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La Liga North America: A Tale of Two Leagues

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On the effects of La Liga games in North America

LaLiga Hosts Roofop Viewing Party Of El Clasico - Real Madrid CF vs FC Barcelona Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for LaLiga

Relevent Sports, owners and operators of the International Champions Cup (ICC), and La Liga have teamed up to bring Spanish Primera Division football to the United States in the form of La Liga North America. According to their press release, they seek to “promote soccer in the U. S. and Canada.” At its onset, the aim is to have one regular season match per year played in North America. However, Relevent’s CEO is quoted as saying, “Our goal is to get one game off the ground; we’ll see how it proliferates from there.” The press release goes on to mention leveraging relationships with other professional sports leagues as well as celebrities in order to promote. I don’t know about you, but that feels like intention to have more than just one game. (Relevant side note: We can talk about how the NFL hosts their International Series in London and Mexico City every year, but we have to keep in mind that London and Mexico City do not have established American football leagues like the US has with its soccer leagues.)

I am a bit conflicted with this news.

I am, and have been, an MLS fan since kick off back in 1996. (Let’s face it. I still want a Preki Kansas City Wiz jersey.) Growing up outside of Dallas meant that I was introduced to MLS in the form of the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas.) Moving to Colorado in 1998 meant I became a Colorado Rapids fan, and I have fond memories of watching the games with my dad in Mile High Stadium. (Colorado did not have a soccer-only stadium until 2007.) I became a season ticket holder during the 2017 season. In addition to writing here, I also write for an all female website devoted to MLS and its teams.

I have only been a Real Madrid fan for a short period of time, in comparison. I was introduced to them by an ex-boyfriend during the 2015-2016 season and I was hooked. The first Real Madrid game I attended was an ICC match in 2016 against Bayern Munich at MetLife. My second was when they played in the MLS All Star game at Soldier Field in Chicago. I relish the opportunities that I get to see them play here because who knows when, or even if, I will get the opportunity to see them play in Spain.

However, I worry about what this means for MLS, even for the USL, NASL, and NWSL. The press release reads as if La Liga and Relevent are entirely ignorant of the existence of soccer leagues here in the U. S. (Which is clearly not the case since they’re holding open training sessions in MLS stadiums for ICC.) Since I’m being honest here, that bugged me. Oscar Mayo saying that this “agreement ensures…a bright future for soccer in America” feels like an insult more than a promise. I told Abbie Mood, managing editor at Burgundy Wave, that the release feels a bit like they’re treating MLS like a kid that only got to sit at the grown up table because there wasn’t a kid table yet. It bugged me enough that I reached out to some friends to see what they thought about La Liga North America as well.

For the most part, they were equally excited, as any opportunity to build the enthusiasm for soccer here is welcomed. Keira Smith, writer for NYCFC at MLS Female, says that “all opportunities to spread and share this beautiful game…are positive.” Matt Pollard, managing editor at Last Word on Soccer, feels that “the more soccer and the higher the quality, the more it helps MLS and American soccer in general.” He goes on to point out that the location of a game would be key as well, noting that putting a game in smaller MLS markets might provide a “nice bump” to the team there. However, as Abbie Mood noted – this isn’t always the case. “When international teams come, attendance is amazing, but that doesn’t seem to translate to more people coming to see the Rapids.” Marcelo Balboa, former Colorado Rapids and USMNT defender, highlighted other concerns with La Liga North America, such as the timing of the games to not conflict with MLS playoffs.

Former Boston Breakers (NWSL) and U-20 USWNT player, Jordan Angeli stated that “[t]his is a business move. The US is a growing market for soccer and La Liga recognizes the potential here leading up to the World Cup in 2026.” La Liga has seen an opportunity to generate more revenue, thanks in part to the popularity of ICC matches here, and is jumping on it. Or is trying to, anyway. The news of the stateside game has not gone over well with the players as reports state that neither they nor the Spanish FA were consulted in any manner before this decision was made. With Real Madrid refusing to play, threats of a strike, and 20 captains reportedly stepping in to try to stop it, this may not come to fruition.

Yet.