It is one of the most watched football leagues in the world, featuring some of the best players on the planet. Except this week, no one is talking about the 'beautiful game' after the disgraceful racist abuse of the Real Madrid starVinicius Jr.SentLaLigain crisis management mode.
It was only after the 10th reported incident of targeted racial abuseviniciusduring oneLa Liga game from 2021, this time in Valencia on Sunday, Spanish football and the country's legal system finally kicked into gear.
Seven arrests were made by police on Tuesday alone, according to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).launched a new anti-racism campaignand ordered the partial closure of Valencia's stadium and LaLiga was formally asked to be given sanctioning powers to better combat racism.
LaLiga told CNN it does not have the power to sanction clubs or fans. Instead, it should turn over investigations into incidents of racial abuse to local prosecutors, who handle them as legal cases.
But what caused this sudden flurry of activity after incident #10, when nine previous incidents of racial abuse apparently weren't enough to spark meaningful action?
The answer, according to one former marketing chief, is money and fame.
Vinicius Jr. shows a fan in the stands who allegedly racially abused him during Real Madrid's game against Valencia.
For the first time, Vinícius – one of the world's most talented and recognized players – hinted that his future may not lie in the Iberian nation, with the Spanish media abuzz with suggestions that these incidents would put jeopardizing Spain's joint bid for the 2016 FIFA World Cup 2030 – with Portugal, Morocco and Ukraine – an event that could bring billions of dollars to the country.
Richard Strong, former head of global sponsorships at Visa and Coca-Cola, said brands that have sponsorship deals with LaLiga may even begin to review those deals.
"Sponsors, if they're doing their job, have their PR teams tracking how engaged they are in the conversation or how often their brands are mentioned on social media and in the press," said Fort.CNN Sports.
“They probably have a statement ready to send out if they feel the need to, but they're probably holding it back to only use it if it's very, very necessary. All of them try to avoid the conversation, so as not to be associated with the problem.
"Behind the scenes, they are also calling the people who have to manage their relationships in LaLiga, to ask them to update and find out what their plan is. Some of the chief executives may be questioning their marketing teams if this is sustainable or if they should continue to be associated with LaLiga."
"Why do we connect with it?"
Fort compares the current situation in Spain with its consequencesFIFA corruption scandalem 2015.
Swiss police at the time made several arrests during a raid on a hotel where FIFA officials were staying, withmany senior officials are accusedwith accusations of money laundering, fraud and extortion, arguably the biggest scandal to ever hit world football.
At the time, Fort was working for Visa - one of FIFA's main sponsors - and says there is "a lot of pressure" from many parties on organizations like FIFA and LaLiga in crisis management situations like these.
Forte says the chief executives called Sepp Blatter to ask him to step down as FIFA president.
"You've got the press asking for a statement, you've got investor relations, big shareholders in all these companies asking questions," says Fort.
"You have board members calling the CEO to ask what the company is going to do, you have — as the case may be — employees saying, 'Why are we associated with this?'"
At a meeting with his sponsors in Zurich, Forte said FIFA had presented its plan to form an independent ethics committee. However, when the CEOs of FIFA's sponsors were not appeased by the plan, they calledthen president Sepp Blatterrequire changes in management.
"I know that the CEO of Coca-Cola at the time, Muhtar Kent, called Sepp Blatter and said, 'Sepp, it's time to go,'" Fort recalled. “Well, that's the kind of thing that, if the solution isn't in sight, some CEOs might do it.
"There is a loss of confidence in LaLiga's ability to manage the crisis and find solutions," adds Forte. "Now, if I were a sponsor, I would demand changes in the administration, and that starts with the president."
Earlier this week, RFEF holder Luis Rubiales criticized LaLiga president Javier Tebas, who sparred with Vinicius on Twitter after Sunday's game.
"The managers are not here to deal with social media, we are here to try to solve problems - and this footballer was attacked very seriously," Rubiales said.
"I think Javier Tebas is not prepared, equipped or interested in solving the problem," adds Fort.
Javier Tebas has been criticized for LaLiga's handling of racist abuse.
While removing an organization's president "isn't very effective at driving a solution" to the situation, Fort explains, it at least shows donors that the organization is "willing" to make big changes.
"That's important," he says.
LaLiga was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN, but Tebas apologized on Wednesday, saying he had "no intention of attacking Vinicius."
"But if people in Brazil took it that way, I have to apologize," he said.ESPN Brazil. "That was not my intention. I spoke badly, at a bad moment... but I had no intention of attacking Vinicius.'
A banner at the Santiago Bernabeu reads "We are all Vinicius, enough is enough" before Real Madrid's match with Rayo Vallecano.
The fallout from the incident at Valencia's Mestalla stadium on Sunday took a diplomatic turn when Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other government officials became involved.
Brazil's Racial Equality Minister Aniel Franco said on Monday that she had already summoned Spain's Public Ministry and Spain's Deputy Prime Minister for an investigation, while Brazil's Justice Minister Flávio Dino tweeted about the possibility of "extraterritoriality" - the application of the laws in Spain – in case The Spanish authorities do not protect Vinícius.
The incident even drew comments from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, who said the incident at the Mestalla stadium "is a stark reminder of the prevalence of racism in sport".
"I ask the organizers of sporting events to have strategies to prevent and fight racism," he added.
A US State Department spokesman also condemned the racist chants directed at Vinicius, calling them "appalling".
Fort estimates that many of LaLiga's sponsorship deals can be between $5 million and $10 million a season. a "significant" amount, he says, but certainly not a "significant" financial impact given LaLiga's revenue.
AccordingReuters, LaLiga expects the total value of its deals to grow from $26 billion to nearly $38 billion in seven to 10 years.
What could "really hit" LaLiga, however, is the ongoing impact on its reputation, which will be exacerbated by the cancellation of sponsorship deals with the league, according to Fort.
"If a recognized brand backs out because they don't trust LaLiga's commitment to fighting racism, I think that will have an impact for them the next time they sign broadcast or sponsorship deals," says Fort.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, turned off its lights in solidarity with Vinicius.
It could also provide a boost to rivals, with other European leagues using LaLiga's chaos to their advantage.
On Tuesday, Italy's Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo said the league will have "zero tolerance» approach to racist fans, according to Reuters.
"If you're from Serie A, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga, you're going to be talking about racism in every sales pitch you make for years to come," says Fort.
“You will tell your prospects that, unlike other countries, you do not have a racism problem. I think this will hurt LaLiga commercially.
“We don't know the extent, but I think it will happen over time – and they may not lose money. They know they may not have lower revenues, but they will grow more slowly than they would have otherwise.”