On 1st January 2023 former Barcelona star Gerard Pique launched a 7 aside football competition called The Kings League. In only its first year it has exceeded all expectations from both an engagement and commercial point of view. But what exactly is it and why do people love it so much?
Why is the Kings League so popular? The Kings League was designed by Gerard Piqué, Oriol Querol (CEO) and Spanish internet celebrity Ibai Llanos specifically to appeal to young people who consume content in a non-traditional way. The “multi-screen” generation who may seem to have a short attention span, but can focus on several things at once. The rules of the game were designed to emulate aspects of video games, the pace is relentless, the entertainment factor prioritized and it was rolled out on streaming platforms that these young people already interact with. The plan was simple, accurate and has led to the Kings League becoming extremely popular within its target demographic.
That’s just the headlines. The Kings League is currently based solely in Barcelona with broadcasts aimed at young Spanish speaking people. With plans to expand world wide, this football disruptor isn’t going away any time soon. We take a look at why its appeal is so unique and what credentials it has that it’s actually making a mark.
Why do the Kings League Rules make it so popular?
The matches played in Barcelon’s Kings League look and feel very different to traditional 90min, 11 a-side football. It’s also a long way from the smaller sided versions of the game, like Masters football or 5 a-side. The Kings League is quite deliberately something different. Let’s explain the rules a bit so you can start to understand what we’re dealing with here.
Matches are 40 minutes long and consist of two 20 minute halves, this is deliberate to keep the intensity and action high, ensuring that waning attention spans don’t need to drift elsewhere.
The matches are usually (more on that in a bit) 7 vs 7. This again, is designed to keep the intensity and action pumping at all times.
The game starts with both teams sprinting to the center of the pitch to gain possession of the ball. In the first “Final Four” at the Nou Camp Stadium the ball was dropped onto the pitch to start the game by a man walking a tightrope above the pitch.
Unlimited substitutions are the order of business with roll on roll off subs, Ice Hockey style.
Keeping the games even is a key factor, if a player gets a yellow or red card, they’re sent to the sin bin for 2 or 5 minutes before returning to play.
Teams have one opportunity to use VAR, if their challenge proves unsuccessful, they can’t ask for it again. There is no other use of VAR during the matches.
There are no draws. Penalties are the order of the day, but ICE HOCKEY STYLE, where players dribble from the half-way line and shoot against the goalkeeper.
But wait. We haven’t even arrived at the most insane twist yet!
Before each match, teams pick one of five secret golden cards known as secret weapons. These can give them an advantage during the game if played at the right moment.
The 5 Kings League Secret Weapon Cards are:
- Instant Penalty
- Removing a player from the opposition team
- Double points for a goal
- Steal the opposing team’s card
- Joker Card – this one lets you pick any of the four bonuses
The giant dice. Yes, that’s right. The Giant dice are a function that determine how many players are on the pitch to end the first half. Leading to some 1v1 action, or 3v3, you get it. I’m here for the giant dice.
The makeup of the squads themselves are designed to drive engagement and entertainment. A squad consists of 12 players. 10 of these players were selected through the draft at the start of the season. 1 of them can be any player, usually a lower tier Spanish professional, who has committed to the team for the entire season. The final and 12th player can be anybody and can change every match. This has seen stars such as Ronaldinho and former Mexico & Man Utd striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez featuring in games. Matches have also featured a mysterious player for xBuyer Team wearing a lucha libre mask, known only as “Enigma”. Enigma turned out to be 27-year-old Cadiz player, Nano Mesa.
Each team has a President that is popular either through football, or with a huge social media following, they sometimes take to the pitch. This led to Argentina & Man City legend Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero playing dressed as a clown in response to La Liga president Javier Tebas calling the Kings League a Circus.
How do the Kings League team presidents drive its popularity?
One of the first things that Piqué and Ibai Llanos got in place were the team Presidents. The idea was that by having people with a huge internet following they would have an audience already acclimatized to streaming content and would largely fall into the target demographic. Crossover with football was ideal, but not essential. It is on the back of this model that the Kings League has reached so many eyeballs so quickly. Still firmly rooted in Spanish language, the team Presidents have pushed it out on their accounts on streaming platforms such as X (Twitter), Youtube, Tik-Tok and Twitch.
