FEATURE: Inside the World's Most Powerful Professional Futsal League: Liga Nacional de Fútbol Sala
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
Washington, DC, USA - May 7, 2019 | Liga Nacional de Fútbol Sala (LNFS)
In this Pivot Futsal feature article, we visit Madrid, Spain to take a look behind the scenes of Liga Nacional de Fútbol Sala (LNFS). We are very fortunate to have an interview conversation with María Rodrigo Sagastizábal, LNFS Communications Director, on behalf of LNFS and LNFS President, Javier Lozano, to discuss the growth, business, and impact of LNFS domestically in Spain and globally.
LNFS & the Status of Futsal in Spain
LNFS has reached it’s 30 year anniversary since its inception in 1989 and currently sits atop of the pyramid of all professional Futsal leagues across the world as the evolving standard for the future of Futsal. Many variables that contribute to operating a top-tier sports league including leadership, infrastructure, sport-specific landscape, corporate support, visibility, grassroots participation, and many other factors. With these in mind, LNFS has taken a strategic approach to understand their members & audience, position themselves in the market, and build a vision for future growth.
“Futsal in Spain is perceived as a sport of emotion, spectacle, dynamic, exciting, accessible, and passion,” says María Rodrigo Sagastizábal, LNFS Communications Director.
Spanish Futsal and football (soccer) fans are some of the most passionate across the globe. With nearly 24% of Spaniards are interested in Futsal presenting the opportunity to reach nearly 7.9 million people within Spain, María and her LNFS front-office team understood the importance of audience research and development to tailor the product toward the interests of the core consumers. Below is a glimpse at some of their findings on the Spanish Futsal Fan Profile.
Building on the Spanish Futsal Fan Profile, LNFS also has a close eye on the broader grassroots audience and pathway to create lifelong participants and fans of the sport.
“9.6% of the 20 million athletes in Spain play Futsal...core audience of Spanish Futsal participants is 15-24 year old...14.2% of people who practice sports play Futsal & 7.6% practice Futsal weekly...and after football (soccer), Futsal is the top sport for Spanish school students aged 6-18 years old,” relays María Rodrigo Sagastizábal.
The sports landscape in Spain portray an advantageous ecosystem for Futsal and football (soccer) to prosper. Further, the historic success of both sports have helped fuel each other for continued growth --- reflecting on Spain’s 2 FIFA Futsal World Cup Championships (‘04 & ‘00), 7 FIFA Futsal European Club Championships, 1 FIFA Football World Cup (‘10), and countless FIFA Football European Club Championships.
Spain continues to serve as a case study for many countries of how both Futsal and football can strategically continue to compliment each other while remaining separate to further develop the Futsal pathway and business.
An Inside Look at Liga Nacional de Fútbol Sala (LNFS)
“LNFS was founded in 1989 and is linked to RFEF, UEFA & FIFA,” detailed María Rodrigo Sagastizábal. “The league is responsible for promoting and directing the practice of elite Futsal along with the organization and supervision of various competitions.”
Let’s take a look at the competitions organized by LNFS:
LNFS Professional Futsal League
First Division - (Includes 16 teams competing over 10 month season where top 8 regular season teams earn opportunity to compete in the LNFS Playoff Title end of regular season. Bottom 2 regular season teams relegated to the LNFS Second Division)
Second Division - (Includes 16 teams competing over 10 month season where top regular season team is promoted to LNFS First Division. Regular season 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th place teams compete in playoff for 2nd promotion spot to LNFS First Division.)
Annual tournament competition featuring the top 8 regular season teams at the middle point in the season.
2019 Champion: FC Barcelona Lassa
Spanish Super Cup
Annual tournament competition featuring the winners of the LNFS First Division and the Spanish Cup.
Over the past 30 years, LNFS has risen in competition level, geographic scope, infrastructure, and viewership. LNFS First Division matches average between 2,500-3000 attendees while Second Division games range between 1,500-2,000 fans. The below graphic illustrates the now 20 total different provinces across Spain that teams within the First and Second Division are located.
Provinces hosting LNFS teams include: ￼Alicante, Antequera (Málaga), Barcelona, Burela (Lugo), Cartagena (Murcia), Córdoba, Ferrol (A Coruña), Gran Canaria, Jaén, Mengíbar (Jaén), Murcia, Palma de Mallorca, Pamplona, Peñíscola (Castellón), Puertollano (Ciudad Real), Rivas (Madrid), Santa Coloma de Gramanet (Barcelona), Santiago de Compostela, Segovia, Sevilla, Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid), Tudela (Navarra), Valdepeñas (Ciudad Real), Valencia, Zaragoza.
