Earlier this month, LFP President Javier Tebas announced that an agreement had been reached with US media firm ‘Relevent’ to stage competitive La Liga matches in the USA. The primary aim is to compete with the Premier League stateside, which currently has a $1bn TV deal with NBC and largely dominates the market. Very little detail has been released and we still don’t know when the first game in the states will be played however, the announcement has prompted huge debate in Spain and beyond.

The move is seen as an effort to steal back some of the overseas market which has been dominated by the Premier League for years. The US is probably a good place to start and makes perfect sense, given the large Hispanic population. Spanish football has already dabbled with staging games abroad, with this season’s Super Cup between Barcelona and Sevilla being held in Tangier, Morocco. Last year also saw a friendly version of El Clasico in Miami which was a huge success.

Charlie Stillitano of Relevent Sports described the deal as “a first-of-a-kind, 15-year, equal joint venture to promote soccer in the U.S. and Canada.” Stillitano is probably the most influential name in football that you’ve never heard of. He is the man responsible for the International Champions Cup, a friendly tournament based in the US which features teams from La Liga, the Premier League and Serie A. Stillitano has been using his influence to draw teams from Europe to play the US since 2002. Partly down to the World Cup, many of the teams featured weakened sides in this year’s ICC. This took its toll on attendances, with giant stadiums left half empty for some matches. The hope is that staging competitive matches will mean full strength teams and fans flocking to get a glimpse of stars like Messi et al.

charlie stillitano

While the commercial benefits of the proposal may help to grow La Liga internationally, the players themselves are far from in favour of the idea. The captains of each of the 20 La Liga clubs, including Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, met at the headquarters of the AFE (their equivalent of the PFA) to draft a statement which declared their opposition to playing competitive games in the US. The agreement between La Liga and US media firm Relevent was reached without consulting either the AFE or the Spanish Football Federation. The AFE’s president, former La Liga striker David Aganzo has refused to rule out a players strike over the issue. Aganzo decribed the decision not to consult with players before striking the deal as “a lack of respect”.

It has not been confirmed when or where the first game will take place or who will take part however, reports claim that the first La Liga game to be played in the states could come as early as this season. It is also highly likely that this will feature either Barcelona or Real Madrid in order to provide as big a pull as possible however; Tebas has previously stated that a competitive El Clasico will never take place outside of Spain. Sources believe that the game will be one of the big boys against a smaller club from La Liga, who will be forced to sacrifice one of their home games. Whoever the club is will surely be compensated for their loss of gate receipts, but critics ask why a team should be forced to play a home game thousands of miles away in a stadium full of people cheering for the opposition? It has also been stated that fans of the smaller La Liga teams look forward all year to their chance to take on the big boys of Barcelona and Madrid in their own back yard. So for that to be taken away from them may prompt yet more disdain for this new venture.

real madrid usa

La Liga may have looked at American Football as inspiration for this idea. The NFL has been staging competitive matches at Wembley for over 10 years now. This has proved to be incredibly successful in boosting the profile of the sport over here, with talk of a team even relocating to London becoming a reality. Click here to read about how Fulham owner Shahid Khan plans to turn Wembley Stadium into the home of NFL this side of the Atlantic.

Fans of the game back home will remember Richard Scudamore’s highly criticised and ill-fated “39th game” proposal back in 2008. If La Liga’s vision comes true, Premier League fans may have to brace themselves for a similar venture. It’s thought that there are no such plans afoot at the moment but there’s no doubt that PL officials will be watching the progress of La Liga in the US with great interest.

The expert view…

For an expert view on the topic, we spoke to Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Finance Specialist Dr Rob Wilson about what he expects La Liga will gain from the groundbreaking move:

‘La Liga will benefit from increased exposure in a key territory. It doesn’t directly compete with the MLS so I think it’ll be complimentary and enhance the profile of Spanish football. I think it will actually help MLS as it raises the profile of football (soccer) in general and the fact that it is a competitive match will help draw crowds.’

So should the Premier League be concerned?

‘In many ways, yes. It demonstrates that La Liga are prepared to take bold steps to gain a first mover advantage. That said, I doubt the MLS would have allowed the EPL to do it as it would take fans away from the MLS given the EPLs popularity already. The EPL will certainly be watching with interest.’

Where does Rob see the future of football lying? European Super League perhaps?

‘If it keeps going how it is, with a relative competitive imbalance and a growing gap between the big 6 and the rest I think a Super League will become inevitable, or an EPL 2. We might see the top 10 playing away from the rest with an EPL 2 expanding to draw in some of the bigger Championship teams.’

Have your say…

Is this a good move for La Liga? And what is the future of the game worldwide? Will we see FA Cup finals played in far-flung locations? Will the “European Super League” idea finally come to fruition? Don’t be shy, let us know your thoughts via our social media channels!

To gain some expert insight on the financial side of the beautiful game, make sure to follow Dr Rob Wilson on twitter @DrRob_Wilson

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