La Liga


What: The choices for brands looking to engage in soccer in North America are vastly different than five years ago.
Why it matters: Soccer in North America is a business not just worth watching but engaging in as an emerging market, with the region seen as an emerging market in the sport.

There is no doubt that over almost a quarter century, Major League Soccer (@MLShas built a North American brand that has elite status, proactive marketing, a young, engaged fan base and a diverse and growing ownership group that has put professional soccer not just on the map, but into the fabric of professional sports fandom.

Over that time the interest from the professional level to the grassroots in playing and engaging in soccer has risen on a path in North America that is even beyond the growth level of MLS as a property, something which many diehards had hoped for but sometimes not thought possible in the years prior to MLS launch and subsequent expansion as a property.

However with the meteoric growth of the MLS brand, and its clubs, athletes, coaches and partners, has come the realization by many of the elite clubs of the world that soccer in North America is a business not just worth watching but engaging in as an emerging market. North America as an emerging market in anything may literally seem foreign to many, but in the case of some global sports; not just soccer but sports like rugby and even in some isolated areas cricket, the market for monetization, and even expansion is more fertile than anywhere else on the planet that’s not China, and even China, in terms of commercial interests in sports business, in many ways cannot trump what North America can for now.

…[I]f you want to sell product and grow consistently in key markets in soccer, you look to MLS as your partner here. It all comes down to where you want to spend and how.
Aly Keita

In the eye of that growth area is also the sexy baubles of demos that brands, and teams, want: rising numbers of Latino fans, more engagement with women, and even a growth to be the choice of millennials who now have more discretionary income, and soccer, as MLS can attest to with the largest growth numbers in each of those categories for sports leagues, can talk to all of those more than most other professional sports in North America.

So if you are a brand, one with solid budgets, a look to engage wide audiences in all forms of media as well as at the grassroots activation level, and you want to make a big impact with a push towards a measurable ROI, and you also want to make sure you take care of your North American interests, you may pick soccer as your “all in sport,” right? The trends are going that way. But would you pick MLS? Maybe yes, maybe no, it depends on your scope.

The reason why you could look to soccer, or football, is that the marketplace today in North America has changed drastically in the past five years as the elite clubs, and leagues, of the world have put down roots and are looking to import their brand and experience and expertise into North America more than ever before.

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How and why? The why is pretty simple. A marketplace that is more savvy and more engaged in all things soccer than ever before. How? First start with media. NBC’s pioneering coverage of the Premier League (@premierleague), finding a live home for the EPL that became acceptable to fans on Sunday mornings, combined with ancillary programming both online and on broadcast, created the perfect test case to show that live soccer had an audience. That opened the door for other elite leagues to expand broadcast offerings with everyone from Fox to Turner to beIN to ESPN to Univision and Telemundo, and the ability to watch your favorite clubs, the most elite soccer stars of the world in real time without having to search out a pub or a small supporters group, made the best soccer in the world easy to find.

Then you lop on the move to digital and streaming not just by broadcast outlets but by other platforms (Bleacher Report Live, ESPN +, Eleven Sports), and suddenly you could almost find any club available on any device. This helped growth of soccer among a mobile friendly audience, especially down to the grassroots level, and also renewed easier alliance with the new immigrant, who craved soccer and the loyalty to his or her home club, and could now watch that club easily in their adopted home.

The explosion and availability of merchandise for global clubs also fueled the brand fire, with families getting access to club kits from around the world, and those kits became part of school apparel for boys and girls laying the game in cities big and small. You also lay on top of all of that access the influx of ownership dollars into elite global clubs by deep pocketed American owners, and the connection between clubs once far away and the suburban living room was easier once again.

Next step, as mentioned earlier, is the elite clubs and leagues of the world tracking fan loyalty in the digital space and seeing the opportunity for sales and brand growth in a country where they were not playing games, but where fans were watching and engaging. Into that mix came a number of clubs; most notable was FC Bayern Munich (@FCBayernUS), who enacted a very savvy supporters group campaign run through social media, whereby local fans could build their own sanctioned clubs.

The plan, which was well in advance of the clubs US tour, gave Bayern a leg up on local loyalty and set the way for what is arguably the most effective local supporter network for a non US team of any kind in North America, with followers of various sizes in every state in the U.S. and most Canadian provinces. That helped show the opportunistic door for what clubs, and leagues could do in North America, and really set the stage for anywhere from 10 to 12 non US soccer clubs setting down stakes in North America in the past few years, including the teams that have US owners.

With all that as the backdrop, the opportunities and choices for brands now looking to engage has changed a great deal, and presents some really unique challenges or opportunities. There was time not too long ago, when Coke (@CocaCola), a longtime World Cup sponsor, and Ford (@Fordand Chevrolet (@chevrolet), two dyed in the wool American brands, took on new sponsorship deals in the Premier League. Those were seen as game changing for their non U.S. scope. Today, the ability to engage with soccer fans around the world has made elite clubs even more attractive to US brands for activation, in part because of the deeper roots that the biggest clubs of the world, from Barcelona to Chelsea to Roma to Bayern, have planted on North American soil, and their ability to deliver ROI in the States, through media partnerships, through social, and culminating when the clubs play matches in the States on summer tours, that was not as realistic even five years ago.

That does not mean that the option of MLS, or even the U.S. Women’s National team this summer for World Cup, is less strong for brands, especially those hyper focused on local markets and on the North American footprint primarily, it just presents more options and choices today.

What Are the Differences and the Advantages?

“With La Liga (@LaLigaEN) having a bigger presence in the U.S. now, our offering is much more than it could have been a few years ago,” said Rebeca Díaz González (@rebsdg), who leads international business development for La Liga in the U.S. “We have what we think is really a compelling offering to bring to U.S. businesses in soccer: premium association of two of the big sports brands in the world in Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (as well as the other clubs of La Liga), an association with the best players and some of the most recognizable faces in sport, an eight month long advertising property that runs from August to March (keeping in mind the MLS season is virtually opposite of that), customization in content creation for U.S. partners (content, academies, media assets, activations and grassroots properties), and the cultivation of a young and diverse soccer fan base in the U.S. that appreciates the high level of play of La Liga. All of that makes us really well positioned to take advantages of opportunities here and into the future, and that’s very exciting for us.”

