So official La Liga games are coming to the United States as soon as this season, are they? Don’t count on it.
Despite Thursday’s joint announcement by Spain’s vaunted first division – the home to global juggernauts Barcelona and Real Madrid and perhaps the best domestic soccer league in the world – and Relevent Sports, its North American marketing partner, that La Liga “plans” to play at least one official match in the U.S. or Canada every season for the next 15 years, it’s highly unlikely to happen, according to multiple sources.
“There’s no chance in hell,” one source told Yahoo Sports.
There are plenty of reasons why not. Let’s put aside for now that there’s already been public opposition from Spain’s players union. It’s also far from clear at this stage that the individual clubs are all on board.
The main hurdle La Liga and Relevant face is getting the required approval from various governing bodies at the international, regional, and national levels, starting with FIFA. As global soccer’s gatekeeper, FIFA would have to rubber-stamp any plan that would involve official matches in a country’s domestic competition to be played outside that country.
And while FIFA has allowed competitive matches to be played at neutral sites in the past, most of those have been international matches that needed to be moved because of a specific set of circumstances, such as war or natural disaster. It’s never really been done at club level for purely economic reasons.
And before you say, correctly, that money talks when it comes to FIFA, it’s hard to see the organization being swayed into setting a potentially dangerous new precedent for the relatively little money that a one-off La Liga match could generate, even in a place like Miami. Because if FIFA said yes to this proposal, what would stop Europe’s other top teams from routinely playing league games in foreign lands, diverting revenue from local clubs in the process?
And even if FIFA did greenlight the plan, others could still stop it. CONCACAF, which oversees the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean, has the jurisdiction to say no. CONCACAF has in the past balked at the idea of teams from the English Premier League and Mexico’s Liga MX playing meaningful games on U.S. soil. Both of those circuits have since essentially abandoned the idea. UEFA, Europe’s governing body, would also have to approve any deal that involved teams from Spain or any other European country.
In the event that La Liga’s plan cleared all of those obstacles, the United States Soccer Federation, which sanctions every soccer game played within the country’s borders, would have the final say. It’s hard to see La Liga convincing the USSF that staging such a match would be in the best interests of the sport in the country.
A single match played during Major League Soccer’s offseason would have little to no impact on the USA and Canada’s top league. But what if that number grew? It’s safe to assume that MLS, whose commissioner Don Garber has bristled at European clubs’ barnstorming summer tours before, would not be in favor of it. (An MLS spokesman declined to comment.)
But so far, that’s all hypothetical. A U.S. Soccer spokesman told Yahoo Sports that as of Thursday afternoon, no formal request to stage a competitive game between La Liga squads has been submitted to the USSF.
Still, media outlets around the world reported La Liga’s proposal as if it is a done deal. The truth is it’s a long way from happening, if it ever happens at all.
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