Spanish league focuses on growing abroad to stay competitive

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              FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 file photo, Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish La Liga, speaks during the World Football summit in Madrid, Spain. As Spanish league president Tebas sees it, expanding internationally is the only way to keep the league competitive. La Liga competitive with the Premier League and other top leagues. (AP Photo/Paul White, file)
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MADRID (AP) — As Spanish league president Javier Tebas sees it, expanding internationally is the only way to stay competitive.

And following the model of the American sports industry will help that happen, so playing a regular-season match in the United States will remain an important part of the league’s strategy to grow globally.

Tebas tried to play a match near Miami this season, but the attempt failed because the league couldn’t get the approval from the Spanish soccer federation and from other stakeholders. The game between Girona and Barcelona, which was supposed to take place last weekend, ended up being played in Catalonia as originally scheduled.

“With all the controversy that was created, I thought we were trying to play all the league matches in the United States,” Tebas said Wednesday in an event organized by Europa Press. “We are talking about one match in a total of 380. It’s very important for us to be able to play this match in the United States.”

The game would be part of the league’s 15-year agreement with sports and entertainment group Relevent to promote its brand in the Americas.

The Spanish federation was against the idea because of concerns that the overseas game would not comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts, and because it could harm the other 18 league clubs. Spain’s players’ association said the long trip across the Atlantic in the middle of the season would hurt the players’ interests.

“Some 20 days ago they played an NBA game in London,” Tebas said, defending his project. “Do we want to compare ourselves to the American sports industry or not? We should try, while keeping our peculiarities.”

Tebas has always noted that American sports leagues such as the NBA, NHL and the NFL have been playing regular-season games abroad to help expand their brands.

“This game is not only about the 90 minutes, it’s about everything that comes along with it, about how much people will talk about it,” Tebas said. “If the NBA brings an official game to Spain, it creates a connection with all the basketball fans here. If we do the same in the United States, all the soccer fans there will follow our league a lot more closely.”

With not a lot of room to grow locally, Tebas said there is no other alternative for the league than to focus on thriving outside of Spain.

“What is important for us is the international market,” Tebas said. “I always tell the clubs that we need to make a decision about what we want. If we want our football to remain a reference internationally, then we need to know where we have to go. And we need to keep growing.”

Tebas said it has been difficult to compete with a league like the Premier League because it can earn more from television rights thanks to England’s much bigger market compared to Spain’s.

“In the international market, we are all equals,” he said. “That’s where we need to focus on.”