From a club level, FC Bayern Munich saw early on the advantage they had with companies like Audi (@Audi), Adidas (@adidas), T-Mobile (@TMobileand Allianz (@Allianz), as well as a partner in Qatar Airways (@qatarairwaysthat had its own agenda for U.S, growth. They leveraged those brand partnerships that had U.S. ties and marketing budgets (some of which, like Audi and Adidas, were already spending in the U.S. with MLS) to create programs that catapulted the visibility of FCB, not just to fans, but to casual consumers who were enjoying soccer but were not yet aware of the Bayern story.

“When FC Bayern came to the U.S. our aim was to grow the fan base in the Americas, form mutually beneficial partnerships and help to grow the sport of soccer on and off the field,” added Rudolf Vidal, President Americas, FC Bayern München. “After five very successful years, FC Bayern can now talk extensively about our reach, engagement and activation in the Americas as well as Europe and Asia highlighting the club’s global appeal. “Since 2014, the club’s following has almost tripled from 13M to 32M followers. We started with eight official fan clubs and now we have 147 fan clubs in 49 states. We have signed seven North American based partners as well as forming media partnerships with ESPN, FOX, Goal.com and Univision. Our growth in North America is extremely valuable to our internationalization strategy and is consistent with our club values…responsibility, partnership and innovation.”

Vidal’s statements and scope echo the excitement of many clubs who see the U.S. as very fertile ground for growth. However not being in market with teams (the rare crossover ownership groups include City Football Club, whose global ownership presence and brand influence ties together nicely with NYCFC (@NYCFCof MLS and Manchester City (@ManCity)) still gives MLS a distinct advantage for brands that cannot simply be equalized with big name stars and elite brands.

MLS vs. the World

Tony Ponturo

“With MLS as a brand you are buying that national presence with a very passionate local following, and that’s very important when you look at your budget and your return,” added Tony Ponturo (@ponturo), who for over 30 years built and grew the sports marketing platform of Anheuser Busch and now works on the consulting side for Turnkey Intelligence. “Manchester United, Real Madrid are global buys way beyond soccer, but if you want to sell product and grow consistently in key markets in soccer, you look to MLS as your partner here. It all comes down to where you want to spend and how.”

“We are always aware of competition from all forms of entertainment, not just soccer,” added MLS SVP of Partnership Marketing Jen Cramer. “When brands look for consistent, proactive partnership activation in soccer in the U.S., we are able to create an opportunity that reaches millions and is very customized to what their needs are. We live and breathe soccer in the North America all year round, and we know that what we offer for partners of all sizes, be they club sponsorships or as a league partner, really drive ROI. Our record speaks for itself, and we are both proud and excited about what the future holds.”

Jen Cramer

So is there a decision on where and when brands will spend, if they are steeped in American business? “Global football clubs bring with them the eyes of the world, and with that comes a big price tag,” added Chris Lencheski, a longtime sports marketer now teaching at Columbia University. “There are brands that can choose to go that route, and now you will see a bigger return in the U.S. because of the visibility of those clubs with media, social play, and as time permits, local summer tours. However as a market that is still growing, MLS continues to have the position of a cost effective, proactive property that gives you a return in very specific cities that you can tailor to. That also does not include the spends you can do around clubs in fervent markets like New York and L.A. and Atlanta and Portland and Seattle. There you can also take advantage of spends and exposure that can nicely complement all you are doing elsewhere. It’s not an easy balance, but it comes down to how and where you see your brand succeeding and there are pluses and minutes to both. It’s certainly does not have to be one or the other.”

The Pool Remains Deep and Very Wide for Brands

The good news is that for brands looking to activate in North America the choices are pretty vast, and are more unique than ever before. Do you want the allegiance of a global club with a footprint that resonates well beyond the shores? There are clubs, and even leagues, with offices here to talk to. Do you want to be hyper focused on the Americas, including Liga MX, that option exists and is growing. Do you want a hybrid? You can create that as well. It certainly is not an easy choice, but it is a buyers market, and the market is well stocked and growing it seems, each week.

A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • LaLigaLa Liga and gaming developer SportsHero, based in Singapore, signed a second exclusive partnership for the league to reinforce engagement with its Malaysian fans. SportsHero will become the regional partner in the Sports Prediction App category until the end of the 2019/20 season, having already agreed a similar deal in Indonesia.


  • Juventus mentioned the possibility of playing Serie A matches abroad in order to grow its marketing outside Europe. This follows a trend of European leagues seeking to expand their reach by taking advantage of additional markets, including America.

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  • Chicago FireThe Chicago Fire Soccer Club has named Kyle Sheldon as its new Senior Vice President of Marketing. The longtime Seattle Sounders FC and D.C. United executive will oversee all Club marketing, advertising, creative services, and brand identity. “Kyle is an important hire for our Club,” stated Chief Operating Officer John Urban. “He’s a well-respected and well-known executive in our industry who has dedicated the majority of his career to help to grow the sport in the United States and Canada.”


  • The MLS is expanding its esports presence through an expansion of its current partnership with EA Sports. The soccer league is adding Atlanta United, DC United, and FC Cincinnati to the eMLS competition ahead of the 2019 season. All events will be played exclusively on PlayStation 4.

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics.  Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

  • Univision Deportes is launching “Cerebros del Futbol,” a series that will present “the human side of the coaches, soccer stars and personalities that are shaping the game today.” Hristo Stoichkov will interview each soccer luminary, while Luis Omar Tapia will narrate each installment. The show premieres on Thanksgiving Day at 9p on UDN.

What: A new grassroots campaign, #BringUSTheGame, was launched last week by La Liga North America in support of the January 29 regular season club matchup between FC Barcelona and Girona FC.
Why it matters: La Liga and its U.S. partner Relevent Sports face opposition from some entities, including FIFA and the Spanish federation RFEF and are looking to push public opinion in its favor for the scheduled match.

