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La Liga Will Play a Regular Season Game in North America

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The 15-year deal has the potential to cause other leagues to pull similar moves.

Manchester United v Real Madrid - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

La Liga has announced a 15-year marketing deal (ESPN) with sports media company Relevant which includes an agreement to play one regular season game each year in either the United States or Canada.

During the announcement, Relevant chairman and owner Stephen Ross talked about the potential for growing support in America. Ross stated,

This extraordinary joint venture is the next giant leap in growing soccer’s popularity in North America. This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world.

The move is sure to shake up the foundations of European football for years to come. A fixture, date, and location has yet to be determined for the first game, but Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium is one of the front runners, thanks to Ross’s part ownership in the stadium and full ownership in its main tenant, the Miami Dolphins.

In addition, Relevant and La Liga North America will have the power to sell the media rights to the league once La Liga’s contract with beIN sports expires in 2020. Relevant CEO Danny Sillman said this is one of the most important parts of the deal:

The [North America] media rights now sell for about $120 million to beIN, and if you look at the upticks of the other leagues — the EPL doubled, the Champions League doubled — even if we grew 15 to 20 percent a year, you’re talking [a total of] $2 billion just in media value.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said he and the league are dedicated to growing football around the world.

This ground-breaking agreement is certain to give a major impulse to the popularity of the beautiful game in the U.S. and Canada. Relevent has filled stadiums across the U.S. with the International Champions Cup, [and] we’re thrilled to partner with them on a joint mission to grow soccer in North America.

However, Tebas is getting strong opposition to this from none other than the Spanish Footballers Association. They released a statement following the announcement:

In reference to the agreement made between LaLiga and the company Relevent, which includes that an official league match will be played in the United States, the AFE strongly objects.
As per usual, LaLiga has dispensed with the opinions of the players and has undertaken actions that only benefit them, regardless of the health or risks to the players, and even less the feelings of the following masses of the clubs who are being “forced” to compete in North America once a season.
Faced with such manifest arbitrariness, David Aganzo, president of the Spanish Footballers Association (AFE), has made his complaint public and points out that ”footballers are not currency that can be used in business to only benefit third parties.
United we are stronger.”

This is not the first time a major international sports league has played a regular season game overseas. The NFL has been playing games in London and Mexico City since 2007. The NBA played their first international regular season game in Tokyo in 1990. Major League Baseball opened their 2014 season with a game between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia.


What this could mean for the future of football — and the future of the Bundesliga

With a game that has the ability to tie together a community like football, one may be justified in arguing that the venture feels like a cash grab. Imagine if El Clasico (not the ICC one, but the REAL El Clasico) was played at the Rose Bowl. Or if the Madrid derby was played at MetLife Stadium in February. The cities of Barcelona and Madrid would be outraged and could lose millions of dollars from fans coming to see those fixtures.

And so, this could be the beginning of football’s move away from its roots.

The United States is slowly becoming a major soccer market, with the rise of MLS and the growth of the USMNT (despite their recent failings), and La Liga has become the first to make the move to bring games stateside. One can’t help but feel that other leagues would soon follow.

Only two other European leagues have any real pull in the U.S. The first is the Premier League, probably the most popular foreign sports league in America. I can easily see them signing a deal like this; and given their lengthy schedule and their multitude of well-known teams, they could make it work.

The other is the Bundesliga. Bayern Munich is shown regularly in the Champions League, the best young American, Christian Pulisic, plays for Borussia Dortmund and the second best young American, Weston McKennie, plays for Schalke.

But imagine what a deal like this would mean for the Bundesliga. While it may grow their love in the United States, it is hard to envision smaller teams without big marketing budgets or a second office on Madison Avenue inroads into the USA. It’s hard to believe that teams like Nurnberg or Hanover 96 could keep up with the Bayerns and Dortmunds when competing in the American market.

Then there are the fans. The Bundesliga once again had the highest attendance out of all of Europe’s major leagues. It seems impossible that the fans, with their current power under the 50+1 rule, would allow ownership to pull a similar move. The outcry would be deafening if, for intstance, Schalke vs. Dortmund was played on a cold Sunday night in Foxborough. Both sets of fans and the media would be outraged that one of the best German football fixtures was sent away.

Then again, there is money to be made in America. And the smaller teams like Hanover, Nurnberg, and Mainz could get bigger with more exposure.

So, what do you think? Vote in the polls below and leave a comment to tell us what you think about this monumental decision.

Poll

Is La Liga’s Decision to play regular season games in North America a good idea?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Yes, teams can make money and America is a big market
    (95 votes)
  • 58%
    No, this betrays everything about football being local
    (132 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should the Bundesliga play regular season games in America?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Yes, smaller teams can get support overseas
    (75 votes)
  • 62%
    No, the fans will never go for this.
    (126 votes)
201 votes total Vote Now