La Liga and Relevent, organizer of the International Champions Cup, reached an agreement to bring league games to North America. Dubbed “LaLiga North America,” the joint venture is an attempt to increase the popularity of the Spanish soccer league.
Relevent, a media, sport, and entertainment company reached a 15-year agreement with La Liga with a stipulation that at least one official match will be played in the United States. Should that happen, it would mark the first time an official game takes place outside of Europe.
Spain’s La Liga would serve as a conduit to make the league more appealing and relevant in North America. Along with potentially bringing an official match to the United States, the two sides also came up with other plans. They include activities such as youth academies, formation of grassroot coaches, marketing agreements, brand deals, and friendly matches.
With regards as to which teams would play a hypothetical game in the U.S., El Pais report that one of those two teams will be either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
Stephen Ross, president and owner of Relevent, said, “This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of American football fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level football in the world.”
Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, added, “We are committed to fostering a passion for football throughout the world. This revolutionary agreement will undoubtedly give a fundamental boost to the popularity of this beautiful sport in the United States and Canada.”
While this sounds well and good, it is not without its faults.
First and foremost, this could have detrimental effects to the fans of the teams chosen to play in the United States. With fans already being jerked around with a lack of kick-off times, late kick-off times, and rescheduling, this simply adds another layer to fan mistreatment.
In response to club push-back, Tebas said, “It would never be organized against the interest of the participants. We would see which teams can agree and what compensation and communication strategies would take place.”
Tebas used the National Football League (NFL) bringing their game to London and Major League Baseball (MLB) playing games in Mexico as a comparison for the league.
As a concept, there is something there. However, even before anything has gotten in motion, there are already problems.
To begin with, what are the odds that both UEFA and CONCACAF come to an agreement and allow a game to take place. UEFA seem to be very protective of their brand and CONCACAF want to make sure their leagues and teams take precedent. It is one of the reasons why Mexico is not allowed to play in the Copa America. The last time Mexico took part, they had to send in a “B-team.”
Trying to tap into a market where the sport is growing is smart. But there are other things the league could be doing to appeal to the North American market.
The English Premier League is the league of choice for a reason. The most obvious is that there is no language barrier. In the U.S., one can watch games on NBC and since the media conglomerate own a variety of channels, one has the options to see the majority of the games. One could argue about the Spanish-speaking market. The EPL have that covered as well with Telemundo.
The broadcast rights is another area where the EPL have La Liga beat.
For all the talk of La Liga being a superior league in terms of quality, it can be a struggle to find a game. Bein Sport currently have the rights to air Spanish soccer games in both English and Spanish. Still relatively a new network, there is still a lack of access to the channel. With only two channels on a given package, fans can’t watch as many games as they’d like. Bein have an online stream on their site but more often than not, it’s a toss-up on whether the stream actually loads or not.
That one of the teams has to be Real Madrid or Barcelona makes sense. Alongside Atletico Madrid, they are the most recognizable teams. With all due respect, few will attend a match between, let’s say, Espanyol and Celta Vigo. La Liga have good teams apart from the “Big Three” but unless they’re playing against them, the rest of the teams get little exposure.
Another factor is going to be the price of tickets for a potential match. If the organizers of the ICC charge high prices for glorified friendlies, albeit with well-known teams, how much will they charge for a league match featuring Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Atletico Madrid?
Again, the league is smart to try to increase its presence in the U.S. However, there are better, simpler, ways to do it than what they’ve proposed.