Continuing its push to bring an actual league match between FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelonaand Girona FC (@GironaFCto Miami on Jan. 29, LaLiga (@LaLigaENNorth America last week announced a grassroots campaign in support of the game, which has faced some opposition from other soccer entities. Under the theme “It’s good for the fans. It’s good for the game.” the #BringUSTheGame promotion includes a mobile alerts signup, online petition and extensive online presence for the contest at Hard Rock Stadium.

“Fans across the country are excited for the chance to see their heroes play here at home. We know that the love for soccer has been growing by leaps and bounds over the years in the United States. Having the best league in the world play this game in Miami will continue to energize the millions of fans in America and accelerate the growth of the US soccer fan base,” said Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America in a statement. “This game has the chance to be something special, with real points on the line, and it is our hope that American soccer fans will get to experience the game in person played at its highest level.”

#BringUSTheGame is the league’s attempt to win in another venue: the court of public opinion.
Luis Suárez (Wikimedia/Lluís)

The top Spanish league has been one of the most proactive in extending their brand, and those of its clubs, in the U.S. and Latin America, with a variety of recent initiatives. The effort to bring this match, the first European club regular season to be held on U.S. soil, to Florida has been challenged by FIFA (@FIFAcomand the Spanish Football Federation (@rfef), whose president, Luis Rubiales, feels “disrespected” in working with groups other than RFEF to organize. The main issue is that as a league match and not a friendly, RFEF believes it should have been consulted. (Or perhaps been “cut in” on the deal?)

So where to next? Clearly, there is a market for European football in the U.S., and La Liga in particular: when Real Madrid played FC Barcelona as part of the International Champions Cup in Miami last year, over 1.7 million viewers tuned in on ESPN. Relevent Sports, La Liga’s New York-based partner in plans to bringing a game to the U.S. in each of the next 15 years, wants to avoid the characterization of the effort as an “Astroturf” campaign.

The Portada Brand-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

“As American sports clamor for exposure abroad and the major soccer clubs themselves look to grow their brands with marketing dollars here, this seems really counterintuitive,” said Harrie Bakst, a longtime sports marketer who has worked with elite teams and leagues in and out of soccer.  “This seems more like a power play internally for dollars than a real disruption in the course of business for the clubs involved. if it doesn’t happen it says a lot about the short term growth issues clubs see vs. the bigger long term picture. My bet is that there is soccer in Miami in January, the first of what will be seen as a regular occurrence in the years to come.”

It could end up in the courts, as La Liga has indicated that it would take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport should FIFA try to prevent the match from occurring. #BringUSTheGame is the league’s attempt to win in another venue: the court of public opinion. Stay tuned.

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What: FC Barcelona announced this week that it intends to open an NWSL franchise in the U.S.
Why it matters: A European club seeing the value of a U.S. women’s team may open the floodgates for investment by others and new partnership opportunities worldwide.

Nadia Nadim (BDZ Sports)

While LaLiga (@LaLigacontinues on with its battle to stage a regular season match in Miami in January amidst still surprising pushback, a club made an interesting next step announcement with a new, lower cost and strategic play for a point of entry into the American marketplace.

On Tuesday, news broke that FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) are in discussions to place a women’s team in the National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) as early as next year, making them the only club from outside the US to have a team in the top-tier women’s soccer league.

…[T]he NWSL … can certainly use a much needed global buzz by bringing a Barcelona brand into the mix.
Alex Morgan (Flickr/Jamie Smed)

“We are planning to open a franchise in the US, a Barcelona franchise in the American league,” said Javier Sobrino, Barcelona’s strategy and knowledge director, speaking at a conference in Qatar. “We are right now in discussion to see whether it is possible or not. It will be immediate, next season is our goal, if not the following one. A women’s team playing in the US.”

The proposed team would keep Barcelona’s name and is likely to play its home games in Los Angeles. The addition of the Spanish outfit would bring the number of teams in the NWSL up to ten, with the league hoping to have 14 franchises by 2020.

The move makes sense for a number of long-term business reasons. While men’s sides from elite clubs face many obstacles in growing the game with literal boots on the ground in the US, the emergence of women’s clubs in LaLiga, the Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN ‏) and even Serie A (@SerieA) have fewer hurdles for movement or growth. The Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWCnext year will provide a really strong platform to boost women’s soccer even higher, and the NWSL, which thrives in markets like Portland (@ThornsFC ‏) and Orlando but struggles mightily in markets like the New York area, can certainly use a much needed global buzz by bringing a Barcelona brand into the mix.

The Portada Brands-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

From a grassroots side, having Barcelona’s system now available in the U.S. to cultivate and teach the explosive demo of young girls can help feed the growth of professional women’s soccer globally, and can, frankly, mine and develop future young players not just for professional play but for the college side as well. The fertile and still being defined Latina market is also prime if the club does end up in soccer-rich Southern California.

Then you also have brand exposure. With Barca having a commercial presence already in the U.S., having a fulltime club able to engage gives a new entry point for anyone looking to engage with the Barca brand from afar, while the elite men’s club plays elsewhere and can be viewed on beIN Sports (@beINSPORTS). No, it’s not exactly the same, but the brand ties between the men’s and women’s club are certainly a unique way of engagement and will draw positive attention, goodwill and even sponsorship towards a club with a deeper presence in the U.S. than perhaps any other global soccer club if the move happens.

Is there a risk? Minimal. Building a women’s club in the U.S. does not have the massive dollar investment that having an elite men’s club coming to play in say, MLS, would have. The reward, for the brand, for the grassroots, and for women’s sport far outweighs the issues, and the lessons learned and path carved is great news for women’s sport, let alone women’s soccer.

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Cover Image: credit Flickr/Jamie Smed

What: At SportBusiness Summit in Miami, La Liga President Javier Tebas spoke up for the Girona-Real Madrid matchup in January, against some opposition from other organizations, including FIFA and MLS.
Why it matters: Tebas believes the match will lead to greater awareness for everyone and support for the sport overall.

