Imagine this. You’ve spent hundreds of Pounds/ Euros on a season ticket, bought the latest shirt and spent hundreds on travel, food and drink following your beloved around the country. Now take one of those games and move it over 4000 miles away, with a premium on the ticket and no guarantee of even securing one. This is the latest controversial move from La Liga as they announce plans to play one league game in the United States as part of a 15 year agreement to promote the brand across North America. La Liga President, Javier Tebas announced “We’re devoted to growing the passion for Soccer around the world” with League representatives adding that there will be a receptive market with a 47 million fan base in the US for global Soccer. (CNBC, 2018)
It’s apparent that the Premier League in England have been looking at the possibility of a ‘39th Game’ abroad for some time now but seems La Liga have taken a firm step in making something similar a real possibility.
Why is it such an issue?
Without fans there is no football and with Clubs realising the importance of retention and loyalty in recent times, it could be a step back for what they are trying to achieve. Clubs spend tens of thousands on ‘Fan Engagement’ schemes and taking a game off loyal fans will not sit lightly, even having a detrimental effect on season ticket renewals for the following season.
Realistically, there are only three or four teams that would actually feature in these ‘landmark’ games and with the El Clásico set to stay it would almost certainly include either Barcelona or Real Madrid. With the greatest respect to La Liga, would a match between Alves and Eibar fill stadiums in Vegas or New York and really have the desired impact of showcasing the league? Potentially not, furthermore seeing the rich get richer and the gulf between teams continuing to widen. With these top teams and players in particular, their busy schedules of domestic, European and international duties could also take a hit with fixtures having to be accounted for.
The loss of a home game is a huge factor, not just for fans but the performance on the pitch. The identity of many clubs is their ‘12th man’ look at the Mestalla, home to Valencia and widely known for one of the best atmospheres in Spain. How will players feel playing to a neutral audience? What if the result doesn’t go their way, it will almost certainly be to blame.
What will it bring to the game?
Money, money, money. There is absolutely no doubt why La Liga have taken this approach and announced these plans for a staggering 15 years. Exposure, global recognition and sponsorship for the league will all come from this decision, you will see TV rights for La Liga in the States rocket and see Santander fight for their exclusive sponsorship rights of La Liga.
Although representatives from all twenty La Liga Clubs stand to oppose the decision, one would be naive to think some Presidents, Chairmen and managers of certain teams aren’t rubbing their hands together at the possibility of lucrative revenue opportunities. Shirt sponsorship and sales amongst other things will almost certainly increase and after all football is a business. What if this one match per year funded the wages of one of your clubs best players? Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
AFE meeting held on 22/08/18. Image courtesy of AFE
The decision is of course still being disputed, with La Liga players ‘Outraged’ at the proposal. The Spanish Players Union (AFE) held a meeting earlier this week and claimed all players were against the decision. BBC Sport reported that Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui believes that the fixture will not go ahead. Interestingly the AFE added that unless satisfactory agreements are reached, the players will adopt appropriate levels of force. So it may seem after some negotiation and compromise this could look to go ahead. From a fans perspective, some may look at this as a game lost but as mentioned earlier, if this added revenue was to pay wages of a superstar, maybe it could all be forgotten…
It would seem that this is imminent for La Liga and if it doesn’t happen now, it will in the future. The real question is when will other leagues follow suit?