the mouths of everyone in the streets of Barcelona.

El Mundo Deportivo 12/31/1939

The strict control of the media was evident, also in the sport sections. The regime knew the importance of the sport media as propaganda tool and the use of the "Furia española", as slogan to reflect the values of the "hispanic race" (virility, impetuosity and fury). The Spanish NT did not reach the international success aside the exceptions of the semifinals of the World Cup 1950 and the famous goal of Zarra in Maracaná (as famous as the comments of the national radio speaker Matías Prats) or the Euro 1964 victory against the "communist rats" of the USSR. But these triumphs were just exceptions compared with the huge success of Real Madrid in the European Cup, during the late 50s and 60s. Real Madrid definitely was more useful to the goals of the propaganda of the fascist regime, not only because of the victories, but also because this club was a Spanish club without any kind of doubt, while Athletic Club and FC Barcelona were suspicious of the nationalist (or separatist, as the regime liked to call it) aspirations of the Basque Country and Catalonia, respectively, "enemies of Spain".

During the 1960s, after the international acceptance of Spain, the regime relaxed the pressure on the media, which allowed the creation of new newspapers. Even though the censorship and the control still existed, the opening in the media sector allowed the creation of "As" in the year 1967. "Marca" already was the most read newspaper in Spain and, definitely, part of the propaganda machine. It was the times of "football is the opium of people". While "Marca" had built a national idea of journalism, "El Mundo Deportivo" had still kept a more local view, mainly focused in a Catalan (not catalanist, as it is evident) audience. The weapons of "As" were similar to "Marca's" and their goal practically the same, although this newspaper always was in a secondary position.

Marca in the 1940s, Real Madrid 11-1 Barcelona


The arrival of democracy definitely changed the face of the sport journalism, which broke the chains with the past. Many newspapers appeared in scene and in this specific sport sector too. The first sport newspaper to appear in democratic times was the Catalan "Sport" (which was an intelligent mix of the English word and the sound of the same word in Catalan, "Esport"). "Sport" was part of a new media group (Grupo Zeta) that had opened after the death of Franco in 1975 and their ideas were quite innovative and radical in the sport journalism. While "Marca", "El Mundo Deportivo" and "As" had still manners of the previous decades, "Sport" opened with a radical different line. "Sport" used to open with big color pictures and headlines, spectacular graphics and a clear idea: they wanted to be the newspaper of the FC Barcelona fans. As a consequence of it, "Sport" got rid of the pretended objective (which had never existed anyway) view on football. "Sport" was openly barcelonista and radical in their headlines and designed.

Obviously, "Sport" was not a real threat on "Marca" and "As", since they targeted a different audience, but "El Mundo Deportivo", which was about to make 75 years of history, suffered the consequences of this new wave of sport journalism. In a short period of time, "Sport" was seen as one of the main references, due to their connection with a new free media created after the Francoism. "Sport" was Catalan, catalanist and openly pro-culé, not even trying to convince the Espanyol fans, as "El Mundo Deportivo" had been doing. The differences between both newspapers were evident. "El Mundo Deportivo" had always been (still is) connected with the Catalan bourgeoisie as part of the Godó editorial group. In the new democratic times, "El Mundo Deportivo" and the rest of the group got closer to the Catalan nationalism views, but in a very moderate sector. On the other hand, the editorial bet of "Sport" was openly catalanist and culé.

Colorful Sport in the late 70s


In Madrid, changed had to happen too. As "Marca" had kept the supremacy in all Spain, the newspaper, keeping the madridista bias, was quite moderate in their editorial line, also giving space to other Spanish clubs in their pages. "As" got suffocated, since they were unable to offer something different to what "Marca" was offering, which made the newspaper collapse. The big changed happened in the year 1996. The owner of "As" sold the newspaper to the most powerful media group in Spain, PRISA, which already gathered the most profitable general newspaper (El País), the radio stations with higher audience (Cadena SER in general radio and Cadena 40 in commercial music radio) and the only pay TV channel (Canal +). PRISA bought "As" to change its shape and took advantage of the synergies of the whole group, using already prestigious journalists. "As" needed a new space and the example to follow was "Sport". The new "As" got openly madridista and radical, they were the first to create an all color newspaper and the growth in readers was evident since the very first day.

