Spain’s La Liga plans to play regular season matches in United States

By Daily Sports on August 17, 2018

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The ambitious group that stages high-profile soccer friendlies every summer in the United States is now planning to arrange meaningful matches here.

Relevent , the sports and entertainment company that operates the International Champions Cup , has struck a 15-year promotional deal with Spain’s La Liga that includes plans to play at least one league match at a U.S. venue every season.

Charlie Stillitano, Relevent’s executive chairman, told The Insider that the sides have begun discussing a single game this season, sometime after Jan. 1, perhaps in Miami and almost certainly involving one of the league’s famous clubs.

“Our goal, our job, our responsibility is to try to build La Liga,” Stillitano said. “We told them, [Relevent] sees the power of regular season games.”

To properly market the match, he added, one of the participating teams would have to be Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Valencia (but preferably one of the first three). “And the league knows that,” Stillitano said.

Miami is the front-runner, but Stillitano has not ruled out other options. Relevent owner Stephen Ross also owns the Miami Dolphins and the NFL team’s venue, Hard Rock Stadium.

In this year’s ICC, the venue hosted Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City, and Manchester United vs. Real Madrid. Last year, Hard Rock Stadium welcomed the ultimate club showdown: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.

In future seasons, multiple La Liga matches might end up in the United States.

“Joining with Relevent . . . is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” La Liga international development director Oscar Mayo said in a statement.

The plan to play in the United States still must go through an approval process, but Relevent and La Liga are confident there won’t be any major holdups. The Spanish players’ union has come out against the proposal, saying, “As per usual, La Liga has dispensed with the opinions of the players and has undertaken actions that only benefit them.”

Playing one game abroad would mean one team has to sacrifice a home date, a touchy subject in traditional soccer circles, where the balanced schedule (home and away against every team) is holy. La Liga teams play 38 league matches apiece, plus Copa del Rey games and, for some clubs, UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

“It’s a 15-year deal, but we want to start building the brand now, and the best way for the American people to realize that La Liga is probably the best football league in the world in terms of quality soccer is with a regular season match,” Stillitano said. “We want to get that out there.”

No matter where the games take place, it’s a positive development for U.S. soccer fans, who have been paying high prices to attend what are, in essence, preseason games for the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

An official match between European teams on foreign soil would follow in the footsteps of North American pro sports leagues scheduling regular season games abroad to expand commercial appeal and visibility.

Since 2005, the NFL has played 30 official games in England and Mexico. It will conduct four more this fall, including the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 28 at London’s soccer cathedral, Wembley Stadium.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres played a three-game series in Monterrey, Mexico, this season, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, baseball’s fiercest rivals, will meet in London next year. The NBA and NHL also have taken competitive games abroad.

European soccer teams have been visiting the United States regularly for years, with Relevant growing the ICC into a large-scale operation. All the teams that participated in the ICC are well-known. The tournament was played in 23 venues, including 15 in the United States. They included Real Madrid vs. Juventus at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and a Manchester United-Liverpool game that drew 101,254 to Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

The teams, however, treat these matches as glorified training sessions, making mass substitutions, testing young players and sometimes leaving marquee figures at home. This year, with the ICC falling a few weeks after the World Cup, several superstars, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, did not participate.

The long-term deal between La Liga and Relevent will result in the formation of a business called La Liga North America, which will promote Spanish soccer in the United States and represent the league’s business interests in the U.S. and Canada. It also will aim to establish youth academies, marketing agreements and annual friendlies.

“Meaningful matches are important because, for the past few years, the ICC has outpunched its weight with games that don’t mean anything, this year especially,” said Steve Gera, chief executive of Gains Group , a sports business and technology company. “The ability to play games here that mean something, and also have your best talent, takes it to an entirely different level. … La Liga is trying to be one of the more aggressive leagues in the world. This is definitely a stake in the ground that they are here to play and are going to try to grow aggressively.”

La Liga’s U.S. broadcast rights are held by beIN Sports, a Qatar-based network that is paying the league $120 million per year. But beIN has faced difficulty securing spots in U.S. cable-provider lineups: As of February, it was available to only 22.1 million cable households, and this month — on the eve of the La Liga season — beIN was removed from the channels offered by Comcast Xfinity and Verizon Fios cable systems in a dispute over subscriber fees.

By comparison, NBC is paying the English Premier League $1 billion over six years for U.S. broadcast rights. NBC Sports Network, the cable channel that airs the majority of the English matches, was available in 83.9 million homes as of February, and NBC offers a pay-per-view streaming service that allows fans to watch every Premier League match. (Washington Post)

Photo shows Sergio Ramos (R) of Real Madrid in a duel with Diego Costa (Athletico Madrid) in a Spanish El Classico clash.

Source Daily Sports

Posted August 17, 2018

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