The news of La Liga bringing a match stateside has drawn mixed reactions from players and football officials alike. All-in-all, it is not good news for either La Liga or MLS.
An ambitious plan by La Liga to bring a match to the United States over the course of the next 15 years is proving to be a bold move filled with controversy and backlash. This would be the first time that a competitive La Liga football league match would be played in the States and the Spanish top flight seems to be in it for the long haul.
Plans for this project were announced in August ahead of the 2018-19 La Liga season with talks that a match could be played as early as this year in the U.S. As of right now, it looks like that will be Barcelona against Girona in January.
One would think, it’s only one match, right? How bad could it be?
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Well, the players union in Spain did not take well to this proposal. Threatening a strike, the union cited not being consulted about the plan beforehand as an issue along with the fact that one club would have to give up a home match. As we know in European football, a home match is a major event regardless of its significance in the grand scheme of things in the season.
Recently, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said:
"“I think I would prefer to see a great MLS (Major League Soccer) game in the US rather than La Liga being in the US,”"
When the top official in the footballing governing body thinks it isn’t a good idea, then it’s worth a second look at the effectiveness of what the plan is here.
Bad for MLS and La Liga?
This move is clearly being made to help spread La Liga’s influence around the globe. We have seen this ourselves with the National Football League having games being played in London, England.
With the Premier League still the most popular league in the world, La Liga would most likely be using this to help close the gap and possibly set them up for a large television deal in the States that would bring in another source of revenue and a solid fan base.
From a marketing perspective, it really isn’t a horrible move as no other European league has successfully been able to launch a long-term deal like this one. The investment by La Liga in the U.S. might go a long way to gaining a fan base foothold in North America.
However, for Major League Soccer, this can’t really help them very much at all. Although this year’s La Liga U.S. match will take place in January, which is the offseason in MLS, there won’t be any MLS teams involved. It’s as simple as that. Fans won’t be coming to see anything related to the league. This sets a bad precedent for MLS in relation to its reach in the very country it houses a majority of its teams.
If MLS wants to continue to create a highly competitive and respected league then they shouldn’t be too happy with La Liga trying to compete with them for viewership in their own market. Granted, La Liga matches are watched more than MLS matches around the world but this might give extra incentive for a fan in the U.S. to start watching La Liga more often than their local MLS club.
MLS has come a long way and the culture they are building is headed in the right direction. There will be hiccups in the path to creating a sustainable and highly competitive league but this presents a challenge to what they have already created.