MADRID (Reuters) - La Liga’s organizing body announced on Thursday that it plans to hold regular season Spanish top flight games in the United States in the future.
European clubs and leagues have increased their presence in the United States in recent years as they seek to make a dent in the country’s vast sports market.
“LaLiga, Spain’s top-flight soccer competition, and Relevent, a multinational media, sports and entertainment group, today announced a first-of-a-kind 15-year, equal joint venture to promote soccer in the U.S. and Canada,” said a statement.
“As part of the agreement, LaLiga plans to bring a regular season club match to the United States, the first to be played outside of Europe.”
La Liga did not give any details on when the first game across the Atlantic was set to take place and did not immediately respond to a request for information from Reuters.
The Spanish footballer’s union, the AFE, however, criticized the league for not consulting the players, declaring its “most energetic protest” at the announcement.
“As usual, La Liga has ignored the opinion of players and compromises them with actions which only the league benefits from, without showing any consideration for the health of players and much less the sentiment of fans of the clubs...,” said a statement from the organization.
David Aganzo, head of the AFE, added: “Footballers are not currency that can be used in business deals that only benefit third parties.”
Spain’s biggest clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona recently returned from pre-season tours in the United States. They played against top European sides such as AC Milan, AS Roma, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in the International Champions Cup, a tournament organized by Relevent.
In July 2017, the two sides played each other in a friendly ‘Clasico’, selling out Miami’s Hard Rock stadium.
Usually overshadowed by the likes of basketball, baseball and the NFL, football’s influence will be boosted by the fact that the United States is to host, along with Canada and Mexico, the 2026 World Cup.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has spoken on many occasions about his desire to play regular season games outside of Spain and mimic the NFL’s highly successful policy of playing official games in London since 2007.
“We’re devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world. This ground-breaking agreement is certain to give a major impulse to the popularity of the beautiful game in the U.S. and Canada,” Tebas said.
“Relevent has filled stadiums across the U.S. with the International Champions Cup, we’re thrilled to partner with them on a joint mission to grow soccer in North America.”
Earlier this month, the Spanish Super Cup, Spain’s annual curtain raiser between the league and Copa del Rey winners, was moved outside of the country for the first time, with Barcelona beating Sevilla 2-1 in Tangier, Morocco.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Chopra