LaLiga have announced a 15-year partnership with Relevent Sports to promote Spanish football in North America and, as part of this agreement, some competitive league fixtures will be played in the USA or Canada.
The reaction in Spain has generally been one of disapproval. The fans did not like this proposal at all. A poll by national newspaper ABC saw 86% of users state that they were against the idea, while there was even a petition launched on Change.org to stop it. But just how angry are the fans and what are their reasons? Here’s what they’ve been saying.
Speaking to journalist Tania Martín, who follows Atlético Madrid, she explained why the supporters of Los Rojiblancos are upset, especially as they’re one of the teams most likely to be sent across the Atlantic, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid. “There is a general discontent among Atlético fans,” she said. “They don’t understand how they can lose the right to attend a match in their stadium, or even at an away stadium, because there are many who follow the team wherever they go [in Spain].”
Across the city in the neighbourhood of Vallecas, where newly promoted LaLiga side Rayo Vallecano are based, they’re not any happier, even though their team is less likely to be chosen for a US trip. Journalist Robbie Dunne, who wrote a book (Working Class Heroes) about the club, explained that their fans have long been against the commercialisation of football. “The majority of Rayo fans are famously against ‘football business’ and are vehemently against the decision, but they have come to accept this as the norm for a league growing increasingly separated from the fans that make the league,” he said. “They know, however, that they probably won’t be involved, which is some solace. Overall, they have a very cynical outlook on these kinds of things, but have grown accustomed to this kind of disenfranchising of the fans with little regard for their concerns over such expansion.”
Los Bukaneros, Rayo’s main fan group, even posted a message for league president Javier Tebas in the aftermath of the news. “Rayo in Vallecas. Matches in our stadiums. You [Tebas] can go to the United States. We’ll send you there wrapped in a ribbon.”
There has been similar scepticism at all clubs, but it’s important to note that the anger is not unanimous. As the ABC poll showed, around one in six fans are at peace with the development. Taking Leganés, for example, the responses to Lega-focussed journalist Antía André’s tweet about the news were mixed.
Most were against the idea, for various different reasons. “It’s shameful,” @esesebaslega replied. “We don’t have a fanbase over there, so don’t gain anything or any brand awareness,” @EireLega wrote. “The North Americans are getting to enjoy Leganés in the first division, these guys who probably don’t know who Jesús Polo, Alfredito, Pablo Calandria, Martín Mantovani or Jon Ander Serantes are,” added @oscaresmolina.
A few others, though, were open to the venture. “If it doesn’t affect Leganés then it seems fine to me that they market the league, if it helps the teams to earn more money and to close in on or surpass the Premier League,” @vamoslega said. “It’s something in common with American sports, as the NFL, for example, have been bringing matches to Europe for years without a major scandal,” added @dikenspicks.
For those against this news, the main issue by far is the loss of one of their home games. There only are 19 a year and to sacrifice one to a city like Miami, New York or Toronto would be a massive deal, especially at some of the smaller clubs that don’t yet take hosting Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético for granted. Huesca, Girona, Leganés and Eibar have all achieved their first ever promotions to LaLiga within the past five years and they definitely place huge sentimental value on each of the visits of these giants.
“All of the fanbases should stand together against modern football,” was the reaction of Joseba Combarro, the president of Eskozia La Brava, Eibar’s largest fan group. “We don’t share any decisions of Javier Tebas or support them. Football has died. All that’s left now are the fans.”
But what about the fans of LaLiga who are based in North America? Interestingly, Eibar also have a fan group over there, named Eibar USA, and their president John Sager also has some concerns. “While personally I think it could be interesting to see a LaLiga game in the USA, it is a slippery slope to take a team away from its home and local fans,” Sager said. “I think there were other things that could be improved for North American fans first, rather than a random game in a random American city, such as improving the LaLiga TV package availability and quality or announcing earlier schedule dates and times. Maybe for us personally it could be fun to see a game here, but I guess we will see how it plays out. It is an interesting idea to say the least. Overall, though, and with all things considered, I think it is a mistake that could devalue the competition by removing it from the home stadiums and fans.”
Sager’s point about the announcement of kick-off times is an important one, and one which several others have made too. One of the reactions from fans on the Iberian Peninsula has been along the lines of “well, if Americans want to watch LaLiga games they should fly out here”. But the thing is that many of them are willing to. The problem is that it’s simply so difficult to book a semi-affordable flight because fans only learn of the exact date and time of their team’s fixtures around a month beforehand.
For New York-based Atlético season ticket holder Ashley, this is a problem she has dealt with for a long time. As a flight attendant, she can find herself in Madrid six or seven times a month and she bases her work schedule around Los Colchoneros, but it’s not easy. She is one of the many committed foreign fans who come out to Spain to follow a team and she doesn’t agree with LaLiga’s decision either.
“If LaLiga set their matches well in advance to let people plan their travel schedules from the USA and other countries then this wouldn’t be a problem for them to accommodate foreign fans in Spain,” she pointed out. “You have no idea what it takes to schedule my life around this team. I’d still be furious [even if there was an Atleti match in New York]. I’d have to know well in advance. I’d have to know exactly when the match would occur. I’d have to know if I could attend the match as a socio or if I’d have to pay to attend. I would want to know if I would receive my proper credit as a socio if I couldn’t go and the club resold my seat to another person. Plus, if I decide to attend MetLife Stadium as a socio, would my seating arrangement be the equivalent? And what about my seat-mate Luis, who is a Spanish national? What if I want to sit next to him every match?”
With Real Madrid another of the most likely clubs to be taken over, and with Miami a likely venue, it was also interesting to hear the thoughts of the club’s fan group in the area, the Peña Sur De Florida. “Everything that brings Real Madrid closer is something that enthuses us and even more so if it’s an official match,” the fan group’s spokesperson María García-Mella Cid said. “But, at the same time, we understand that it’s something which could provoke upset amongst the members and season ticket holders who have paid for a season and who will now have access to one fewer match. There’s also the fatigue that the journey could create for the players and the risk of injury.”
So, to sum up, the majority of fans in Spain are angry and, above all, worried. Their counterparts in North America logically see more benefits in this for them, but at the same time they feel uneasy about the situation. There’s a sense that a better solution would be to make travelling to Spain for a matchday more feasible.
It’s impressive that the supporters have more or less united and taken similar stances on this issue and this was best summed up in a tweet by Levante fan account @Rogermartismo. “Tebas has achieved the unthinkable,” the tweet started. “The fanbases have united. There are no colours, badges, conflicts or rivalries. Now we all march under the same banner, that Javier Tebas is a son of a bitch. No to football business.” There’s a united stance to this United States issue.
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