BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – In hot and humid Spain, football has traditionally been played after the sun goes down. That is now set to change so the financially troubled Spanish league can boost its international television revenues.
The Spanish league announced on Tuesday that in the first two weeks of the season from Aug. 20 games will played on Sunday at noon and then be staggered throughout the day.
Like last season, Saturday's games will start at 18:00 local time, with one game still reserved for Monday night.
The new schedule should equal more income from TV, but it may also mean a culture shock for Spanish football fans.
University of Barcelona finance professor Jose Maria Gay, who specializes in football economics, believes the change is necessary for Spanish football to follow England's lead of selling TV rights in the booming Asian market.
''If it means more people can watch La Liga, more games can be sold throughout the world and therefore the clubs will make more money, then it's good news for everyone,'' Gay told The Associated Press by telephone. ''But it has the problem that fans may not go to the stadium. Football is very family oriented in Spain. We'll have to see how this experiment goes.''
Spanish sports talk radio was buzzing with the news and not lacking in disgruntled voices at what one pundit on Radio Marca called ''the end of the Spanish tradition of eating lunch, having a gin and tonic with a cigar before the game'' on Sunday evening.
But traditions may have to be bent with the Spanish league in the midst of a financial crisis. With the league set to get under way on Aug. 20, six of the 20 topflight teams are under bankruptcy protection while numerous lower division teams are insolvent.
Last season, four or sometimes five games were played simultaneously at 5 p.m. local time on Sunday, reducing their profitability.
Now, most games will have their own time slot, increasing the number of matches on offer for TV viewers around the world.
Gay said that while the English Premier league brings in ?1.2 billion ($1.7 billion) a year, the Spanish league lags behind at just ?600 million ($853 million), and argued that the Spanish league must follow the English model.
''(The Spanish league) has to exploit its TV rights and sell them to the entire world as a product,'' Gay said.
So far, the players are accepting the new timetable, but some want to make sure that all the teams - including powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona - get their turn to play in the heat and sun.
''We have to adapt like we always have and play when we are supposed to each week,'' said Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz. ''The only thing we hope is that these slots apply to everyone, when it is less appropriate for playing football, above all in August and September.''
During the summer months, temperatures in Spain can reach over 40 degrees Celsius during the day.
Late last season, the league made a test run of the new schedule when Mallorca hosted Villarreal at noon.
Mallorca forward Emilio Nsue said that early match wasn't too bad.
''We inaugurated the new timetable last season. At noon it'll be sunny, but that's not an excuse,'' he said. ''There won't be any problems because if it is hot, it's hot for both teams.''