Obviously, the decrease of readers in "Marca" and "El Mundo Deportivo", the two classic newspapers of Madrid and Barcelona, had to have consequences. "El Mundo Deportivo" was the first to react, with a change in the year 1999. The impulse of "Sport" seemed unstoppable and "El Mundo Deportivo" changed its commercial name to "Mundo Deportivo" and, following the example of its competitor, added more color, graphics and radicalism in its messages. The change in "Marca" had to wait until 2007 when the newspaper was bought by Unión Editorial and their new director, Eduardo Inda, added a definitive pro-madridista editorial, very sensationalist.

Marca in their Anti-Ramón Calderón campaign

The other big change during the last couple of decades has been the growth of regional sport journalism. So "Superdeporte" was created in Valencia, aiming the niche of the growing valencianism, opposed to the centralism of the Madrid newspapers and the catalanism of the Barcelona press. In other regions, the lack of population made other projects fail and this regional niches had been occupied by the traditional sport newspapers. So "Marca" and "As" usually have particular editions, with special pages in certain regions, while "El Mundo Deportivo" also created special editions in the Basque country, one in Bizkaia, aiming the Athletic fans, another one Gipuzkoa, targeting the Real Sociedad fans, and also in Madrid, with the creation of "Mundo Atlético", which targets the space left by "As" and "Marca" in their radical madridismo among the Atlético Madrid fans.

Basically, at this point, the objective (at least, the pretended objective) perspective of football information has definitely disappeared from the newspapers. All the sport newspapers are definitely based on radical and fanatic perspectives, which border the sensationalism and the ridicule articles and theories, if they are clearly in them. As a consequence of it, in the recent years, new terms generally accepted by the fans have been created in these newspapers, like the "Villarato" theory created by Alfredo Relaño in "As", which suggests (without any kind of objectiveness and with high doses of Goebbelsism) that there is an established structure in the Spanish football and now also in UEFA to favor FC Barcelona around the figure of Ángel María Villar, president of the Spanish FA. At the same time, the Catalan press did not hesitate to accept and use the term created by the Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, to describe a kind of invisible power to destroy Barcelona, and himself, "The Spanish media cavern" (la Caverna española mediática), along with some variants created by Josep Guardiola himself, like the "Milky Central" (la Central Lechera), which suggest the control of Real Madrid and its president Florentino Pérez on the pro-madridista media to make an uniform message to destroy the prestige of Barcelona, backing several kind of theories, created from the club itself or the media in blur borders, as the "Villarato" itself to new versions like the never proven doping cases in Barcelona (and Valencia) or how the fixtures have been fixed by barcelonistas.

As' "Villarato" campaign

But, at the same time, these newspapers also aim to have certain internal influence and they surely have it. In the case of Real Madrid, the most evident case was the campaign built by "Marca" to destroy the prestige of the president Ramón Calderón, which ended up with Florentino Pérez back in the presidency of Real Madrid.  It is not that "Marca" actually lied in their reports, but it was surprising to see such an open campaign to destroy the prestige of the president Calderón. Even though it is not a proven theory, the clear support on Florentino Pérez made by "Marca" and the economic and financial influence of the current president of Real Madrid can be considered as "strange" at least. Also Eduardo Inda's "Marca" created a clear anti-Manuel Pellegrini campaign since the very early weeks of the 2009-2010 season. As it popularly known, Manuel Pellegrini was a Jorge Valdano's man. This campaign suggest some kind of internal power battle in the club. The signing of José Mourinho, who had a clear bad relationship with the formal sport general director, Jorge Valdano, and the final departure of the club of the last, suggest this situation and the position of Marca in all this story. At the same time, during all this time, "As" has kept a more critical position on Florentino Pérez and, especially, with José Mourinho. The good relatioship of Jorge Valdano with the PRISA media group, owner of "As" and "El País", and the criticism of the newspapers of this media group on José Mourinho made the fans connect all these facts to the point that, without using names, José Mourinho and Florentino Pérez had talked about "certain pseudo-madridistas", who seem to support the club while they do not hesitate to criticize to break the unity.

