By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Spain's top division has intentionally changed some kickoff times to suit audiences in Asia in a bid to increase its market share in the continent, La Liga president Javier Tebas said on Thursday at the opening of a new office in Singapore.
The most important games in Spanish soccer have traditionally taken place at night, which is prime time for Spanish television although the league has in recent years scheduled fixtures to attract a global audience.
The league opened up a new fixture slot at 1300 CET on Saturdays at the start of this season, jettisoning matches at 2200.
The 'Clasico' between Spain's biggest clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona in December kicked off at 1615 CET, 2315 in Singapore while the Madrid derby between Real and Atletico Madrid on April 8 will take place at the same time.
Many games involving the biggest clubs are still played at night, however, with the return fixture between Real and Barca on April 23 kicking off at 2045 CET, 0345 in Singapore.
Tebas indicated more games could be kicking off earlier in future seasons as the number of Spanish soccer fans in Asia increases.
"We have changed kickoff schedules so that they can be seen at reasonable times here in Asia and we will continue to take steps to ensure that this part of the world can enjoy La Liga as much as possible," Tebas said.
"For us, Singapore will be the gateway to East Asia and a platform from which to reach a far greater number of fans."
The Singapore office is La Liga's fourth to open in Asia, adding to branches in Dubai, China and India.
Three La Liga clubs have Asian owners: Valencia, who were taken over by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, Granada, whose owner is Chinese billionaire Jiang Lizhang and Espanyol, who are owned by Chinese businessman Chen Yansheng.
China's richest man Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda group, has a 20 percent stake in Atletico Madrid. His company will sponsor the club's new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, which is set to open at the start of next season.
A La Liga statement said its objective was to increase its presence and popularity in the region, in particular in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Former Real Madrid forward Fernando Morientes and ex-Real Madrid and Malaga defender Fernando Sanz attended the launch as ambassadors along with Valencia's Singaporean president Chan Lay Hoon.
"We want to get as close to our fans as possible, not only in Spain but across the world," Morientes said.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)