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La Liga becomes first top European league to take regular-season games to United States with landmark 15-year deal

Sam Wallace
Could the Madrid derby be played in the US? - Getty Images Europe

The successor to Richard Scudamore as Premier League chief executive will come under pressure from the 20 clubs to investigate ways of staging competitive league games overseas, after La Liga in Spain became the first of Europe’s top five leagues to announce it would do so.

As it stands the Premier League has no immediate plans to follow its Spanish counterpart and stage selected single league games outside the country – announced on Thursday by Liga officials as part of a major push to give its competition a greater profile in North America. Nevertheless, Scudamore’s successor will have to be mindful of the competition given that international rights are the major area of growth for broadcast revenue when the league next goes to market for 2022-2025.

The Spanish Liga has agreed to stage competitive games overseas as part of a 15-year deal that will take their teams to the United States and Canada. There were no details as to when the first game would be played outside Spain, or how many, but the next Spanish football television deal runs from 2019 to 2022 so it could well be within that cycle.

Scudamore, who will quit later this year, ruled out the possibility of moving competitive matches overseas when he announced his departure at the end of last season. With demand from Premier League club owners for increased broadcast revenue there will be pressure to keep their league as the world’s pre-eminent competition and not be seen to fall behind. 

Lionel Messi's Barcelona would be a huge draw Credit: getty images

The Premier League are currently interviewing candidates to be Scudamore’s successor, one of the most high-profile and influential jobs in the English game. Scudamore’s proposal in 2008 of a 39th game, played overseas as a competitive addition to the regular fixture list stands as one of the few misjudgements of his reign.

The Liga president Javier Tebas is under pressure to raise revenue for the 20 clubs of La Liga who are expected to bring in around £1.5 billion a season for their collective domestic and overseas rights from next season. The Premier League’s next run of domestic and international rights for 2019-2022 are worth £4.55 billion over three years, excluding what Amazon Prime has paid for its rights package and the total including international rights will take it to well in excess of £8.3 billion.

In a bid to gain a greater following around the world, Liga has signed deals recently in a range of Asian countries including Pakistan and India where the league will be show free-to-air. It is not clear whether the Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona will ever be staged overseas with Tebas having ruled out that possibility in the past.

The two biggest clubs in Spain take the greater share of the television revenue, between £140 million and £150 million each depending on their place in the table. There is a more equitable revenue sharing agreement in place from 2022 but until then both of the two biggest sides are protected from seeing any reduction in the revenue they are paid.

Some of the biggest names in world football play in La Liga Credit: getty images

Last season, Atletico Madrid, who finished second in La Liga behind Barcelona, earned the equivalent of £88 million from the Spanish television deal, less than the 20th placed Premier League club West Bromwich Albion who banked £94.6 million.

Like many European leagues, Liga has been investigating ways of making itself more of a global phenomenon. The Italian Supercoppa, the equivalent of the Charity Shield, will be played in Saudi Arabia in January. It was first played in China in 2009 and has since been played outside Italy six times, including further games in China and in Qatar.

Liga has opened offices in what it considers to be major markets around the world, and the deal to stage a game in North America was overseen by La Liga North America and the media company Relevent which has been involved in organising pre-season tournaments. Tebas said: “We’re devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world. This ground-breaking agreement is certain to give a major impulse to the popularity of the beautiful game in the US and Canada.”