LaLiga's North American dream

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Professional soccer has become a global arms race. To compete on the world stage, leagues must invest abroad.

  • Look no further than LaLiga, Spain's top division, which has opened numerous international offices in recent years and placed delegates in over 40 countries.
  • No country is more important to that strategy than the U.S., and LaLiga's robust North American operation reflects that.

The backdrop: LaLiga's efforts in the U.S. began in earnest in 2018 when it launched a 15-year joint venture called LaLiga North America with Relevent Sports, a group co-founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

  • The crowning achievement so far was the eight-year, $1.4 billion deal it landed with ESPN — a huge upgrade from its previous deal with beIN Sports.
  • The joint venture also brokered an eight-year, $560 million deal with Sky Televisa (Mexico/Central America) and built a content studio in Guadalajara.

Between the lines: In addition to its media efforts, LaLiga North America is also focused on building community. On Sunday, it hosted watch parties for El Clásico — the name given to any game between rival giants Barcelona and Real Madrid — at bars in seven cities:

  • New York: Playwright Irish Pub, Smithfield Hall, Mercado Little Spain
  • Los Angeles: Tom’s Watch Bar, L.A. Live Plaza
  • Houston: Pitch 25
  • San Diego: Novo Brazil Brewing
  • Miami: 77 Sportbar
  • Mexico City: Monumento a la Revolución
  • Montreal: MVP Restaurant and Bar Sportif

The intrigue: LaLiga believes its natural connection to U.S. Hispanics gives it an advantage over other European leagues.

  • More than 1 in 4 U.S. adults who identify as soccer fans are Hispanic, per Morning Consult.
  • Roughly 60% of U.S. Hispanics are of Mexican descent, and LaLiga clubs have a rich history of Mexican stars.

Coming up: LaLiga clubs will tour North America this summer.

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