By hosting Rayo Vallecano on the opening weekend of the season, Huesca’s Estadio El Alcoraz became the 99th stadium in history to host a La Liga match. That, in all likelihood, means Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium will become the 100th stadium to witness a top flight Spanish game, with Girona and Barcelona slated to play there next January.
These two teams clash at Camp Nou this weekend meaning the next time they play each pother in the league it will be in the States. This would mark another milestone. This would be the first La Liga match to be played abroad in what would be a landmark moment for the European game as a whole. There has been staunch opposition to the scheduling of this fixture in the United States, with players, managers and even FIFA president Gianni Infantino expressing their displeasure.
But Barcelona, Girona and La Liga (LFP) have nonetheless put forward a request to the Spanish FA (RFEF) for the match to be played in Miami following the striking of a deal between LFP and sports PR company Relevant, who already control the International Champions Cup that has come to dominate the summer schedules of world football’s biggest and best teams.
This is all part of a larger ploy by La Liga. They want to pit themselves against the Premier League as football’s predominant global league. Two seasons ago, they started scheduling kick off times to coincide with primetime TV slots in the Far Eastern market, even playing Clasicos at 4pm, a far from traditional kick off time for a native audience.
Last season, La Liga also struck a deal with the Saudi FA that saw nine Saudi Arabian national team players head to Spain in an attempt to broaden their appeal in the Middle East. The decision to stage games in America is a strategic one for a league hoping to beat the Premier League at its own global game.
But is it all really worth it? After all, it could be argued that La Liga is already the best league in world football. What’s it all for other than to line the pockets of the already rich? Having made great strides in levelling the playing field in recent years, this decision by La Liga to take games abroad could reverse that progress. Huesca v Levante wouldn’t draw many fans in Chicago or New York or anywhere else in the States for that matter.
It’s something of a myth that the Premier League boasts a more competitive field than La Liga – just look at the success of Spanish teams, not just Barcelona and Real Madrid, in European competition over the past decade. FiveThirtyEight calculates that 13 of the 40 best teams in world football are Spanish, while only six are English.
La Liga’s foreign games will only feature a select few clubs, though – Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid. These clubs already dominate at the top of the Spanish football food chain. Additional revenue from potential foreign fixtures will only widen the gap, which had been narrowing in recent years, between the best and the rest in La Liga.
What’s more, there is a question of community and culture. Taking games on the road (or the plane in this particular case) would distance Spain’s loyal hardcore from the sport. It could leave fans detached, creating fundamental fractures in the relationship supporters have with their team. That could have a long lasting impact.
Of course, the argument could be made that fans around the world also deserve to experience La Liga in person. It’s so much what La Liga is presenting now, one game in Miami, that concerns many, but what might follow that one game in Miami. This weekend’s clash between Catalan neighbours Barcelona and Girona could be the precursor to a real crossroads for Spanish football.
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