Spanish soccer giants Real Madrid have poured water over any chance of participation in La Liga’s plans to host competitive league fixtures in the United States, saying it was “not in the interests” of either the club or the fans.
“We won’t go to the United States,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez said.
The Spanish soccer league’s governing body, La Liga, is trying hard to capitalize on the sport’s popularity overseas, with half an eye on toppling England’s Premier League as one of the most constantly watched sports events globally. The Premier League’s astounding popularity worldwide has helped English clubs become abundantly rich, capable of recruiting the best soccer talents from around the world. Europe’s major soccer leagues in Italy, Germany, and Spain are looking for ways to compete with the Premier League, and staging one league game in the season in the United States appears to be La Liga’s first tentative steps toward increasing their league’s viewership abroad.
But league soccer games are almost exclusively played domestically, and it is virtually unprecedented for major European teams to play league games outside of the respective countries where they are based. Real Madrid, often billed as the biggest soccer club team, are massive when it comes to global popularity, but it seems they are uninterested in joining La Liga’s bandwagon. And they are not the only ones.
The Spanish Footballers’ Association (AFE) has already failed to approve the plan, saying such a move needs more time and could be detrimental to the well-being of the players, per ESPN. The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RSFF) has also disapproved of the plan, but despite the protestations, La Liga appears intent on fulfilling the agreement it has made with American media company Relevant Sports to stage Spanish league games in North America for the next 15 years.
There could be trouble ahead.
Real Madrid's president has "outright rejected" La Liga's plans to stage a game in the USA.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 24, 2018
To this end, plans are already underway to stage a league game between Real Madrid’s arch enemy, Barcelona, who have approved of the plans, and Girona in Miami in late January of next year. The heads of La Liga and the two clubs have formally requested the Spanish FA for the same already, with La Liga president Javier Tebas telling ESPN on Friday that there was still a “90 percent chance” the game would be moved to Hard Rock Stadium.
He said it would be an opportunity missed if Spanish clubs don’t warm up to the idea of playing league games abroad.
“Since I’ve arrived, La Liga has grown 22 percent while the Premier [League] has dropped 12 percent, so we are not doing so bad.”
“In Europe, no league has initiatives like this one. We have to grow where we have to grow. We have to be different. This is an industry and it affects everyone.”
Tebas said that it is “no problem” that Real Madrid wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but that it was no reason for other clubs in Spain to not go ahead with La Liga’s plans.
“If Real Madrid don’t want to come let them not come it’s not a problem. How can you think that La Liga will make a club play in the USA? It’s voluntary.”
But no matter what Tebas says, moving league games abroad is an unprecedented idea which could backfire because the very identity of league soccer is that it is domestic. Just like AFE, RSFF, and most of the fans did, now Real Madrid has shown a distaste for it, too.
Its future hangs in the balance.