“FIFA has no say in this match, and I can say with 90 percent certainty that La Liga clubs will be playing in Miami at the end of January.”

And so there it was on Tuesday in Miami that La Liga President Javier Tebas pushed back on FIFA’s Gianni Infantino and everyone else trying to stop the elite league from bringing its first-ever regular season match to the United States, and further proclaimed that La Liga (@LaLiga), and its partner Relevent Sports, are more open for business on this side of the Atlantic than ever before.

Tebas and Relevent’s Charlie Stillitano (@C_Stillitanowere the afternoon keynote speakers at SportBusiness International’s inaugural SportBusiness Summit (@SportBusinessbeing held at the W Hotel in Miami Beach. Tebas was clear in the intentions of the league and was very bullish on what the match will do not just for La Liga in the United States, but for the growth of soccer overall.

…[T]his is really the start of a 15 year joint venture between La Liga and Relevent in the U.S., [and] it will open the doors with new brands to engage, as well as potentially new media partnerships to grow.
Girona vs. Real Madrid (Wikimedia Commons/Politges13)

“This match has been many years in the making despite that people may think it just happened in the last few months,” Tabas said during a 30 minute conversation. “It is good not just for La Liga and the brand but for all soccer growth in North America. Are there obstacles to overcome? Yes and they were expected, but they will be and I can say with certainty the match (between Girona and Real Madrid) will be played on the 26th of January at 2:00 in the afternoon.”

The President also showed surprise at the rumors that Major League Soccer (@MLS) would oppose this one match, and even through the door open for a more reciprocal agreement to bring an elite MLS match…to Spain. “How could this one match hurt MLS? It will lead to more awareness for everyone. As a matter of fact, if MLS wanted to play a match in Spain we would not only encourage it, but we would help promote it because it’s good business for everyone.”

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From a business standpoint, Stillitano pointed out that many of the existing La Liga partners will be activating in Miami, and that since this is really the start of a 15 year joint venture between La Liga and Relevent in the U.S., that it will open the doors even new brands to engage, as well as potentially new media partnerships to grow.

“Because The Premier League has done such a good job of promotion to the U.S. audience, many casual fans do not fully yet understand the size and scope of what La Liga can bring,” he added. “We know that this match and all we have planned going forward can change that, and with that change will grow soccer not just in this country, but globally as well.”

Tebas added that the match will not take place just as a one off. Rather it will be the culmination of two months of engagement which will include youth events, the potential of a women’s match (another big La Liga priority) and much more that will have a “Super Bowl-like” culmination at the end of January. “Fans will get to engage with the players and the brands,” he added. “It will be a great event not just for La Liga, but for our game.”

And that, is good for all soccer business.

What: La Liga’s deal to play regular-season games in the US and Canada is a huge risk for the league.
Why it matters: La Liga’s gamble to export to domestic league matches won’t do much to grow soccer in America.

Growing Soccer in America

In August, Relevent Sports and La Liga announced their plans to have regular season La Liga games played overseas in the United States and Canada. The move has been made in an attempt to raise the awareness of La Liga soccer and grow the sport in America. However, is this enough reason to bring Spanish domestic league soccer games across the Atlantic? Soccer is already one of the fastest growing sports in America. The number of boys and girls participating in high school has been on a steady rise since 2009 (https://bit.ly/2PCVDcj). The average attendance for MLS games currently stands at around 22,000, which is more than the NBA and NHL average attendances (https://bit.ly/2NgJgVL). The US, Canada and Mexico have just won a joint bid to host World Cup 2026 (@united2026) and Relevent’s ICC preseason tournament continues to set record numbers despite clubs rarely fielding star players on the tour. So does La Liga really need to have its games take place in North America to grow the sport?

Breaking Down La Liga’s Attempt to Reach North America

Speaking to the COO of Collegiate Sports Management Group and an adjunct professor with Columbia University’s Sports Management Program, Ray Katz (@realraykatz) believes that this is the kind of deal that could hurt the league. In his opinion, player relations could suffer greatly from staging games across North American. Additionally, he points out that there are better ways for Spain’s top-tier soccer league to reach new audiences. “If La Liga want to get their product out there, then the key is availability globally from a media perspective. Make the league available to people on any screen, and ideally free or as part of existing a solid OTT or cable subscriptions.”

At the moment, La Liga games are shown on Bein Sports Network, a network that has recently been dropped by one of America’s top cable providers, Comcast. To Katz’s point on availability, a lesson is there to be learned from NBC Sports. In 2013, NBC Sports captured the rights to show the English Premier League (EPL), perhaps Europe’s most popular soccer league. The network made all games available, free of charge, provided viewers had a cable subscription. It wasn’t until last year the network put up a paywall for games not televised on cable. But by then, NBC Sports’ brilliant coverage had made hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans into fans of one team or another in the EPL. More importantly, it made fans out of people willing to pay to see their team play if they weren’t being televised on one of the network’s major channels.

Make the league available to people on any screen…

If NBC Sports had made a pay streaming service for games at the outset of their deal with the EPL, there is serious doubt as to whether the EPL would be as prominent as it is in the US. In contrasts to La Liga, it’s current spot on a TV network, not readily available to most is extremely damaging to the product in America. On this issue, Katz said, “…La Liga needs to centralize their TV strategy and negotiations instead of having individual teams make these deals. The NFL did this in the 1960’s and it yielded epic results.”

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It’s clear from this deal, La Liga wants to do what the National Football League (NFL) has done with their sport. The NFL has exported regular season games to Europe and Mexico for some time now and it has been met with huge success. However, Katz points out La Liga won’t experience that same success with this new venture. “There isn’t any other high-level American football played outside of the U.S so NFL games abroad, serve essentially as an “ambassador” for the sport itself. For La Liga, every country has their own reasonably strong soccer league so La Liga soccer won’t necessarily attract that many new fans unless there are games with Barcelona or Real Madrid.”

