La Liga to host competitive games in USA this year in bid to take on Premier League's international might

For those in England it drags up memories of the ’39th game’ and a public outcry that forced the Premier League into a rethink.

A decade on, La Liga have taken the plunge where Richard Scudamore and chums didn’t dare. Indeed, Javier Tebas and the Spanish league have actually been forced into action by the Premier League’s global might and creeping, irreversible dominance and they’ve taken the leap that the Premier League decided wasn’t worth the backlash. 

First, the details: La Liga have entered into a 15-year joint venture with Relevent, the organisers of the International Champions Cup, to develop soccer in the US and bring an official match to US shores as soon as this season. Relevent, owned by the Miami Dolphins’ billionaire owner Stephen Ross, are experienced in putting on the ICC and are considered the most likely organisers of a potential European Super League – though the reality is that it would more likely be global. 

Javier Tebas, La Liga’s president, is trying to spread his league’s appeal (Getty)

Under Tebas’ presidency, La Liga have made huge efforts to conquer some key overseas markets including India – where games will be streamed live on Facebook for the next three years – China, and the US. They opened an office in New York in 2015 and appointed Raúl of New York Cosmos and David Villa of New York City FC as ambassadors, the precursor to rolling out a number of community initiatives. 

But while soccer schools and shirt giveaways can win hearts and minds on a small scale, Tebas knew that nothing could match the allure of bringing the league’s biggest stars over for a game that mattered and after taking the Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers last week, it’s now time for a regular league game to be played abroad for the first time. 

Market research undertaken by the Spanish league suggested that of the 50 million or so of committed soccer fans who regularly watch the sport on television, around 80% were fans of La Liga. America’s significant Hispanic population plays a major part in that, of course, and it is why last summer’s pre-season clásico in Miami was such a significant test case. Now the plan is to bring one of those Spanish giants back to America where they count on millions of fans but, this time, for a game that counts against a domestic opponent. 

It is a pre-emptive strike against the Premier League, who famously backed out of their intention to host a 39th round of the season in diverse locations around the world . The key discrepancy between the Spanish plan and what Scudamore had hoped to accomplish in 2008 is that the Premier League tried to add an extra round of fixtures in order to not meddle with the competitive ‘purity’ of having a home and away fixture against each team. La Liga, it appears, are ready to sacrifice one team’s home advantage and try to make it up to them financially. It is significant because the Premier League, broadcast on the widely-available NBC, already reaches far more eyeballs across America than beIN Sports’ coverage of La Liga. 

The US was able to give the Clasico the full Super Bowl treatment (Getty)

Of course, most major league American sports are already either experimenting with or fully committed to playing games overseas. The NFL have done so for over a decade, with multiple regular season games in London and Mexico City and talk of a first Super Bowl outside the 50 states already rife. The NBA continues to host games abroad, though badly organised, while Major League Baseball will come to the London Stadium for the first time next summer. 

No major football league has ever tried to do what La Liga have just agreed to with Relevent and if it proves a success then the Italians, who already play cup finals abroad, could be next. Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival means they have one of the world’s most marketable athletes but his age means they will have to be quick.

It’s an arms race, as Miguel Delaney put it when reporting back in December that La Liga were ready to take this unprecedented step. The Premier League have these weapons in their armoury too, it’s a case of whether they’re willing to use them now the first shot has been fired.

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