As LNFS and Futsal have become significantly more global, the LNFS viewership and audience has evolved. María's team has focused on local, regional and national broadcasting rights for LNFS games, along with international broadcast streams (most still pay-per-view) and social media content to support viewership demand. During the 2017-2018 Futsal year, the LNFS Playoff Title Match between FC Barcelona Lassa FS and Inter Movistar FS was the highest viewed event with over 700,000 online spectators.
The LNFS website has served as the central information hub for all updates surrounding the league experiencing nearly 15 million annual page visits across 192 countries. Additionally, the emphasis on social media engagement and collaboration with all LNFS clubs has significantly supported the amplification of the league’s mission, events, and key stakeholders.
With the increased exposure both on-site inside Futsal arenas and via broadcast/online mediums, corporate sponsorship interest has seen substantial growth. “Sponsors want to engage with the participation and virality of the players and clubs within the LNFS,” says María Rodrigo Sagastizábal. LNFS has benefited from long-term sponsorship deals from the likes of major like-minded companies including Kelme, La Liga Sports, and others to support the growth of the league.
External Competitions & the Power of LNFS Top Teams/Stars
FC Barcelona Lassa FS. Inter Movistar FS. ElPozo Murcia. Ferrao. Ricardinho. Miguelin. Carlitos.
The above are all names of teams and players (among many others) who's brands are driving the LNFS league and sport of Futsal forward. As with any globally recognized sport team or figure, the trail of success, winning and hope is often followed by fandom.
Arguably one of the most successful club Futsal teams this year (2018-2019) domestically and internationally, FC Barcelona Lassa FS are led by Ferrao, Lozano & Dyego reaching for elite status. Their brands have directly impacted the rise of domestic Spanish viewers and international fans from afar via the quality of the LNFS product.
Additional external official competitions that LNFS teams and players may compete in pending qualification or nomination include:
FIFA Futsal World Cup + Qualifiers
UEFA Futsal European Championships
UEFA Futsal Champions League
Copa S.M. El Rey
Intercontinental Futsal Cup
Most recently, FC Barcelona Lassa winning the Copa S.M. El Rey (link). Other recent events that come to mind are FCB and Inter Movistar challenging for the UEFA Futsal Champions League title but both falling short in the semifinals (link), Ricardinho & Portugal winning the 2018 UEFA Futsal European Championships (link), and FCB competing in the 2018 Intercontinental Futsal Cup (link).
There is no doubt that Futsal has become a global brand in itself --- and the strategic collaboration of LNFS with their teams and stars have helped drive the sport forward.
LNFS Community Impact & Social Projects
While LNFS has experienced steady growth with a focus on the highest level of Futsal, there is also an emphasis on giving back to the community to remain connected and helping various projects. María's team has highlighted LNFS community work into 5 areas: Sports Promotion, Educational/Cultural, Socials, Environmental, and Formation. See the below graphic & images.
The initiative to invest resources back into underserved communities, unique events, grassroots, education, and related touch points is vital. While at the time of publishing this article, we do not have access to financial data to understand percentages and total investment, it is worth noting. That being said, there are many areas we’d like to continue to see LNFS support --- one being a fully established women’s professional league. Currently, LNFS oversees the LNFS Women’s First Division but it is still in its infancy. The future is promising for women's Futsal with the introduction of the inaugural UEFA Women's Futsal European Championships this past February 2019 (which Spain won - see below from UEFA), and many conversations behind the scenes for building out a better pathway for the women's side of the sport.
The global Futsal landscape is truly taking shape one country at a time. Spain and LNFS have proven to be pioneers for Futsal and ultimately, helping guide the rest of the world in strategically building the business model/pathway in combination with the passion for the sport. With the 2019 LNFS Playoff Title on the horizon, the global Futsal community will be watching.
MARÍA RODRIGO SAGASTIZÁBAL, LNFS, Director of Communications
María Rodrigo Sagastizábal leads all external and internal communications operations for LNFS with the primary goal of promoting and directing elite Futsal competition in both Spain and internationally. She collaborates directly with LNFS President, Javier Lozano, and oversees a team to grow LNFS’ global audience.
JAVIER LOZANO, LNFS, President
Javier Lozano serves as President of LNFS. He is the guiding figure to drive all aspects of Futsal forward in Spain with a close eye on the highest level of competition. Javier has an extensive and decorated coaching career highlighted by two FIFA Futsal World Cup Championships along with his roots as a former Spanish Futsal player.
MARK WYSOCKI, Pivot Futsal, Founder & Chief Editor
Mark Wysocki is an accomplished sports business & Futsal professional with 10+ years in the sports industry supporting some of the world’s leading corporate brands and rising small businesses. Wysocki has been very connected to the Futsal community over the years across the United States & internationally as a consultant, professional Futsal player, program director, strategist, coach, and advocate of the sport.