Barcelona FC and Real Madrid CF have a massive global following already and don’t need to hold games across the Atlantic to increase their presence. Ticket pricing has already been earmarked as a possible problem. Last year’s ICC tournament featured the first “El Clasico” to be played outside of Spain, when Barça and Real met in Miami. Tickets to that match started at a whopping $300. This figure would get you into all home games alone at most Spanish clubs. But this is what ticket prices will look like if Americans want to watch regular season La Liga games in their own backyard. On the issue of ticket pricing Katz explained “…the only people who will pay the exorbitant ticket prices, are people who are fans of La Liga already.

You have to find a well thought out, balance between generating revenue and selling tickets. It can’t be one or the other.

A Mountain To Climb

The deal lacks support from the La Liga Players Association (LLPA), who are willing to strike in an effort to keep La Liga games in Spain. Many are not surprised by this stance, given the number of matches and cup competitions soccer players are involved in. One game could make all the difference in a season. La Liga will also have steep competition with established American sports, given the NFL, NHL, and NBA could all be in full force when it seeks to stage its games.

LLPA President, David Aganzo, speaks to the press after La Liga’s Captain emergency meeting.

Additionally, the deal has to be approved by FIFA, UEFA, CONCACF, The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the Spanish FA, Spain’s National Sports Council and its foreign ministry. FIFA will have the final say on the matter, but precedent doesn’t favor the deal either. The governing body’s former president Sepp Blatter condemned the EPL’s previous proposals to play matches overseas as “unacceptable” and an “abuse of football.” Despite all of this, La Liga recently announced that Barcelona against Girona will be the first game to be played overseas, with the Miami Dolphins Hard Rock Stadium the destination.


A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • LaLigaLa Liga has extended its partnership with Microsoft. The deal will see La Liga’s content made available to Microsoft News users and on other products including Windows, Microsoft Edge, Xbox Live and Bing. This is the first global alliance signed by Microsoft with a major sports league.


  • OTT DAZN has purchased the qualifying matches for 2020 Uefa European Championships, as well as the European qualifiers for the 2020 Fifa World Cup broadcast rights in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The deal also includes the same rights to the 2018/19 and 2020/21 editions of the new Nations League, which began on Thursday night. However, DAZN won’t provide live coverage of any matches involving Germany, Austria or Switzerland in their respective home markets.


  • Major League Soccer locked in its schedule and format for the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. The 2018 MLS Cup will be broadcast on FOX and UniMas, and across more than 170 countries worldwide via MLS’s network of international broadcasters.

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  • CONMEBOL.comMediapro has signed a four-year deal with the South American Football Federation (Conmebol) as a production hub. The Spanish agency will provide the international signal for the region’s three major club competition’s internationally and will take care of producing and distributing the Copa Libertadores.


  • David Beckham’s new MLS expansion team in Miami has unveiled its name, crest, and colors. The club will be called Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, as a statement to the Latin American roots of Miami. The Spanish name is expected to be informally shortened to Inter Miami.


  • Juventus has extended and expanded its licensing deal with international agency IMG to include the US and Canada. As part of the new multi-year deal, the IMG will develop the Serie A club’s licensing business through its network of Asian, American and Canadian offices, coordinated by its team in Milan.

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  • French soccer team Paris Saint-German announced Socios.com as their official branded cryptocurrency partner. The multi-year deal will see the company work with the team to develop their blockchain strategy to enhance and evolve their fan engagement.


  • GoogleSpanish La Liga has partnered with Google in an effort to protect the league’s media rights portfolio from illegal streaming websites. The league is working with Google to block search results that include pirate services.


  • The German Football Association (DFB has extended its longstanding partnership with Adidas for another four years. The deal will see the German sportswear giant continue to supply kits to the country’s national soccer teams until 2026.

What: Brazilian all-time great Ronaldo has agreed to purchase La Liga side Real Valladolid for just over US $35 million.
Why it matters: His ownership gives immediate credibility to the squad, though the challenges of ownership are many, even for someone of Ronaldo’s noted business acumen.

Sometimes iconic figures as owner of clubs work out well, but sometimes they can be humbling. Ask Miami Marlins (@Marlinsowner Derek Jeter, whose first year running baseball operations as the main part of his CEO role and minority ownership how quickly cheers can turn to quizzical looks.

La Liga (@LaLigaEN), which has certainly made its share of waves and generated more buzz than usual as the 2018 season starts, did so again this week, when another of the world’s brightest stars assumed a new ownership position that can have global implications.

This week it was announced that Brazilian icon Ronaldo (@Ronaldois set to become the president of La Liga club Valladolid after paying €30 million (a little over US $35 million) to become their leading shareholder.

The move for Ronaldo is seen as a natural progression in the game for one of its biggest stars…

The deal will bring an end to months of negotiations between Valladolid (@realvalladolidand Ronaldo and will mean the former striker has beaten back Mexican businessman Ernesto Tinajero to take control of the club.

Valladolid, one of the clubs which can gain great value by aggressively pushing its brand around the world in the coming year, was promoted to La Liga this season and started by drawing with Girona and losing 1-0 to Barcelona.

The move for Ronaldo is seen as a natural progression in the game for one of its biggest stars, who previously had a stake in the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL before the league folded, and has expressed a desire to run a club in Spain or England before becoming involved in the Brazilian Football Federation. Having star power associated with a club not named Real Madrid or Barcelona will be a boon for LaLiga as it looks to grow its overall brand globally outside of those two elite clubs.

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The casual fan awareness of a club like Valladolid will only go up with Ronaldo in the boardroom, spending time on the business side vs. the pitch. It also can’t hurt the current push for La Liga to expand its window of matches beyond its borders, and is the exact type of club brand recognition that the league will need to attract larger media contracts and more global brand partners, especially in growth areas like the United States and China, into the future.

Now, of course, having Ronaldo at the helm is not the only answer for a club that is still in a mix of relegation going forward for the short term. A star player now off the field can only do so much, and the political football of signing and developing players is one of culture and overall business expertise for the long term.

