Change is the only constant thing in the world, and so with football. Take the Spanish La Liga for example, which just confirmed that their intention of having one game be played in the U.S. every season.
The venue of the match and the teams involved haven’t yet been disclosed in their recently announced statement.
However, it’s highly likely that this endeavor will continue as the league had already formed a joint venture called La Liga North America, in efforts to boost the sport’s popularity in the U.S. and Canada.
According to reports, the matchup will take place this season and would feature either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The plans have already been laid out, but have been met with heavy criticism from the AFE, which is the professional footballers union in Spain. The association said that they hadn't been consulted about the said plans.
The statement from the AFE said that La Liga had always ignored their opinions numerous times already, including this, implying that they are disappointed with how the proceedings went.
The statement continued saying that La Liga only focuses on the benefits they can get, instead of considering the health risks of the players involved in the overseas game.
This prompted the clubs, including their shareholders to protest and to call for the mobilization against the planned game abroad.
This isn’t the first time that La Liga got itself in trouble for its overseas expansion campaign. One of the most notable ones was the game between Real Madrid and Barcelona, dubbed as Classico.
La Liga scheduled the game to take place in the morning just to cater to the Asian television viewers. This has a huge effect on the players as they're not yet fully warmed up in mornings, especially that they're used to playing games late in the afternoon or in the evening.
However, the stark opposition it is getting from the football community in Spain seems to not have any effect on the planned event.
This is because La Liga President Javier Tebas is confident that it is going to help improve its global market share, especially that the English Premier League is becoming more popular than the Spanish top flight.
La Liga gained €3.6 billion in receipts last year, with 40 percent of it coming from TV rights. They also gained a €234 million pre-tax profit. As of now, the league is planning to go beyond the €4 billion mark for the first time.
This is a bit too ambitious, but based on Tebas’ idea, it seems like they’re on the way to turning that dream into fruition if the planned U.S. game happens.
The move to schedule a game in North America confirmed that they are indeed taking their global expansion project seriously, as what they did when they signed a deal with Facebook to broadcast some of their games in Facebook Live to cater to the South Asian market.
In addition, La Liga is expected to be striking a deal with Relevent Sports for its North American campaign. Relevent Sports is the one that covered the International Champions Cup, which is a close season tournament exclusive for some of the best European clubs.
Heavy criticism looms
The plan of La Liga to have one of their games be played in the U.S. or in Canada is a game changer because never before did the Spanish top flight have one of its games played in the continent.
Nonetheless, this is totally expected as the trend tends to focus on global marketing. It’s all about getting more audience at the end of the day, and the North American expansion plan can do just that.
It’s a different story, though, with the English Premier League. There were plans in the past to have one English top flight game be played overseas because the league experienced financial problems then. It was a proposed extra 39th match, instead of the usual 38 game per season.
However, that plan was scrapped, and the 38 games were played inside England, with some being played in Wales. That's as far as it gets.
And this time, it’s the Spanish La Liga that wants to have a game get played in North America, even if it that means being a regular season game, and not an extra like in the Premier League’s case.
What’s surprising about this matter is that the decision isn’t backed up by any discussions or any kind of consultation from the Spanish FA.
And it isn’t just about the governing body, but the players aren’t happy as well. In line with this, a report said that the captains of all 20 La Liga clubs are going to have a meeting to discuss the planned overseas game, and in the process, come up with a way to oppose it.
However, there are also reports that state that a deal has already been signed between La Liga and a U.S. law firm that would allow their players to play not only in the U.S. but in Canada as well.
As of now, there is still no news as to when or which teams will play. But it’s expected that Real Madrid and Barcelona will be included as the two clubs are one of the most popular football teams in the world.
It’s all about the profit for La Liga, and these two clubs are going to make sure they get loads of it.
Also, La Liga planned to follow the Premier League format and move some of its games to Mondays and Fridays.
Another change that the player union will go against are the late kickoffs which would mean games finished after midnight. This is, again, a risk to the players’ health as it can alter their sleeping cycle, and in the process, affect their gameplay.
Real Madrid leads the anti-abroad campaign
Real Madrid is one of the teams that are most eager to criticize the said decision. In fact, the Los Blancos management firmly stated that they would reject any chance or offer to be involved in any game that is to be held in the U.S.
This is despite the recent 15-year deal of La Liga with Relevent to stage league games there annually until 2033.
Even though Real Madrid worked with Relevent in previous years, they’re still not cool with the fact that they’re going to another continent to play an actual regular season league game.
Not only does this put the players’ health at risk, but this can also change the balance of viewership in the league.
According to a report from El Larguero, a Spanish radio show, Real Madrid said that any attempt or offer from La Liga to let them play a league match in the U.S. would be answered with a heavy no.
Until now, it remains to be seen whether what caliber of club will be involved in the potential overseas games. If it’s going to be title contenders, then there’s no doubt it will increase their TV viewership.
But if the teams are mid-table sides or relegation fodders, then it will be a totally different story as the likelihood of it having any positive effects on TV ratings will be lower.
The 2018-19 La Liga season kicked off with a blast as Real Madrid faced Getafe head on. It was a 2-0 thrashing from Los Blancos thanks to the football prowess of Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale.
