MADRID (AP) – The Spanish soccer league locked out radio reporters from stadiums Sunday at the start of the new season after broadcasters declined to pay a new fee worth 15 million ($21.6 million) to transmit matches live.
La Liga decided to introduce the charge shortly after the end of last season. Radio stations have covered live soccer matches free of charge since the 1920s.
Reporters who turned up to work to cover three first division matches on Saturday found their accreditations denied if they carried radio equipment.
On Sunday, those who went to cover the first match, Atletico Madrid vs. Osasuna, were turned away for the same reason, with similar treatment expected at six other Primera Liga clashes, including Barcelona vs. Villarreal on Monday.
Stations have only been able to use short live radio reports from journalists who entered with just cell phones. Some second-tier clubs who do not normally get television coverage did let radio reporters in.
"Radio has always been an important part of soccer, without it soccer is not the same," said Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.
"Radio has helped cover professional soccer matches since the 1920s and most sports fans cannot imagine a weekend without our roundups with live reports from games all around the country," said Alfredo Gimenez of state broadcaster RTVE.
Calls Sunday to the Spanish Professional Football League (LPF) went unanswered.
Many clubs in the first and second divisions of the Spanish league face financial difficulties because income from ticket sales and television rights no longer meets costs.
Earlier this month professional players in both leagues went on strike to reclaim 50 million ($72 million) in back wages owed to more than 200 of them.
One complication is that around half of the revenues from TV rights received by La Liga goes to its top two clubs, Barcelona and Madrid, University of Barcelona finance professor Jose Maria Gay told The Associated Press. The other 18 clubs in the top tier and 22 in the second league have to fight for what's left of that pie.
Six of the 18 Primera Liga clubs are already in bankruptcy protection - included all three teams just promoted from the second league: Betis, Rayo Vallecano and Granada.
First round matches were postponed last weekend because of the strike, until an agreement was reached on Thursday.
Then, when radio journalists turned up to cover the season's first top level matches on Saturday all but a handful in remote second tier locations were turned away.
"We are not going to pay the levy which the Professional League is asking," said top radio broadcaster Chema Abad of RNE.
While television provides viewers with instant moving images that each person can analyze, radio reporters must interpret events on the field, said Catalan radio broadcaster Robert Cortes.
"Because we interpret what we see for listeners, we are not infringing the image rights of any team, so we consider a charge for our services completely unjustified," he said.
Cortes said the new levy was complex, with broadcasters being asked to pay fixed fees for live commentaries, while spot interviews on the field of play would be offered to the highest bidder.
Radio stations said they would broadcast one minute of "dead air" - total silence - during Sunday's matches in protest.
"The final straw is going to be if radio stations start to play funeral marches during matches, like they do in dictatorships when there is a coup attempt," said soccer fan Manolo Blanco in Madrid.