Top-flight Spanish soccer clubs will play official games in the United States

Barcelona FC and Real Madrid likely to appear as early as this season, as part of a deal with American firm Relevent aimed at promoting the sport across the Atlantic

Milan plays Barcelona in Santa Clara in the United States.
Milan plays Barcelona in Santa Clara in the United States.TONY AVELAR / AP

Spain’s top-flight soccer league, La Liga, will for the first time in its history play matches outside of Europe – specifically, in the United States. This is one of the plans included in a 15-year deal signed by La Liga and media, sports and entertainment multinational Relevent. The initiative is aimed at promoting the sport in North America.

“The aim of this extraordinary joint venture is for the culture of soccer to grow in the United States,” explained Stephen Ross, a US businessman and majority owner of Relevent, the Miami Dolphins, and the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, among others. “It will mean a great step in its rising popularity,” he told EL PAÍS via telephone.

Stephen Ross, the majority owner of Relevent

The plan is for the first game to be played in the United States as soon as possible, most likely this season. La Liga’s most famous two teams, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, are slated to be involved.

La Liga and Relevent, which will be forming a new organization called LaLiga North America, will be adopting a promotion and expansion plan similar to that of the main sports leagues in the US, such as the NBA, the NFL, the MLB and the NHL. For some years now, these leagues have been holding games outside of North America.

“I like soccer, I like all sports,” added Ross. “This deal with help it grow in a country in which all of us were disappointed not to be able to play in the World Cup. I hope that we can play in the next one, and see that soccer has grown exponentially when it is held here in 2026.” The tournament that year will be held between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“If the NBA or the NFL play games outside their usual environment or their countries, why wouldn’t the Spanish Liga do so too?” said Javier Tebas, the current president of La Liga. “It’s important to develop our brand. It is within our short- and medium-term objectives to take a Liga match to the United States every year.”

Tebas was keen to point out that the idea will not interfere with the normal course of the season. “Nothing will be organized that goes against the interests of the participants,” he said. “We will see which teams could be in favor. And what compensation and communication strategies would be carried out. We have changed a lot of things in the last four years, some of which have gotten a great response.”

Relevent has been organizing the International Champions Cup (ICC) since 2013. This year, in different cities across five continents – but mainly in the United States – a total of 18 of the most important clubs in the world are taking part, among them Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid. It was during the clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona in July 2017, in Miami, a game that was organized by Relevent, that the meetings that would lead to this new deal took place.

La Liga president Javier Tebas

The Real Madrid and Barcelona brands have grown in recent years in the United States. Tebas is hoping that now the La Liga brand will also grow. “Relevent has filled stadiums across the United States with the ICC,” he explained. “It’s the company that can help us the most to grow in the US, not just in the very competitive market of soccer, but also within the entire sports industry.”

According to a study from 2016, of the 47 million soccer fans in the US, 33 million follow La Liga. And 30% of Americans who are interested in soccer are Hispanic. “Joining with Relevent to create LaLiga North America is a major milestone in our international expansion strategy,” said Óscar Mayo, the director of international development for La Liga.

English version by Simon Hunter.