The atmosphere in the arena was glimmering with excitement but lacked the same enthusiasm and thrill they once had when their star striker Cristiano Ronaldo was still with them. The next destination for Real is Catalunya as they’re going to face Girona.
Business and football
Getting back to the case with the Premier League, one can easily say that the then President Richard Scudamore made a rough call as he was swiftly criticized for his supposed 39th game bonus.
It was met with heavy criticism that only one club owner, David Gold of Birmingham which is now West Ham, agreed to the plan. This happened while everybody else seemingly revolted against the thought.
But then again, the situation Spain is facing now isn’t the same with what England went through in 2008. The only startling thing here is with Javier Tebas who, for some reason, decided not to consult the other clubs regarding the matter, wherein the first place, he should have.
There might be Super Cup games held abroad, such as those in France and Italy, but a game that is a part of the league fixture being played overseas sounds too strange that any player or coach who’s versed in the matter would undoubtedly reject.
In fact, it’s the first time that a league game will be played outside the country, making it really strange for anyone.
However, it’s also worth noting that this has been the growing trend these days. Take for example the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League.
These are American leagues coming from different sports that have some of its regular games played abroad.
That’s how things have become today, and at the end of the day, it’s still all about business. Domestic markets have become saturated too much that it reached the point where leagues have to go abroad to gain more profit.
The Premier League had been through this situation a few years ago. They were also given a chance to have some of its games played abroad.
They could have continued with it, but the gaming environment in the country just dictated the flow of things, and in the process, stopped it from happening. What they did instead as better.
Instead of having an extra game played in a different country, they instead sharpened up their club rights, boosted their sponsorship and the way their commercial businesses went through. The league also improved their production value.
All these resulted in an improved environment for them, which ultimately allowed them to grow. However, this time, the same thing happened to the Spanish La Liga, and they too need financial and commercial support.
For them, it seemed like having some of its games played abroad is the answer. It might help them in the short run, but it would hurt their image knowing that they’re looking more like a money-oriented club.
What they need to do instead, based on experience, is to follow the English Premier League’s footsteps and focus on other things, just like how they could improve their production values and get higher-rated sponsorships.
The union of Spanish players already voiced their discontent for the matter, but the backlash is still isolated within Spain itself. For sure, more people would not be too cool to let this continue, even if it means getting football stars to play at home.
The difference between England and Spain is also a big consideration to make knowing that the two top-flights are in two very different situations. The English Premier League is dominated not only by two clubs but numerous ones.
Everyone has a fair share of the pie, so to speak, and it’s this level of hope that made the 2008 plan to involve every team to play a match abroad. Meanwhile, here’s the Spanish La Liga which is dominated only by two clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
This has a huge effect not only in the league but to the sport of football as well, as it's like having these two clubs get more fame, while the others stay below the ranks and in the sidelines.
And if ever the campaign continues, it would be safe to assume that it will be limited to only one or two games. Counting in Real Madrid and Barcelona is also the safest bet because these two clubs are the only ones that have a huge fan base and following in the U.S.
But if ever it'll feature a low-tier club, then expect that team to have an away game because the audience will always favor Real Madrid and Barcelona. It's like a de facto away match, and it'll benefit the two giants.
This could also be a matter of convenience for La Liga fans. Take for example a game held in the U.S., let’s say Miami. It’s very likely that fans from around the country will travel to Miami instead of Madrid or Barcelona.
What's, even more, is that Spaniards don't like traveling just to see games, compared to English fans. This could then be the answer to the culture issue the Spanish top flight is facing.
But this could also mean that Spanish fans would be upset in knowing that they still need to go to the U.S. just to watch a big game, instead of just traveling to a nearby city.
There's also this question as to where all the additional revenue will go, knowing that ticket sales will increase threefold or even four folds. Well, the answer to that is simple, and that it's going to the Spanish giants.
It also doesn’t mean that Getafe will swiftly become like Barcelona, or even Seville or Valencia just by having some of its games played abroad. The big clubs will still prevail, and they’re the only ones who will benefit from it greatly.
There’s another result to this, though, and that is by sharing the money earned from the overseas games. Yes, the team that gets to play a game abroad gets to earn more from ticket sales than a game played in Spain.
And that is enough reason for the league to consider sharing a team’s revenue to other teams. Everyone should benefit from it as the game is under La Liga.
Change is coming
The big clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona are going to continue dominating the market share and grow their fan base. It’s not just added profit for them, but it’ll also be about the wider popularity they’re going to get from around the world.
It’s all about strengthening their respective brands while increasing their revenue.
That’s how the campaign should become if it wishes to be accepted by the masses. However, it turns out that the two giants aren’t very happy with it even if it means getting the chance to strengthen their brand and get more money.
It's because, for them, the health of their players and the exclusivity of the game to Spain is what matters most. At the end of the day, the success of the campaign depends on the support it gets from the clubs in La Liga, whether they be involved or not.
We just have to wait and see as to how things will unfold regarding the matter, but as of now, things look a bit bleak when talking of support as almost everyone isn’t happy with how things have gone for the overseas La Liga games.
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