Some of Spain’s top soccer teams -- including FC Barcelona and Real Madrid -- are slated to play regular-season matches in the United States for the first time in history as part of a promotional effort to boost soccer’s popularity in North America.
The initiative is just one plan inked in a 15-year-deal between Spain's La Liga soccer league and multinational media and sports conglomerate Relevant, according to the English-language edition of Spain's El País newspaper.
The deal means that U.S. fans will get to see players like Barcelona's Lionel Messi perform in games that count in the league standings -- not just in summer exhibition matches.
“The aim of this extraordinary joint venture is for the culture of soccer to grow in the United States,” Stephen Ross, majority owner of Relevent, the NFL's Miami Dolphins, and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, among others, told the paper.
La Liga would become the first European league to play regular-season matches in the United States, the New York Times reported.
The hope is for the first match to be played in the U.S. this season; however, given the various logistical hurdles involved in having foreign teams play on American soil, it may be pushed back until 2019, according to the New York Times.
The move mimics the strategy of American professional sports teams, such Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, which have all played games abroad in an effort to expand its audience.
“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, according to El País. “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.”
While the Times reported that La Liga nor Relevent revealed what specific teams would take place in the initiative, El País noted two of the league’s top draws -- FC Barcelona and Real Madrid – are expected to participate.
In addition, the location of the match is still up in the air, but Miami appears to be the top choice, the Times reported.
The deal between Relevant and La Liga also includes selling the broadcasting rights to American media and Canada in 2020, as well as merchandising and different enterprises, according to the Times.