In 2015, LaLiga opened an office in New York and now, three years later, they’ve sent back a letter from America, proclaiming that some Spanish top flight matches will be held in North America, from Miami to Canada.
It was announced on Thursday morning that the governing body of Spain’s professional football league has entered a 15-year partnership with Relevent Sports, the company behind the International Champions Cup. An organisation called LaLiga North America has been founded, with a five-person board made up of three Relevent representatives and two from LaLiga.
The organisation will work to promote the championship in North American through a variety of mechanisms, including hosting competitive fixtures across the Atlantic. “The operation will support the league’s growth in the US 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 US,” a statement from the league said. Besides the shock and anger at the decision, the reaction in Spain has been one of confusion. How will this work? How many games will be taken overseas? Which teams will be involved? Why?
The specifics have yet to be announced, but they may need to be disclosed soon because the first US-based LaLiga game is reportedly set to be held this very season. Given that Relevent Sports is owned by Stephen Ross, who also owns the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and their Hard Rock Stadium, it’s expected that LaLiga will land in the Floridian city on their first US adventure, before visiting other cities and stadiums over the course of the 15-year deal. The good weather and the fact Miami’s time zone is closest to Spain’s also make this a logical choice for the first stop. Barcelona and Real Madrid both have experience of the venue too, having played an International Champions Cup Clásico there in 2017.
As for the teams involved, it’s likely that one of Barcelona or Real Madrid will be chosen, whether they like it or not. “I think you might have heard very much of one of the teams,” Ross said in a hint about the debut match, as per the New York Times. “One of the bigger teams.”
In terms of when it would make the most sense to be on a weekend. Yet the 7,000km separating Spain from Miami would make it near impossible, or else incredibly unfair, to have either of the teams involved playing on the weekend after a midweek game. On top of that, LaLiga North America would almost certainly want both sets of players to fly out several days in advance of the fixture in order to take part in promotional and media events, as happens when American Football teams visit London as part of the NFL’s International Series.
A quick glance at the calendar shows that there are four potential dates before the resumption of the Champions League and Europa League knockout stages in February which could suit LaLiga sides competing both in European competition and the Copa del Rey. Rounds 9, 13, 17 and 18 come after midweeks without fixtures – even if rounds 9 and 13 are the weekends after the October and November international breaks.
A problem if Hard Rock Stadium is to be the venue is that the Miami Dolphins are at home to the Detroit Lions on the weekend of LaLiga round 9, at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the weekend of LaLiga round 17 and could then have a home playoff game the weekend of LaLiga round 18. As unlikely as it is that the Dolphins make the NFL playoffs, it’s a possibility that has to be considered.
So could one of the matches from the 13th round of LaLiga take place in Miami, on the weekend of November 24th when the Dolphins are on the road? That round Eibar is scheduled to host Real Madrid, while Atlético is due to host Barcelona and taking either of these fixtures abroad would pose serious complications. For Eibar, this would be the loss of one of the biggest and most special days of their season – and, to be honest, it would still be one of the most special of their history, given that they’ve only been in LaLiga five years. No financial compensation could make up for having that game taken away from Ipurua. As for Atleti-Barça, this is a potential title-decider and Los Rojiblancos would be fuming to lose the home advantage.
Perhaps the match could be held after the hustle and bustle of the busy midweeks of the first few months of 2019, but at that stage, every fixture means more and more and the thought of a pivotal end-of-season match being held away from a Spanish stadium is an even more difficult one to digest. It’s a messy situation and a drama which won’t die down any time soon. The Spanish players’ union have expressed their disapproval of the proposals and their president David Aganzo went as far as saying “footballers are not bargaining chips that can be used in negotiations that only benefit third parties”.
Because at the end of the day, this is all about money. Money for third parties and money that should eventually trickle back to the clubs, but money that will ultimately be coming out of the pockets of the dedicated fans who follow their team no matter the cost. From Miami to Canada.