La Liga announced this week that it was going to play regular season games in the United States — a move will help grow the sport in America, and, as it does so, increase international interest in the Spanish league. It’s a decision that could ultimately allow the Spain’s top-tier narrow the financial gap with the English Premier League.
Of course, it did not take long for the self-christened gatekeepers of the soul of the sport to declare that the decision would be bad for the game; and complain about how the fans have been done wrong because the league they follow is attempting to bettering itself and reach out to a larger, vibrant, and sports-hungry market. Some have even suggested that it will somehow be bad for Major League Soccer in America if fans get to see non-American regular season games here. So, let’s put some of this nonsense to bed.
A receptive market in the US
First off, as an American soccer fan who follows MLS, every American fan I know also follows European soccer. It’s just the natural that when you like a sport you want to see it played at its highest level. In fact, most MLS (and lower division US soccer) fans began following the sport via a team in Europe that they still support. It’s always fun to see a conversation between an Arsenal and Liverpool supporter who both also support their local MLS team. Seeing the game abroad has built the fanbase of those who follow it here at home.
Second, from La Liga’s perspective, they have to find a way to compete financially with the English Premier League, and this is certainly an effective way to do it. This competition won’t primarily benefit Barcelona or Real Madrid who already have a massive international profile. Instead, it will benefit the smaller teams in the league, and make it healthier as a whole — something that the top-heavy La Liga desperately needs to achieve.
But what about the fans? Yes, what about them. When the English Premier League signed its massive TV deal in 2016, nearly half of the £10bn in the deal was for overseas television rights. Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga are considered two of the most valuable brands in world sport because Nike and Adidas and Fly Emirates and others know that, outside of Spain, they have huge followings. The modern game is built on the back of the international fan, so why is it an affront to the sport that these international fans get a chance to see their teams live?
Many similar complaints were made about the widely attended preseason games that European Clubs play both here in the States and in other countries around the world. Apparently, it would somehow hurt MLS that these things were being played, and it was nothing more than a money grab for the big clubs. Jose Mouriho, world football’s premier whiner, seemed to be one of the leading voices of these complaints.
Build it and we will come
But let me tell you as a fan of a La Liga club what that preseason tour was like. I have followed Real Madrid for sixteen years, and with each passing year I grow more and more passionate about them. Back in the old days I would find any stream of the game I could in any language just to see my club (often in very blurry resolution) play, and when I couldn’t do that I would find myself checking online scores and following tournaments. Now it takes a patchwork of various subscriptions to make sure I get all their games in the course of a season and I watched all but a handful last year. To fly to Spain to watch a game would be prohibitively expensive, so I saw an opportunity to catch them play here in the States this summer.
I have been to many major sporting events, a Kentucky Derby, a game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, NBA playoff games, NFL regular season games, but the feeling of elation I had in seeing my club compete before my very eyes ranks right up there with any one of them. This is why La Liga coming to the USA is such a great thing, because it lets fans who never would get to see their club in person do so. It enriches the love of the sport that we have here and lets us pour that into our local clubs (shoutout to the Dead Whales of North Carolina FC!) and it benefits La Liga while they are at it. This is a no brainer from the perspective of everyone involved, and do not let any fan carrying on about the ‘soul’ of the game or any such nonsense tell you otherwise.