|Kings League Barcelona Teams & Presidents, Managers & Presidents|
|Team||Manager||President||What is the President known for?|
|1K FC||Spain José Morales||Iker Casillas||Former Span & Real Madrid Goal Keeper|
|Aniquiladores FC||Argentina Sergio Verdirame||Juan Guarnizo||Colombian YouTuber, streamer, vlogger and rapper. He is the 10th most followed streamer on Twitch.|
|El Barrio||Spain Juan Arroita||Adri Contreras||One of the fastest growing content creator in Spain in the sports sector. His main creation platform is TikTok.|
|Jijantes FC||Spain Pau Moral||Gerard Romero||Barcelona based Sports Reporter|
|Kunisports||Argentina Martín Posse||Sergio Agüero||Former Argentina & Man City striker|
|Los Troncos FC||Spain Èric Bartra||Jaume Cremades (Perxitaa)||Twitch streamer, professional gamer, YouTuber and vlogger|
|PIO FC||Spain Pol Coma||Samantha Rivera (Rivers)||Mexican YouTuber and Twitch streamer, She’s currently one of the fastest growing influencers on the platform.|
|Porcinos FC||Equatorial Guinea Juvenal||Ibai Llanos||With over 12 million followers on Twitch Ibai is easily one of the most famous streamers. This Spanish streamer has at least 60,000 viewers per stream.|
|Rayo de Barcelona||Spain Efrén Guillén||Martí Miràs (Spursito)||Andorran streamer and YouTuber|
|Saiyans FC||Spain Daniel Romo||David Cánovas (TheGrefg)||Spanish Twitch streamer. His channel is currently the seventh most-followed channel on the platform|
|Ultimate Móstoles||Spain Álex Martínez||Mario Alonso (DjMaRiiO)||Spanish Youtuber with more than 5 million subscribers|
|xBuyer Team||Spain Víctor González||Javier (xBuyer) and Eric Ruiz (MiniBuyer)||Prominent Spanish gaming YouTuber who dedicated his entire presence to football-related content.|
As you may notice from the list of Kings League Team Presidents above, they aren’t the classic big names you may expect to be driving huge engagement in a new sporting league. Granted Cassilas and Aguero are stand out star names from the world of football, but they are the exception. All of the other 10 team Presidents have huge and passionate online followings in their own sphere, and importantly ALL of them are natural Spanish language speakers.
This is the big secret of the Kings League, it is already making waves and it hasn’t even tried to expand outside of its Spanish language bubble yet.
Plans are in place to expand to Latin America in 2024 and then Germany and England in 2025. Given how much energy this concept is attracting it won’t take much to bump the United States up that queue, if the Kings League format takes hold in a market that size, it will become unstoppable.
The Presidents don’t just hide behind the scenes tinkering with their squads and giving empty platitudes of support to the teams they have built. They are actively online during the matches, scene in their typical streaming box in the corner of the screen. Often online with Pique and Llanos in post match shows hyping up the league and creating drama.
There’s also the transfer window. Stolen directly from established sports such as Football and the NBA, the drama of the trade deadline, transfer window (call it what you will) has been harnessed by the Kings League, but turned up to WWF proportions.
Without the pressure of every transaction being worth billions of dollars in revenue, the presidents are free to beg, steal and borrow players from other teams, without the worry of tampering sanctions or ill feelings. Imagine the spectacle of Todd Bohely going on national TV and pleading for Mbappe to join Chelsea next summer instead of Real Madrid. With the Kings League, that’s not only allowed, it’s encouraged.
Can you go and watch the Kings League live?
All standard Kings League games take place on Sundays inside of an industrial pavilion on the outskirts of Barcelona’s port, with no paying in person spectators. The Cupra Arena is designed for broadcast only. The appeal and the reach of Kings Lead is all online. Powered by its Team Presidents social media following, the fledgling league hit weekly averages of over 700,000 people watching games in its first season. Topping out at a high in live views of more than 1,370,000 people watching a match. This doesn’t even factor in how many people later watch the streams later on at their own leisure.
It is this huge online following, all in young demographics who sponsors are keen to reach that is powering the Kings Leagues growth. Companies have taken notice with sponsors including Adidas, Spotify and McDonald’s Delivery among the advertisers. Like when Aguero dressed as a clown to flip La Liga’s negative comments around, the Kings League announced that they had landed a sponsorship deal with Casio, after Pique’s ex-girlfriend Shakira mocked him with a Casio Watch reference in her viral Bizarrap hit when they broke up. The League is now official named Kings League Infojobs after acquiring the company as a partnered name sponsor.
This isn’t to say that the Kings League won’t work just as well for live, in person spectators. On 26 March 2023, Barcelona FC’s giant 92,000 capacity Camp Nou stadium hosted the competitions inaugural “Final Four” which saw the best teams in the competition play for the champion of the winter split. The stadium was rammed full and jumping as the in person fans were joined by over 2 million more streaming live on Twitch, Tik Tok and Youtube. This drew to a close the first half of the Kings Leagues debut season.
The playoffs were held from 24 to 26 March 2023 at Atletico Madrid’s Metropolitano stadium, home of Champions League Finals which has a max capacity of 70,000. The final was won by El Barrio as they defeated Aniquiladores FC 3-0 in the final. Although, the winners and the result are less important than the fact it took place at all.
Who Sponsors the Kings League?
The Kings League has quickly attracted many sponsors from many different nations and industries. All big, recognisable global brands. This banner from the bottom of their home page, kingsleague.pro is a good snapshot.
Full list of Kings League Sponsors and Partner companies
|Kings League Sponsors|
|Sponsor||Type of Sponsor|
|Port de Barcelona||Hosting Partner|
|Clinica Baviera||Main Partner|
List accurate as of September 2023
What is the Queens League?
The Queens League is the all female player version of Gerard Pique’s Kings League. Following exactly the same format, games are played on Saturdays.