Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid can head an invasion by Spanish clubs to capitalise on the lucrative American soccer market and compete with Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and other Premier League teams, the president of La Liga believes.
Javier Tebas is clear that the continuing growth of Major League Soccer, the US team’s strong showing at the World Cup and the status of La Liga as “the best in the world” offer a perfect storm of opportunity for Spanish teams to overtake England’s top clubs for the affection of football fans in America.
The commercial appeal of the United States was underlined by 109,318 fans selling out the Michigan Stadium – known as the Big House – to watch Saturday night’s 3-1 victory by United over Real in Ann Arbor.
This came despite there being no MLS team in the state and Ann Arbor and nearby Detroit being a hotbed of Major League Baseball, NFL and college American Football. The Big House is home to the Michigan Wolverines, the American Football team of Michigan University.
Tebas was in San Francisco last Sunday to see Atlético Madrid defeat the San Jose Earthquakes, 4-3 on penalties, in the latest match of the self-styled LFP World Challenge, which is a joint strategy between La Liga and the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade that “aims to help promote Spain overseas”.
“La Liga is one of the biggest football leagues that is currently being followed by Americans and it is our intention to capitalise on this and see it grow year on year,” Tebas said. “The World Cup showed what passion there is for football in the US and we are over here at a great time.
“We believe that the USA is an important area for Spanish soccer and we want to meet American La Liga fans and bring them top quality Spanish football.”
The US lost in extra-time to Belgium in a pulsating World Cup last-16 tie, and the MLS continues to grow and attract high-profile stars, including Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry and David Villa.
Tebas said: “I am very excited about US football, particularly their national team. They were perhaps one of the surprise packages of the Wold Cup and I know they enjoyed significant support both at home and in Brazil. It seems that soccer is rapidly growing in popularity in the US and the MLS is becoming increasingly significant.
“We have had an excellent experience here in the United States. We are here with the league champions [Atlético] who are well known and are being received with a lot of warmth and respect. After all, they are some of the best players in the league.”
Tebas believes that the MLS and US Soccer Federation rate La Liga as the superior product to the Premier League
“They do view La Liga as the best in the world and see the games in the US as one of the best ways they can benefit from the clubs,” he said. “We are bringing not just players over here but coaches and technical directors. It is a great experience for all the clubs.
“The plan is to bring La Liga, as well as the culture and principles of the country, to the US and global audiences. The objectives are not just about football but also to present the companies supporting this World Challenge and showcase Spain. La Liga is a league football players dream to play in and we want to bring the league and that passion to audiences around the world.
“This is a long-term project for us. It’s a project that we would like to continue as long as it’s necessary. It benefits our clubs and all of our partners – we want to be known globally.”
While West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Swansea City have joined United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool stateside this summer, Tebas is intent that a greater number of Spanish clubs will visit every close season as well.
“There is no doubt about it,” he said. “Every year one or two teams will come to the US. We are already looking ahead to next year and planning to expand. Our goal is to bring two clubs and play six games.”
The Premier League – the most commercially successful and most watched domestic competition in the world, broadcasting to more than 200 nations – is the benchmark for La Liga, Tebas concedes.
“The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world,” he said. “Obviously we can learn so much from the Premier League. Today we believe that we are the best league in the world but we can always learn more. In economic respects, we can learn from the Premier League, especially around how to maximise commercial opportunities.
“The Premier League does this and markets and packages its product very well. We look at how the Premier League commercialises the infrastructure around stadiums and all visual aspects of the game – how it has structured itself from a consumer standpoint.”
With La Liga considered a competition that is technically superior to the Premier League, Tebas is unsure if it can ever be matched. “We cannot know the future but we do know that the best players in the world, the 11 best players in the world were voted for, and all of them are players in La Liga and we will continue to work to attract the top players to our league and to be the best,” he said.