In Catalonia, the most evident case of internal influence is not around the coach Guardiola, but the figure of the president. In the last period of the presidency of Joan Laporta, "Mundo Deportivo" and the rest of the Godó group media, were openly critical with the president. Even before the "pseudo-madridista" theories, Joan Laporta, in a meeting with barcelonista penyes (fan groups) also warned the culés about the existence of those who call themselves barcelonistas but in reality wanted to destroy the calm of the club. In the last presidential elections, "Mundo Deportivo" clearly supported the candidature of Sandro Rosell in opposition to the laportista candidatures. In this war, "Sport" has kept a more neutral line, not backing Laporta, but without the cynical support on Sandro Rosell showed by "Mundo Deportivo". And it is not irrelevant to analyze the whole matter from a political view, since Joan Laporta presented a independentist candidature in the last Catalan elections, which was supposed to scratch votes from the moderate nationalist party, CiU.

Mundo Deportivo attacks Joan Laporta

Another interesting topic is the relationship with the rivals. The Madrid located newspapers, despite their evident pro-madridismo, also target a broad audience, which may include certain zones of Spain, where the barcelonistas do not feel fully linked with the catalanist vision of the Barcelona located newspapers. On the other hand, the Catalan newspapers have been more radical in their treatment on their rivals, especially "Sport", but also "Mundo Deportivo" in recent years. As a consequence, while "As" or "Marca" do not hesitate the show the triumphs of the rival Barcelona in their covers, although often with spicy or ironic comments or headlines, the Catalan press definitely ignores the information. In the day by day, these newspapers normally dedicate their headlines and covers to their own club's issues. The only exception, in both cases, is when it is time to attack the rival with negative news, either defeats or scandals.

Finally, the relationship with the Spanish NT is quite different too. "Marca" and "As" act as clear supporters of the Spanish NT, treating the information from a pure fanatic and supporting perspective that does not admit any kind of hesitation. "Marca" and "As" put the Spanish NT in the same level of support given to Real Madrid. However, the Catalan press is more cynical in this support. The political situation of Catalonia is very different and complex, with an overall sense of Catalan national feeling, which gather different kind of tendencies, with Catalonia as nation inside a "nation of nations", which would be Spain, to those who are openly independentist in their feelings. This situation force the Catalan press to play an ambiguous role. So the perspective keeps being quite barcelonista even in the event of an Euro or a World Cup. If Spain is playing, the analysis is often focused on the participation of Catalans or barcelonistas. At the same time, they do not hesitate to dedicate covers and headlines to other blaugrana players who play for different nations, like those who got Ronaldinho in the past or Messi nowadays, even if they dress their nation's shirts. While the treatment of the Spanish NT is warm and supportive in the Madrid media, the Catalan press, despite not rejecting the topic, definitely is more cold, cynical and still culé in their editorial lines.

Mundo Deportivo and Marca treating the triumphs of the rivals

The huge influence of these newspapers in the general opinion of madridistas and barcelonistas is evident. This influence is based in the amount of readers of each newspaper. "Marca" is the most read newspaper in Spain, over the general information newspaper "El País". Among the total amount of readers, "Marca" gets the 20% of the audience with nearly 3 million readers. "As" gets the 9% of the Spanish readers (1.443 million) and they are the 3rd most read newspaper in Spain. The Catalan newspapers get lower amounts of readers, since their perspective is more Catalan than Spanish in comparison with the Madrid located newspapers. Still "Sport" and "Mundo Deportivo" are read by 0.717 and 0.711 million readers respectively, almost a 5% of the total each of them, although in this case with lower readers than the general newspapers. In the internet editions of these newspapers, the situation is pretty similar, marca.com has 4 million visits per day, as.com is visited by 2.4 million people, and sport.es and mundodeportivo.com get 1.28 and 1.20 million visits respectively, more than any Catalan newspaper site.

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