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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.

 

What: Colombia vs. Venezuela (in Miami) and Argentina vs. Guatemala (in Los Angeles) soccer friendlies are set for Sept. 7
Why it matters: Soccer in the U.S. was dealt a blow with the National Team’s absence from FIFA World Cup, but the sport is stronger than ever in the Hispanic community here, with these two friendlies and the International Champions Cup hitting this summer.

FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCupwill be contested half a world away, but supporters and natives of four Latin American countries will be able to see their favorite national teams in action in friendlies set for September 7. Colombia will take on Venezuela at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, while traditional powerhouse Argentina will battle Guatemala at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The matchups and locations lean heavily on the popularity of the sport among the Hispanic community in South Florida and Southern California and beyond. The first is a prelude to the planned MLS expansion into the market (@futbolmiamimls) set to debut in 2020, led by David Beckham, and the second comes with the timely announcement that a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Guatemalan relief efforts following the devastating Mount Fuego volcano eruption.

The friendlies, along with the MLS expansion and numerous U.S. locations in this summer’s International Champions Cup are strong signals that promoters and marketers aren’t giving up on the sport…

The matches feature successful squads in Colombia (ranked No. 16 in the world) and Argentina (No. 8), which will both begin Group Play at World Cup in the next week in Russia, battling upstarts in Venezuela and Guatemala, neither of whose sides have ever qualified for the event. And why they may not be marquee pairings, marketing organizers CMN Sports (@CMNEvents) and Relevent (@C_Stillitanoare hoping the World Cup boost in interest in the sport here carries over into September.

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Credit: Danilo Borges-copa2014.gov.br

“CMN Sports is excited to partner with Relevent to showcase these talented teams,” said Henry Cárdenas, President of CMN Sports, in a statement. “Colombia is a World Cup contender and has shown enormous potential, making them a very tough opponent for Venezuela. We hope fans will enjoy this South American rivalry at one of the most iconic stadiums in the country.”

“Relevent is committed to bringing the incredible culture and enthusiasm of international soccer to the U.S. and this match is sure to deliver that excitement to new and established fans alike,” said Charlie Stillitano, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Relevent. “We look forward to celebrating both of these national teams and their fans, while honoring all of those affected by the natural disaster in Guatemala.”

The friendlies, along with the MLS expansion and numerous U.S. locations in this summer’s International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCupare strong signals that promoters and marketers aren’t giving up on the sport despite the absence of the U.S. National Team from the World Cup.

Cover Image: credit Tasnim News Agency

What: Multi-national media, sports and entertainment group RELEVENT has acquired BRC Group, a leading marketer and producer of Hispanic soccer programs in the U.S
Why it matters: The agreement expands RELEVENT’s reach into the Hispanic grassroots market and should be a boon for youth soccer programs across the country.

Mergers and acquisitions are usually more suited to the boardroom than the soccer pitch. But in the case of today’s announcement by multinational sports and entertainment group RELEVENT that it has acquired Hispanic soccer marketer and producer BRC Group (@brcgrp), the real winners are U.S. Hispanic soccer fans, and, importantly, youth soccer players from underprivileged backgrounds across the country.

The move boosts the prospects and profile of Alianza de Futbol (@Alianza__U), the country’s largest and most prestigious amateur Hispanic soccer program, JUGOtv (@JUGO_tv), a multi-platform digital sports network for U.S. Hispanic soccer fans, and Alianza U, the Foundation arm of BRC which has provided more than two dozen Latino soccer players access to financial aid or scholarships to play college soccer. These BRC properties all fall under the RELEVENT umbrella, which further strengthens the firm’s connection with the Hispanic grassroots market.

“We are excited to join forces with BRC and the experienced leadership of Richard Copeland, Brad Rothenberg and Joaquin Escoto, who hold extensive relationships in U.S. and Mexican soccer,” said Daniel Sillman, CEO of RELEVENT in a statement. “As the Latino population accounts for half of the national population growth in the past two decades, we are proud to make this investment in the development of the sport within this passionate community.”

With the acquisition, RELEVENT has further solidified its status as a major player in the soccer world with recent announcements of the International Champions Cup and first Women’s International Champions Cup.

BRC has done great work with these programs. With more than 30,000 players and more than 250,000 fans attending Alianza events every year and JUGOtv reaching more than 60 million on social media every month, RELEVENT’s platform for the Hispanic community has never been on more solid ground.

“Everything we do at BRC is about providing access and opportunity for the US-Latino soccer player,” said Brad Rothenberg, Partner, BRC. “RELEVENT provides a bridge for our community to connect to world-class soccer programming from the ICC to new initiatives we intend to create together making this a first-ever partnership in the USA.”

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With the acquisition, RELEVENT has further solidified its status as a major player in the soccer world with recent announcements of the International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCupand first Women’s International Champions Cup, beginning next month.

“We’ve made it our mission to promote and grow soccer globally, and the acquisition of BRC is a pivotal move for RELEVENT, setting into motion our plans for investing in multicultural communities across the United States.” added Sillman.

Cover Image: NES-Mag.com