However for a league looking to grow its footprint, having elite stars involved in club operations more widely certainly doesn’t hurt, especially as the push for new markets and new business opportunities becomes a much larger focus. Ronaldo the player was always one to watch; now Ronaldo the businessman is in the spotlight as well.

A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • Heineken USCOPA90 and Heineken USA started a film collaboration with The Players’ Tribune. The  two-part original film series takes NY Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr on “a day-long journey exploring fan culture and match-day experiences at the Real Madrid vs AS Roma ICC game in New York.” Throughout the season, HEINEKEN USA is sponsoring COPA90’s flagship show, Walk Talk Football, hosted by Pearce. This sponsorship also includes the MLS season preview and episodes across Heineken Rivalry Week.


  • Univision exec Boris Gartner has been named CEO of LaLiga North America, a joint venture of the league and the sports marketing group Relevant. Gartner will be in charge of finding new media outlets for coverage of LaLiga games and to promote league’s players.

Also, read Beyond Friendly; La Liga Takes a Bold Next Step for the Business of American Soccer

  • MLS and Twitter unveiled a new Tweet Cam, as part of MLS Heineken Rivalry Week. The Twitter powered camera is part of a social campaign and allowed fans the ability to get a glimpse of the action from the northeast corner of the arena.

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  • The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) has given its approval for Serie A teams to have a sleeve sponsor on their jerseys. The move means that in addition to a front-of-shirt and back-of-shirt sponsor, Italian clubs will be permitted to sell a space of 100cm2 on the left sleeve of their shirts, although it has not yet been confirmed when the new inventory will open up to brands.

A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • Premier LeagueBeIN Sports has locked a multi-year Premier League media rights deal that secures exclusive coverage in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) until the end of the 2021/22 season. Fans in MENA will be able to watch all 380 games per season exclusively live on BeIN.


  • Manchester City announced a multi-year global partnership with deodorant brand Rexona (owned by Unilever). The deal sees Rexona become City’s official personal care partner and also includes their sister Major League Soccer (MLS) club, New York City FC. Financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed. As well as Rexona, Unilever will use the partnership to promote its Sure and Degree brands – the trade names for Rexona in the UK and US respectively – in certain markets.

Tom Glick, Chief Commercial Officer at City Football Club, will be a speaker in our upcoming Portada NY conference. Sign up here.

  • Spanish soccer league, La Liga, has confirmed a landmark rights deal with Facebook that will allow fans in the Indian subcontinent to watch every game for free on the social media network for the next three years. The games will be available to viewers in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The financial terms have not been released.

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  • Univision Deportes begins its tenure as the official Spanish-language broadcaster of UEFA this month, beginning with the play-off round on August 21-22 and 28-29, Univision Deportes will carry 137 Champions League matches live across its platforms.

A summary of the most exciting news in soccer marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • Philadelphia UnionThe Philadelphia Union signed a marketing agreement with the Franklin Group, which is now the preferred promotional printing partner for the team’s owner, Keystone Sports & Entertainment. The club will work on enhancing the fan experience in new, creative ways. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
  • MLS partnered with U.K.-based live-streaming service DAZN in a three-year deal to bring MLS Live to DAZN platforms.
  • MLS will be streaming select league games for the first time in China, thanks to a partnership with China Sports Media, a leading sports marketing agency.
  • MLS LIVE and MLS Direct Kick will be back for the 2018 season. Fans in the U.S. will enjoy free access to MLS out-of-market streaming games via MLS LIVE until the launch this spring of ESPN+. Following the spring launch, MLS LIVE will be available to fans exclusively on ESPN+ subscription.

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  • Pepsi™YouTube TV announced a multi-year agreement with the Seattle Sounders, to become the team’s official streaming platform.
  • Pepsi launched soccer campaign titled Pepsi Generations, which features international soccer players that include Leo Messi, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Carli Lloyd, Dele Alli and Giovani dos Santos. Promos will run alongside the brand’s official UEFA Champions League partnership.
  • LaLiga launched LaLiga Esports with the first phase rolling out nationally across Spain before expanding internationally. The league said that the decision was prompted by sponsors interested in investing in the esports sector.
  • Latin American soccer streaming service Fanatiz signed an agreement with MP & Silva to live stream all Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana games carried in the US and Canada.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

What: A marketing update from La Liga U.S. Delegate Rebeca Diaz Gonzalez.
Why it matters: La Liga continues its push to market to U.S. fans.

Even without a U.S. team in the coming World Cup, the U.S. soccer market is as strong and is growing faster than every other area, maybe with the exception of China, in the world. It’s why we have seen strong efforts to cultivate fans in recent years put forth by FC Bayern Munich and Schalke FC of the Bundesliga, Manchester City and Chelsea FC in the Premier League, AS Roma of Serie A and both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona of La Liga (@LaLiga). However, the league that has made the most aggressive overall push in the last year has been La Liga. With an office in New York, the efforts are both on the grassroots and the marketing side, especially to cultivate fans of clubs across the league, as well as the efforts being made to grow the women’s game.

How is it going? We asked Rebeca Diaz Gonzalez (@rebsdg), La Liga U.S. Delegate, Business Development for an update

Portada: From an overall brand story, how important is the U.S. to La Liga’s business growth?

R.D.:“The U.S. is a key market for La Liga, and is extremely important to the League’s business growth, which is the main reason we opened an office in New York City. Our international strategy is essential for the growth of the League and our teams.

La Liga has strengthened their international department with 44 delegates who are working in countries around the world to increase the League’s reach using different initiatives. International growth is one of the strategic pillars for the organization, and thus a main goal. The 44 international delegates give La Liga a local presence and work to understand each market and fan base. The objective is to use a hyperlocal approach and create a permanent dialogue with our fan base through different initiatives (events, publicity, grassroots initiatives, digital presence, sport projects, friendlies, relationships with key stakeholders etc).

Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the U.S and the sport with the youngest fan base. La Liga’s fan base is growing every year, and we want to make sure to continue to engage with fans in the right way, as well as get more fans on board.”

La Liga has global partners and regional partners that use the League’s global reach to activate in their key strategic markets.

Portada: Other than friendlies during the summer La Liga now has fulltime staff in the States. What is the goal for that office now and how can it grow?

R.D.:“The NY office’s short-term goal is to create awareness and grow our fan base. We will work with beIN, our broadcaster, to activate on different initiatives. We are also focused on storytelling and digital initiatives.

Some upcoming initiatives include watch parties for the next Clásico and bringing La Liga Promises International (the most prestigious Under 12 tournament worldwide with 7 Spanish and 5 international teams) to New York in June.

The New York office will continue to grow as we share knowledge with other leagues (such as the MLS and NBA) and increase awareness of our brand in this market. We aim to show the U.S. the passion that makes Spanish soccer truly special.

Portada: La Liga is associated with some of the biggest brands in the world as partners, how do those brands activate in the U.S. now?

R.D.:“La Liga has global partners and regional partners that use the League’s global reach to activate in their key strategic markets. With all activations we involve our partners to increase reach and visibility for both them and us.

David Villa (credit: Wikimedia Commons-Tania Rego)

In January we hosted a Clinic with David Villa at the La Liga Academy presented by Disney World in Orlando and we ran a contest to win spots at this clinic with Tag Heuer boutiques. This is a good example of how we collaborate with our global partners in the U.S.

Tag Heuer and Mahou had visibility and activated around the El Clásico watch party last season as well. We rely on our current partners and are focused on acquiring new partners in order to keep growing.”

Portada: Is the market in the U.S. primarily Spanish-speaking or is a combination?

R.D.“Our strategy is aimed at appealing to fans from all cultures. The Spanish-speaking audience continues to be a powerful audience in the soccer world, but we also believe that the English-speaking audience for La Liga is growing. The US Hispanic community is the largest ethnic or racial minority group in the country, making up more than 17% of the population. However, recent studies show that the majority of Hispanics in the US are no longer foreign-born, so even though they have the Hispanic culture in their blood, they prefer to consume content in English. Soccer in the U.S. is becoming more potent every day, and a range of viewers are joining in.”

Portada: People know Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but there are many growing and powerful clubs beside those two. What are some of the ways La Liga is trying to grow the overall footprint through those clubs in The States?

R.D.:“La Liga has built out an international communications team that is dedicated to sharing stories about all of its clubs. This includes working with and helping clubs to publicize their unique stories. We have a new U.S. communications lead whose job is to identify storylines that will resonate in the U.S. and work with clubs, athletes, executives, and media to tell these stories.

We also recognize that fan acquisition can be dependent on telling stories that are not soccer-centric, attracting audiences who otherwise wouldn’t show interest in the sport. We are actively learning and sharing the personal stories of our lesser known teams. For example, we’re working with Levante to share the unique personal story of Shaq Moore, the young defender from outside Atlanta who recently found himself on the pitch with none other than Lionel Messi. For another example, the city of Girona is popular due to its Game of Thrones sets, and we’d like to use that popularity to share some tidbits about the city’s passionate football culture and its club’s fight to compete with FC Barcelona.

La Liga is an entertainment spectacle in which all of our teams and players are engaging characters! By sharing more and more of these stories, we hope that Americans will ‘pick their colors’.”

Portada: What markets are best suited for brand growth in the States? How is that growth measured?

R.D.:“Key markets for us are California, Florida, Texas, Chicago…we have a keen eye on the Pacific Northwest and cities like Atlanta where passion for the sport is high.

We work together with Nielsen and GFK to understand where our fans are and what they like.”

Portada: What should brands and fans look for from La Liga in the next year in terms of activation in the U.S.?

R.D.:“La Liga’s focus is on growing our awareness by telling relevant stories about our competition and geolocating specific content for U.S. fans on digital channels. We will be more and more creative with activations, working with influencers to grow our digital reach in an authentic way and aiming to create media-worthy stories wherever able. We are in the market to stay!”

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Mjazick

What: Cristiano Ronaldo tries his hand at American football in a new Super Bowl ad.
Why it matters: Ronaldo’s star status is unassailable internationally, but still emerging in the U.S. beyond soccer fandom.

First we saw him in his underwear in a hotel hallway, now he is trying to play American football in a spot that ran in select markets during the Super Bowl. There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is a high priced, and highly visible, figure that is trying to get Altice USA some great and humorous exposure in markets where the media company is looking to continue to grow brand.

Wikimedia Commons/Soccer.ru

However, there is a question with both spots, one in which the star is locked out of his room and gets photographed by a maid who then splashes the photo on social media, and the other in which he is using his soccer skills in American football garb. Does the general public actually know who he is through the spots? It’s a pretty big question, and an assumption that is still TBD.

Ronaldo’s global brand and his place on the world stage as a World Cup and Real Madrid star does make him a household name in the United States IF you follow global soccer and IF you are paying attention to the sports marketing business. It is an audience that is surely growing as soccer takes even more hold in the U.S., and with the coming World Cup, it will grow even more. But he does not play in the States, and La Liga’s deal with beIN SPORTS as their main rights holder in the United States limits the weekly exposure to an English speaking audience that can see Premier League matches on NBC and Bundesliga on FOX.

Soccer is growing, the World Cup is coming, and the growing Latino demo in the U.S. has a much better affinity toward image recognition of a star than fans of the NFL or even MLB or the NBA.

Is the assumption in the spot that the mainstream audience does not know who he is? A quick poll of non-soccer fans thought he was everything from a pop star to a model to a baseball player, with those with an interest in “The Beautiful Game” knowing immediately who he was. Still, that may be a fraction of an audience, while the bigger group can probably be grasped with a little better brand identification during the spots, which run very regularly in areas where Altice is available.

