On August 16th, the organizing committee of La Liga announced an agreement with the American media company Relevent, covering a period of 15 years and allowing a match per season to be played in North America.
The agreement is historic. This is the first time that a match of La Liga will be disputed outside the Iberian lands, a first which will allow a more diverse public to become familiar with the championship and increase the visibility of the tournament. In principle, the championship is supposed to bring more money, boost its broadcast figures, be better structured and more modern, leaving the tendency to autarky aside. But the decision does not please at all.
On August 23rd, the Association of Spanish Players (AFE), through its president David Aganzo, threatened the LFP and its president Javier Tebas with a strike, in protest. And they are not ordinary players either: among the elements at the head of the movement, there are known names, such as Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Koke among others. And although until now there has been no violent response from Tebas (with Tebas, there will necessary be one) one wonders if the concept of globalization that the Spaniards are trying to introduce is a good idea. In this analysis we will look.
The manoeuvre is not new: It has existed for some time in the United States, especially with the American Football League (NFL) and more specifically, that of basketball (NBA). Since 1990, American basketball teams have been competing officially in regular season games abroad. The current format guarantees two matches per season, with Mexico (Mexico City) and the United Kingdom (London) as current destinations.
The teams get closer to their supporters from these countries, expanding their horizons, organising related activities and return more money, which benefits the players and the league. Historically, although football has always been a popular sport worldwide (3.4 billion viewers at the last World Cup, almost half of the World’s population) with viewers and supporters everywhere, La Liga have always been reclusive with marketing outside Europe being quite weak.
The Americans have not always loved football, but this has changed in recent years: the number of US viewers who watch European championships is growing, the MLS is expanding, and it is not uncommon to see 70,000 spectators fill a stadium to attend an Atlanta United match. Then the Europeans understood that there was a market to exploit. In the past, pre-season games in the United States were often synonymous with river scores between well-honed European teams and almost American amateurs.
But now, every summer, the formations of the Old Continent flock to America to participate in the International Champions Cup (ICC), a tournament bringing together several quality teams, and whose last edition included the eight quarters finalists of the Champions League. ESPN TV signed an agreement granting it the exclusive rights to broadcast Serie A games in the United States; Two years ago, the Copa America Centenario took place in the USA; PSG has already opened an affiliate office in Yankee territory, an example that many will soon follow; Even the quality of the players increases: Christian Pulisic, only 19 years old, is working wonders at Borussia Dortmund and Bayern has just acquired Alphonso Davies, a teenager for an amount that could add up to 22 million US dollars, a record for a North American player. Far is the time of isolated cases Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey. In every respect, Uncle Sam benefits from the globalization of European football.
And yet, the idea does not please the main players, the players. The main reason for the strike is that the LFP has decided to play games abroad without first consulting the AFE. But it is the players who will have to sacrifice the most, by inserting a trip across the Atlantic in a calendar already filled: with the UEFA Nations League, the Champions League, La Liga, The Copa del Rey and the World Club Cup in the case of Real Madrid.
Ivan Rakitic, FC Barcelona midfielder played 71 games in all competitions last season and teams like Barca, Real and Atletico Madrid play more than 50 games per season. With such numbers, it is normal that these players make the trip to play on another continent, even if it is only a single meeting. And said match can’t concern a team of lower rank too.
If Tebas has already ruled out the possibility of a Clasico in America, it is nonetheless true that the Met Life Stadium will not fill with people who come to attend Christian Stuani despite his goals.
In general, NBA players do not complain about additional road games, even though they play 82 games in the regular season. But no one in the world better understands the value of money than these players: Next season, 46 basketball players will have contracts of more than $20 million gross annual (excluding additional match bonuses), an amount that only eight footballers in the whole world have managed to reach this year, only one in La Liga (Lionel Messi). While there is nowhere to mention any bonus or additional remuneration in the LFP press release, it is normal to wonder how much enthusiasm these players might show for such a decision.
But casually, La Liga really needed such a decision. La Liga is in an ultimate position regarding TV rights among the major leagues, with a huge inequality in favour of Barcelona, who have collected more than a quarter of revenues from this source between 2016 and 2019. The Premier League has a higher hearing rate per game of 10,000 more seats than La Liga.
With the departure of Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain two years ago and that of Ronaldo this summer at Juventus, the Spanish league has lost two of its most marketable assets in the media. As a result, this explains the enthusiasm of the Spanish to globalize Iberian football in the world: The Spanish Super Cup in Tangiers (Morocco), the free broadcast of La Liga games in South Asia, and now the question of matches in the United States. United are all elements of a much larger overall plan to facilitate the marketing of the Spanish championship. With such measures, it will be easier for lesser Spanish clubs to sign sponsorship contracts with American or other firms, and to make more money, as Tebas pointed out.
Finally, if the measure does not please for the moment, it is full of common sense and is very profitable. It will make it possible to balance the equation of finances in Spain, and to reduce, if only one iota, the enormous gap that exists between the trio on the podium of the championship and the rest of the league.
Even if the long-term impact remains undetermined, the idea deserves to be exploited and to be carefully considered by the actors of La Liga. A possible agreement between the players and the central committee of the LFP is in order to implement a decision that, well done, could pay big in the end.
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