La Liga Reaches Deal to Host Regular Season Matches in North America
On Thursday, the Spanish football top flight, La Liga, reached an agreement with United States-based organizing company Relevent on a 15-year deal that will see La Liga games being played in North America for the first time.
No dates, fixtures or times have yet been revealed, but this will mark the first time in the history of the Spanish top flight that league games will take place outside of Europe. This means that some teams will have to forfeit home games on the schedule in order to accommodate the new deal. Relevent also organizes the International Champions Cup, which pits the top teams from around the globe against one another in a preseason tournament. Massive sides like Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus have participated in the International Champions Cup in the past.
Relevent chairman Steven Ross issued a statement saying, “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.”
Ross is the owner of the Miami Dolphins and part owner of the team’s stadium, Hard Rock Stadium. It’s safe to expect some games to take place at Hard Rock Stadium in the coming years.
Relevent CEO Danny Sillman said, “It’s not hard to figure out where we would want it to be based on our ownership with Steven Ross. That part isn’t too difficult to figure out. The match will be held much sooner than the public is expecting.”
According to Relevent executive chairman Charlie Stillitano (via the Washington Post), there is a chance for a match to be held in the United States in the latter stages of the 2018-19 season, which is set to get underway this month. The deal stipulates that the first match will have to feature one of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia or Sevilla, with the preference understandably being one of the first 3 clubs. It’s hard to imagine any of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid willfully giving up regular season home fixtures, though it’s certainly possible.
Real Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s 2 most successful clubs by a huge margin, faced each other for the first time on foreign soil in the summer of 2017 at the aforementioned Hard Rock Stadium. Real Madrid then returned to Miami last month in order to take on Manchester United during the International Champions Cup.
The venture, called LaLiga North America, will represent the Spanish league in the United States and Canada in any business and developmental activities. It will also oversee the establishment of new youth academies in North America.
Boris Gartner, who used to serve as the head of strategy at Televisa, will head LaLiga North America. Gartner also has broadcast experience with Univision.
Javier Tebas, the La Liga president, said, “We’re devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world. This groundbreaking 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.”
LaLiga North America will also get to decide how broadcast rights are distributed for the event. The league’s current deal with beIN Sports is set to expire after the 2019-20 campaign. The media rights are expected to be the biggest revenue-driver of the new venture. According to Sillman, La Liga is the second-biggest soccer league on the planet in terms of media rights, trailing only the English Premier League.
Sillman added, “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 in just media value.”
According to Sillman, Tebas has been working on the league’s next media deal for the last year or so. He said, “Obviously, they want to maximize their distribution, so we’ll be moving very quickly with Tebas, getting in the marketplace, and understanding what the broadcast and streaming partners are looking for. La Liga works with Facebook in India and a bunch of digital players as well. We’ll start to figure out the best way to carve up the rights from the digital and live broadcast in Spanish, English and French for the U.S. and Canada and start to move fairly fast on putting a strategy together.”
The two sides have reportedly been working on this deal for the last 18 months. Relevent was selected as the partner by La Liga this past February because it already had established a working relationship with Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The smaller parts of the deal came together over the last few days.
North American sports leagues have been taking their games across the pond for years now. Major League Baseball has played games in Puerto Rico and Japan, for example. The National Football League has been holding regular season games in London on an annual basis since 2007.
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