Spanish league plan for game in US chided by players' group

ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 17, 2018 08:52 AM
Spanish league plan for game in US chided by players' group
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi talks to the crowd ahead of the Joan Gamper trophy friendly soccer match between FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

By Tales Azzoni, Associated Press

A regular-season Spanish league game is coming to the United States, possibly as early as this season, with Real Madrid or Barcelona potentially involved but unlikely to be playing each other.

The league said Thursday it is planning to play a match across the Atlantic as part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote soccer in North America, a move that could boost La Liga's image abroad but which also sparked criticism from Spain's players' association.

U.S. Soccer, which would have to approve any foreign league playing matches on its territory, discussed the approach from Spain around a board meeting on Thursday. FIFA would have the final say on domestic competitions playing matches in another country.

There is no decision to be taken yet because the league has provided few details on the planned regular-season game in partnership with Relevent. The group operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played in the European offseason in July and August across the globe.

Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other in the tournament in Miami last year. League president Javier Tebas has already dismissed the possibility of taking the "clasico" between Real Madrid and Barcelona away from Spain.

The league said it is still making arrangements for the game and there is no timetable for when or where it will happen, but it could be this season.

Spain's players' association was quick to protest, saying the league did not ask players for their opinions and that it was unfair for fans in Spain of the teams involved.

"Players are not a bargaining chip that can be used in businesses that only benefit third parties," association president David Aganzo said in a statement.

The Spanish league has been trying to expand internationally for some time, hoping to grow and keep pace with the powerful Premier League in England.

Tebas last year also talked about the league possibly playing a regular-season match in China, and a few days ago the Spanish Super Cup was held in Tangier, Morocco, marking the first time it was played outside Spain. The league game in the United States would be the first to be played outside of Europe.

"Joining with Relevent to create LaLiga North America is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy," Oscar Mayo, the league's international development director, said in a statement. "This agreement ensures not only a bright future for soccer in North America, but also for LaLiga and our clubs."

The league said "the operation will support the league's growth in the U.S. and Canada through consumer related activities including youth academies, development of youth soccer coaches, marketing agreements, consumer activations, exhibition matches and plans to have an official LaLiga Santander match played in the U.S."

A decade ago, the Premier League tried to introduce an additional international match but plans for each team to play a 39th game overseas were abandoned amid opposition from FIFA and fan groups.

The Premier League has more exposure than its Spanish counterpart in the United States, in part because of a six-year TV deal with NBC worth about $1 billion.

Since 2012, the Spanish league has been on BeIN Sports, which was received by less than a quarter of American English-language television households even before it recently was dropped by the Comcast Xfinity cable system.

Relevent was founded and is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who called the partnership "the next giant leap in growing soccer's popularity in North America."

"This unique relationship will create new opportunities for millions of North American soccer fans to experience the most passionate, exciting, and highest level of soccer in the world," Ross said.

The Spanish league called the agreement "an inflection point for soccer in the U.S. and Canada," coming in anticipation of the 2026 World Cup that will be hosted in North America.

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AP Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report

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