Gerard Pique wasted no time.
The former center back, undoubtedly a Barcelona and Spanish national team legend who won it all in his 18-year professional career, might end up being more remembered for his business antics in a few decades' time.
We say this not to downplay his immense successes, being a World Cup, Euro and Champions League (x3) winner. We say this to add to the massive hype behind his latest venture, one that he jumped straight into following his sudden, but unsurprising retirement just a couple weeks before the World Cup in Qatar.
The now 36-year-old Spaniard suited up for his beloved Barcelona for the final time on November 5, 2022, after announcing his retirement just two days prior. He was substituted off to a standing ovation by the Camp Nou faithful in the 84th minute of a 2-0 win against Almeria, which marked the end of an era.
Little did the football world know that it was actually to be the beginning of a brand new chapter that had been in the works for months already.
5 days later, the Kings League was officially unveiled, an innovative 7v7 league with aims to provide more entertaining content in a condensed format with modified rules and elements. Consider it a breakaway from traditional 11v11 professional football, a concept that isn’t actually meant to compete with the top world leagues at all.
Keep reading as we explain how the league works, as it can be quite confusing.
The Kings League currently has 12 participating teams. Each team has its own president, which is typically a popular streamer or a football personality. Each person was hand selected by Pique to build their own unique teams from the ground up, selecting a name, logo, and even hiring management and technical staff.
You probably already saw Kun Aguero’s participation in the league with his team, Kunisports. Iker Casillas also has his own team, known as 1K FC. Cameo appearances by Ronaldinho, Pirlo and Chicharito also went viral.
Now let's get down to the specifics.
Matches are 40 minutes long and consist of two 20 minute halves. There are no draws, so teams must either win in regular time or the match will go to a penalty shootout; no extra time.
These penalties are different, though. Similar to ice hockey, you have to start from the half-way line, dribble up to the keeper and find the back of the net.
This sounds crazy, but the next part is where the fun comes in.
Prior to each match, teams pick one of five 'secret weapons’ (golden cards) that can give them helpful advantages. There are bonuses like an instant penalty, removing a player from the opposing team, double points for scoring, stealing an opposing team’s card, or a special joker card that lets you select a specific bonus.
Oh, and kickoff is completely different, too. Instead of starting from half field by playing the ball backwards into their own half, both teams start on their goal line and must sprint to the center of the pitch to gain possession of the ball.
If you’ve ever played dodgeball, water polo, or even the video game Rocket League, then you’ll be familiar with this crazy concept.
VAR exists, but teams have only one opportunity to use it per match, and it isn’t guaranteed to work in their favor. Unlimited substitutions are allowed.
Finally, yellow and red cards exist, but they don’t work the same way they do in traditional football. A yellow card means a 2 minute timeout in a ‘sin bin’ before reentering the pitch. A red means 5 minutes. It may not seem like a lot, but because matches are only 40 minutes, a 5 minute temporary ban from the game could end up being decisive.
You might also be wondering how and why legendary players like Pirlo and Ronaldinho showed up to play a match. There are actually specific rules when it comes to each team’s roster.
Each team consists of 12 players. This is made up of 7 starters, 3 substitutes and 2 wildcard - or guest - players. This is where players like Pirlo, Chicharito and Ronaldinho come in. Occasionally throughout a season, one team gets to sign a legendary player only for one single matchday, in the hopes that it’ll increase their chances of securing 3 points. With only 11 games in a season, every point is crucial, so signing a legend for one matchday is a must.
The league season is as follows. There is a Winter season and a Summer season, known as the Winter Split and Summer Split. Each season, the 12 teams battle it out for 11 journeys (the Kings League term for matchdays). Each team plays each other once, and the top 10 teams qualify to the playoff round.
All regular season matches take place in the same venue in the port of Barcelona, known as the Cupra Arena. The first two rounds of the playoffs also take place here, and then the Finals (which consist of the semifinals and grand final) are actually hosted elsewhere, typically in a much larger venue where fans can actually come and watch.
For the inaugural Winter season, the Finals were hosted in Spotify Camp Nou, and saw a near sold out presence of 92,000 fans that witnessed El Barrio lift their first trophy.
Meanwhile, the Finals for the inaugural Summer split were held in the Metropolitano, as xBuyer Team secured their first title.
Since the completion of the first season, the Kings League has now expanded to include a Queens League, which operates the same way. A cup tournament has also recently been introduced, known as the Kings Cup, which is currently in progress at the time of this newsletter.
Plans to expand to cater to different languages are also in the works.
All matches are streamed completely for free on the official Kings League account on Twitch, Youtube and TikTok. Each individual streamer that owns a team also broadcast their matches, providing their own commentary and reactions as well.
To put it plainly, the Kings League was an instant hit.
It may seem like it has a lot to do with the fact that the league has attracted the likes of legendary former players like Aguero, Ronaldinho, Pirlo and Casillas, but it goes way deeper than that.
A lot of the league’s success should be credited to the timing of it. In a growing digital age where nearly anything and everything that we need can be accessible via the internet, it’s no wonder the Kings League blew up as it did. Matches are exclusively shown on Twitch, Youtube and TikTok for free, accessible no matter where you live, which means the primary audience of the Kings League consists of children and young adults.
And that was the intention behind it.
The idea for the league was born when Pique discussed the problems of traditional football with business partner Oriol Querol. Their main concern was the fact that the younger generation of football fans just don’t have the attention span to sit down and watch 90 minute matches on TV anymore. They need more action in a quicker, condensed format.
Rather than force them to change their consumption habits, Pique believes that we should adapt to their needs, providing the audience precisely what they want and like.
So they thought of it like a video game, and created something that completely reinvented the sport.
Perhaps the success also stems from Pique making it clear that he isn’t out to take over the football world and overshadow traditional football. In fact, he considers the Kings League to be an entirely different product that is meant to coexist with the professional leagues. After all, it is officially classified as an amateur league.
Thanks to this clear intention and ownership model that puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of the streamers and their massive fan bases, the Kings League saw a successful first season.
To put it in numbers, the Kings League drew 800,000 viewers on Twitch and Youtube for its inaugural match. In January 2023, the league managed 238 million views on TikTok and Twitch, more than every European football league combined.
Their social media pages across the five biggest platforms have also amassed huge followings:
The Kings League has flipped the script entirely when it comes to revenue, too.
While most sports leagues and teams around the world rely on broadcast rights for a large chunk of revenue, the Kings League makes only a tiny percentage from that since it is all streamed for free on the previously mentioned platforms.
They make up for these losses through lucrative sponsorship deals, namely with Adidas, Gatorade, Spotify and Cupra.
While exact revenue details aren’t public information at the moment, Pique has come out to say that the Kings League was profitable in its first year.
It’s clear that Pique and his partners are aware of what it means to cater to an entirely digital streaming audience. They’ve taken advantage of the reality of the times, where platforms like Twitch and TikTok continue to grow without any sign of slowing down.
That being said, we think that the Kings League will be sticking around for a while. Thanks to the model that it uses, it can coexist with traditional football with no issue. It’s a completely different spectacle, albeit an attractive one. It was built as a sort of video game, so for the time being, it should be treated as one.
Pique and Co. already have plenty of plans for expansion, so we’re excited to see what the Kings League ends up becoming in the next 2-3 years. The reality is that a creative idea like this has plenty of room for consistent improvement and upgrades, and if we’ve learned anything from the first year of Kings League, it’s that the world of streaming is wildly impactful.