Spaniards come home for football - six nights a week

A deal to be clinched this week allowing Spanish television to show football matches six nights a week - one more than last season - has thrown the owners of bars and restaurant into a panic. They see football mania as the road to ruin.

When the season opens next Sunday, millions of Spaniards will stay at home, glued to their sets every night of the week except Friday, leaving city-centres, bars and cinemas, that would otherwise be vibrant, deserted.

The television channels are delighted at the huge business brought in by soaring viewing figures, calculated at 28 per cent of gross domestic product. So are the football clubs, whose entire budgets are covered by the sums paid by television companies for broadcasting rights.

The deal is a carve-up between the private channel Antenna Tres and the two state channels, who will show nine matches a week from the Spanish league and Europe, ensuring that schedules do not clash.

But the mighty National Association of Restaurants, Cafes and Bars fears its livelihood will suffer a "mortal blow" and threatens reprisals. The association's leader, Ignacio Cabello, warned that the deal will cost its members pounds 850m a year in lost trade and could cut jobs in the sector by 30 per cent.

His 800,000 members plan counter-measures, ranging from a boycott of products advertised during televised matches to all-out strikes. The addition of Monday, hitherto a football-free evening, will alone result in pounds 300m being stripped from restaurants' takings, he said.

Mr Cabello even issued an appeal that could rend the fabric of that most precious Spanish institution, the family, by urging women to abandon their husbands on Saturday nights and venture out alone.

Following protests last year, the television companies agreed - grudgingly - to bring the Saturday broadcast forward to 8.30pm, enabling fans to go out after the match. But it made little difference to the slump in trade on what ought to be the week's busiest night.

As it is, non-football fans in Madrid appreciate the opportunity to cruise the tapas bars in comfort, enjoy uncrowded cinemas, and drive unhindered up the Gran Via - until 11.30, when the match is over and the bars are packed once more.

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