Ronaldo is as big as it gets

“There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo has perhaps one of the greatest followings of any athlete on the planet today. Altice USA is smart to be able to take advantage of his star power, especially as they market towards millennials and a Latino audience,” said Ray Katz, co-founder of ROI Sports Group and professor at Columbia University. “However Ronaldo is a superstar in a sport that is still emerging at least in the U.S. Consequently assuming that the television viewing audience, particularly in non-soccer programming, knows who he is and what he is doing is still a pretty broad leap. That can easily be addressed in a little more identification in either or both of these highly visible spots. The best practice here would be total integration with respect to planning and execution between brand managers, the sports agency, the media buying agency, and the creative agency.”

Now going forward is Altice USA making a strong gamble with Cristiano Ronaldo? For sure. Soccer is growing, the World Cup is coming, and the growing Latino demo in the U.S. has a much better affinity toward image recognition of a star than fans of the NFL or even MLB or the NBA. The spots are also humorous, which highlight another part of the elite star’s personality and give the images a viral play that will go beyond the regular spot run. They also set Altice USA apart from the other potential providers doing the same old, so there is a good amount of recall.

It is certainly different to see a global star engaged in promotion, and more will surely be coming. Seeing Ronaldo discover American football also plays well, what might be a little better is if everyone knew who he was, and a little better ID could do the trick.


Image at top: Wikimedia Commons/Ruben Ortega

In this regular feature, we look at the most watched soccer matches in the U.S. over the past weekend, the networks that came out on top and other relevant insights.

What match had the largest audience?

The game between Malaga and Barcelona, played on Saturday afternoon, was the most was the most watched during the weekend. 431,000 viewers broadcast the 31st game of the Spanish Liga Santander.

Which broadcaster came out on top?

The most watched network was NBC Sports, although BeIn Sports broadcast La Ligas’s match. because of their Premier League broadcasting right, NBC made it to number one with 1.3 million viewers.

What else is relevant?

Female soccer was the fifth most watched game, thanks to the match played by the U.S. against Russia. 400,000 viewers tuned ESPN to watch the encounter on Sunday afternoon.

ProgramEpisodeNetworkStartEndTotal Viewers (000)Viewers Age 18-49 (000)Day of the game

Source: SportsTVRatings.com (“All data ©Nielsen, provided by a variety of TV network sources and not directly from Nielsen”)


In this regular feature we look at the most watched soccer matches in the U.S. over the past weekend, the networks that came out on top and other relevant insights.

Which match had the largest audience?

The game between Arsenal and Manchester City, of the English Premier League, was the most watched during the weekend, with up to 630,000 viewers. NBC Sports Network broadcast it.

Which broadcaster came out on top?

Once again, because of their Premier League broadcasting rights, NBC Sports Network was the most watched broadcaster with close to 1.6 million viewers. BeIn Sports, the holder of the Spanish la Liga rights, came in  second.

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What else is relevant?

The match played between New England and Portland, on Sunday, was  the  only MLS’ game that made it to the Top Ten, with 266,000 viewers.

ProgramEpisodeNetworkStartEndTotal Viewers (000)Viewers Age 18-49 (000)Day of the game


Source: SportsTVRatings.com (“All data ©Nielsen, provided by a variety of TV network sources and not directly from Nielsen”)



A recap of news and trends in the Sports Marketing world as compiled by Portada’s Editorial team….

ESPN Deportes to Carry Spanish-language Telecast of Super Bowl 50

Super_Bowl_50_logoDisney owned ESPN in late December made a deal with CBS according to which the Spanish-language cable network ESPN Deportes will simulcast the Super Bowl 50 on February7. This is the first time ESPN Deportes is carrying the championship game, annually the most watched event on television. The move is a result of CBS’s lack of a Spanish-language cable network of its own, it also highlights the increasing popularity of American Football among Hispanics.

This is only the third time the Super Bowl will get the full Spanish-language simulcast.

Super Bowl 50 only will be the third NFL title to get the full Spanish-language simulcast treatment. Fox gave the Super Bowl the first full Spanish-language Super Bowl simulcast in February 2014 with a parallel feed on Fox Deportes that averaged 561,000 viewers, while NBC Universal leveraged last winter’s Patriots-Seahawks showdown as a launch vehicle for NBC Universo, (formerly known as mun2.). Per Nielsen, Hispanic football fans in 2014 made up 9% of the overall audience for NFL broadcasts, or about 1.5 million viewers per game. During that same season, the league invested some $230 million in Hispanic TV spend, up nearly $100 million compared to the 2009 campaign.


La Liga Opens Office in the U.S. Led by Raúl

Liga_de_Fútbol_Profesional_(emblem).svgSpanish Soccer League “La Liga” (LFP-Liga de Fútbol Profesional) just opened an office in New York City. The “La Liga” U.S. Country Manager is no less than ex Real Madrid Captain and Soccer legend Raúl González Blanco (“Raúl”). Raúl made his first appearance as La Liga’s country manager during a presentation held in Miami at BeIn Sports studios. BeIn Sports holds the broadcast rights for La Liga in the U.S. The establishment of an LFP New York office is part of LFP’s growth strategy which attempts to brand “La Liga” as the main national soccer league. Other offices are based in Bejing, Dubai and Johannesburg.

Spanish-Sports Site As Introduces As USA

AsA new arrival to the 2016 U.S. Hispanic sports media scene. Spanish-sports site As, owned and operated by Grupo Prisa, is launching As USA, a U.S. Hispanic edition of the site at http://us.as.com/us/. Read the full story of this Portada exclusive here.

Cristiano Ronaldo invests in his own Hotel Brand

Cristiano RonaldoReal Madrid Soccer Star Cristiano Ronaldo has invested close to US$ 40 million in hotels bearing his CR7 brand. The Portuguese captain has become a shareholder in Portugal’s biggest tourism and leisure group, Pestana, and the deal will see hotels opened in Madeira, Lisbon, Madrid and New York. The first ‘CR7’ hotel will open in his home town of Madeira this summer, according to reports. “My job is to play football, but life won’t always be like this,” Sky Sports reported Ronaldo as saying. “I have to dedicate myself to this new project and I have the best team in the world around me.”

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