Beyond the 8.7 million fans who went to temples such as San Mamés or Benito Villamarín during the 2021/22 season, according to data from Transfermarkt, LaLiga wants to multiply its number of faithful this year with a project never seen before in the framework of a football competition: the opening of a pilgrimage center within PortAventura World, whose theme parks are expected to receive more than five million visitors in 2022. A football-loving or potentially football-loving public that LaLiga, which has recently become a benchmark of the leisure and entertainment industry through LaLiga Entertainment, its business alliance with PortAventura World and Kosmos, wants to conquer with experiences that could never be enjoyed on a pitch. Like, for example, the possibility of competing with other fans in a virtual world or enjoying a meal at a table with seats similar to those that Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann might use during a match.
LaLiga landed last December at the leisure and tourism complex in the province of Tarragona. It did so in the first instance with the opening of LaLiga TwentyNine’s, a new concept of sports bar –as defined by the organization– located at the entrance to PortAventura World and which can be entered without having to get a ticket to the different theme parks. There is a football atmosphere there: both for its design, which includes tables with seats that simulate those of a bench, and for its range of possibilities, with numerous screens to follow all kinds of sporting events, an area dedicated to virtual football and another where fans can buy official products or participate in contests. Also since April, when the attractions were opened, visitors can enjoy The Beat Challenge, a video game that poses various tests and levels of difficulty based on a footballer’s skills – shooting, dribbling, passing and stopping – and which then allows the results obtained to be shared with other users. To play the video game it is only necessary to download the application on the mobile phone.
Interior of the LaLiga TwentyNine’s sports bar at PortAventura World.PortAventura
In an environment that is essentially nourished by the interest of boys and girls between the ages of eight and 16, one of the main objectives of implementing these attractions is to get closer to the fans of the future, explains Juan Vicente Marín, director of LaLiga Entertainment. “The new generations are demanding something more from us than the 90 minutes of the game or the summaries of the best plays. We want to do new things that connect us with them”, says this manager trained in the first edition of the LaLiga Global Network program with which the organization has deployed a network of delegates around the world.
The banner of this will to innovate, they estimate in LaLiga, is the implementation of The Beat Challenge, since it means offering virtual fun in a context where physical experiences prevail, such as riding a roller coaster. Wen Lin Xia, manager of disruptive technologies of LaLiga and one of the main responsible for this novelty, explains that both worlds are intertwined thanks to the introduction of augmented reality, a technology that allows virtual elements to be displayed in a real environment through a screen. “We started from the initial idea of doing something similar to Pokémon GO [un popular juego en el que el usuario debe ‘cazar’ personajes que aparecen en ubicaciones reales] and we like to define the experience as a digital journey. The idea is that users, while they are in any of the theme areas of the park, create an avatar [una identidad virtual] so that they can play with each other and unlock challenges where they will run into LaLiga legends. Although you can also download it at home to train”, he advises.
Screenshots of ‘The Beat Challenge’, the video game created by LaLiga.PortAventura
Actually, after studying the behavior of park visitors, Wen Lin Xia and his colleagues found that the best location to promote the video game was in the queues of the attractions. Some QR codes are going to be placed there to download the application, and in this way lighten a waiting time in which they usually kill with the mobile phone in hand anyway. “Before starting to work on the video game, we did an exhaustive study and realized that what is demanded today is that games be social, that they be on different platforms and that they be immersive, allowing people to immerse themselves in other worlds” .
The new phases of a pioneering initiative
On the part of PortAventura World, explains its business director, David García, the alliance with LaLiga means reaching a huge public, both Spanish and international, who usually follow Spanish football. “We have had a very powerful space for the Ferrari brand for a long time. [que cuenta desde hace unos años con su propio espacio y atracciones en el complejo]and this agreement with a brand like LaLiga, with more than 26 million followers [solo en España]It is a big step”.
García positively values the results to date of both a sports barwhere there is a “good influx”, as of The Beat Challenge, with an average of between 3,000 and 4,000 downloads per week. The director of the park, who came to office in the middle of the pandemic, affirms that the influx to theme parks was good in 2021, especially among the national public, and that in 2022 they hope to match or even exceed the records of 2019, where they registered a record 5.2 million visitors.
The opening of a sports bar restaurant and the creation of a game for PortAventura, at a cost of 10 million euros, is a proposal that is only comparable in sport with the space that the NBA had in the Disney park in Orlando (USA), and that It closed its doors at the beginning of the pandemic and does not plan to reopen, according to local media reports. However, this is only the initial phase of a project that plans to grow in the near future with the opening, first, of a new LaLiga-themed attraction and later, with the creation of a LaLiga theme park within PortAventura World. “The idea of LaLiga Entertainment is to take entertainment to another level”, settles the director of LaLiga Entertainment, Juan Marín.