When TV shows lose their main characters, usually things start to fall apart quite quickly, and fans bemoan the fact that the show is no longer as good as it used to be. The US Office is more than just a remake of The Office, made famous by British comics Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in the early 2000s. With Steve Carrell playing the lovable but hopeless branch manager Michael Scott, millions of people tuned in each week to watch the (US) Office, to see what Michael would get up to next. When Carrell left the show in its 7th season, it was notable how quickly the overall quality of the show dropped, with fewer and fewer people watching. It lasted another two years before it finally ended in 2013.
There are many other examples where characters either leaving (or being killed off) meant that fans stopped paying such close attention to what was going on. The Walking Dead, The OC, and Two and a Half Men are just a few shows where the overall quality left when the lead actors, who fans had come to love, were no longer around.
This happens often in sports too. Teams are often very fragile ecosystems, meaning that if one thing changes, it can all slowly collapse, with fans quickly losing interest. Manchester United was the dominant force in English soccer for 20 years under their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, but as soon as he retired in 2013 they began to struggle, and still are to this day. In the modern-day where fans are far more fickle than they used to be, it is highly likely that millions of people around the world stopped tuning into Man United games once they stopped winning all the time, as it wasn’t the same as when Fergie was there.
Often, it is a star player who keeps things all together, and once they’ve left it all falls apart. Liverpool under Brendan Rogers almost won the league for the first time in the 2013/14 season, all thanks to one man, Luis Suárez. He managed 31 goals that season and pushed Liverpool closer to breaking their drought than they had managed for a very long time. Unfortunately, for Liverpool and Suárez, they just missed out, finishing second. Very quickly, Suárez left the club, and the casual Liverpool fans no longer cared so much.
Has this issue ever afflicted an entire league though? Many people would watch La Liga, Spain’s highest soccer league, to specifically watch two men play; Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two greatest players of the past generation. Fan’s would be eagerly looking at their betting apps, searching for free sports picks to find odds on Messi or Ronaldo scoring in each game. Now, both of them have left. Will the league be able to cope without these two superstars?
Cristiano Ronaldo was a key part of the Real Madrid attack for nine seasons, where he scored an unreal amount of goals, 311 in 292 appearances. They won La Liga twice in this time, also lifting the Copa del Rey in 2011 and 2014, and was a key player in helping Madrid lift a staggering four Champions League titles in five seasons, a feat never achieved before. In this time he also picked up four Ballon d’Or awards, in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. For so long he was Mr Madrid, but in 2018 he decided to seek a new challenge and joined the Italian side Juventus. While Madrid won the league in 2020, they haven’t been anywhere near as successful since he left.
Leo Messi and Barcelona had an even closer affiliation. He had joined them as a child and progressed through the youth ranks to make his first-team appearance in 2004. In the following 17 years, he played 520 times and scored 474 times. He was a key part of Barcelona becoming the best club side for many years and helped them win ten La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey’s and the Champions League four times. He also has six Ballon d’Or’s to his name, more than any other player. It seemed like Messi would be a one-club man for his whole career, but in summer 2021 the world was shocked when he moved to PSG.
Certainly, fans outside of Spain will be paying less attention as these two megastars have left La Liga, which will have a huge impact on TV broadcasting deals, and the amount La Liga can bring in. If no one wants to watch, then they will struggle to make money.
However, on the flip side, it could potentially make La Liga much more of an even league. Already, we saw last season another team, Atlético Madrid, win the La Liga title, which only Barcelona or Real Madrid fans will be annoyed at. If everything is fairer, then it becomes more competitive instead of a two-horse race each time. Could this then tempt fans to watch? Quite possibly.
Whichever way you look at it though, without Messi and Ronaldo brightening up La Liga each week, it certainly will have lost a bit of the magic that made it entertaining for so many years.