The growth of soccer in the United States has been well documented on all levels, from the grassroots efforts of USA Soccer to all that MLS has done on the professional side. Even more interesting is the business interest some of the biggest global brands in the sport have taken with the game in the United States, despite the fact their clubs would hardly ever play matches in North America. Broadcast deals, sponsorships and social media has brought the world closer together and has created a global audience where the best players on the greatest global clubs are on display on any device and for any fan with an interest, especially the savvy young fan and the new immigrant who will rarely change his or her loyalty despite the locale where they are today.
Onto that mix comes LaLiga, the Spanish professional league, which recently opened its first office in New York to learn more about the American marketplace and show a new generation of fans its brand power and its potential, especially given the multilingual environment which Americans are becoming more and more used to. Leading the office is the two person team of David Guerra and Raul, whose name and talents on the soccer pitch are as legendary as almost any of the greatest players the sport has seen, especially in and around Spanish soccer.
We caught up with both of them recently to find out why LaLiga in the US, and why now.
LaLiga has recently opened its first U.S. business office, what are the short and long term goals?
It is difficult to open an office in a country so competitive as the USA. Thus, our first steps are introducing ourselves to the key influencers of the sports industry in the country, travelling a lot, explaining our vision of soccer and, above all, listening. We will be receptive to any kind of input. In the long term, the idea remains the same: increase LaLiga awareness as a brand (also our clubs) and our fan base-audience in the country. Deals with strategic partners and sponsors are a good means to achieve them.
How and why is the US market so attractive from a business standpoint for soccer clubs and leagues.
It is the perfect mix: a country business-minded and the most followed sport in the world. Almost everything still needs to be done here in the US related to soccer. Many people play soccer, especially among the youth, so it is now the time to maintain that soccer is the sport of the future USA from a global business standpoint, and we think La Liga has great potential as a property here.
Certain clubs like Chelsea and Bayern Munich have started to develop business initiatives in the US, how will what LaLiga is trying to do be different?
We are very interested in the future development of soccer in this country. We didn´t open an office here because we wanted to earn money at any cost. We respect very much the way America is developing soccer. People are very proud of it. We want to help with that, taking into account our expertise in coaches and players education. We want to be part of this society, understand the context and adapt our point of view. It is not a “stop and go away” as others clubs did. It is not a “show me the money” project. However difficult, we strongly believe that our way is more rewarding and can leave a footprint much deeper than any other league or club has ever done.
What is the greatest value in the U.S. marketplace from a soccer perspective?
There is value everywhere; a young audience growing with soccer, American families trying to understand the game better, immigrants following it, great engagement in social media, the best local League ever in MLS; This is the good wave for soccer, isn´t it? At least, it seems a very good moment for soccer. MLS is the clear example. Attendance is growing every season and the perspective can´t be better. LaLiga believes that this is the strategic place we have to focus in.
What are some of the numbers from a viewership and business standpoint LaLiga has that would surprise the American fan?
It´s hard to believe that we are the most followed league in social media (including our teams and players) but it is almost more surprising for the American fan what our global audience is. Think about the Super Bowl. Let´s say it has a potential audience of more than 200 million people. Think now about ElClasico (FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid). It is potentially watched by near 400 million people all around the globe. That´s our sport. That´s the power of the best soccer in the world.
Many people will know Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Are there other Spanish clubs that can build brand value in the US fairly quickly?
One of our main assets is the tremendous success of our clubs in international competitions. FC Barcelona is the actual winner of the World Club Championship, Sevilla FC has won three Europe Leagues in a row, Villarreal CF was only beaten in the semifinal of that competition and, of course, Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid will be playing the Champions League final next weekend for second time in the last three years. That speaks about the great level of LaLiga. We have the best players and teams and we believe that American fans support this same feeling. Besides, we have had a great feedback in the last LaLiga World tours in the US. More fans support our teams and players. More people watch LaLiga matches every weekend on beIN Sports. We want to be close to our fans and build with them the brand value of our teams, including Real Madrid, Barcelona and many others. This is one of the reasons we opened the office here.
What role does Raul, play in the venture?
The official name is Country Manager in the USA, but he is actually our captain. That´s the role he had many years in the different teams he played for and this is the role he is trying to achieve now as an executive. What is more, having played for N.Y. Cosmos, he knows very well American soccer and he is fully integrated in American society. He cares about soccer and the values of sport. There is a lot of work to be done, but he is the best ambassador any league could have right now, especially in the USA.
Does LaLiga have a positive relationship with MLS and can this new venture help that relationship grow?
We believe in MLS. We know very well how they work, what they want and, what is more important, the incredible growth they have experienced in the last 10 years. We have a great relationship and the message in all our conversations is clear: we are here to learn and to offer our experience in order to increase the level of professional soccer in the country. If MLS succeeds, international soccer will succeed as well. We are not competitors. Nowadays, we are just partners that can work together in this same venture of American soccer.
How valuable to growing the presence of LaLiga will the current and future series of matches, like Copa America, be to growing the business footprint here in the States?
Everything that is done for soccer in the US is also good for us. You increase the number of American fans that will be following soccer. The more they will watch, the more demanding they will become. In the end, they will want to consume the best product, the one with the best players and coaches. So, they will eventually become LaLiga fans to follow them.
Where can fans look to see more of a presence of LaLiga in the US in the coming years. At the grassroots level , the sponsorship level?
The appropriate answer is: we are the ones who want to see them. LaLiga is going to be in many places, as close to fans as we can. As we are a proud part of the sports industry, we develop our work in many different areas, so it is likely to read about LaLiga in financial media or business related magazines. Last week we hosted an event in Mountain View, California regarding technology and sport. At the same time, our fans will be able to enjoy the presence of LaLiga clubs in several youth competitions all around the country. In fact, our idea is to organize LaLiga Promises for second year in a row here in the US during next winter. The 2015 edition, held in Miami, had a great impact. Our first teams will also come here to play against national and international teams, inside the international program LFP World Challenge. You can also count on some sponsorship campaigns, as we have noticed how sponsors are also aware of this situation of LaLiga and how they propose to reach more American fans. Beyond that, our matches can also be watched every weekend in beIN Sports, which is growing its audience really fast. We will do our fast to be in more places in the coming years. We are sure that this is what our fans require from us.