Spain’s La Liga will become the first major European soccer league to stage a regular-season game in the United States, possibly as early as this season.
The league, which boasts arguably the two most famous clubs in the world in Real Madrid and Barcelona, entered into a 15-year promotional partnership with sports media entertainment group Relevent on Thursday, designed to broaden La Liga’s reach in the U.S. and Canada.
The game — with the participating teams and the location still to be decided — is part of La Liga’s push to extend its scope beyond Europe and usurp the English Premier League as the most popular in the world.
“We are trying to get it off and running this season,” Relevent executive chairman Charlie Stillitano told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone conversation. “It is a long partnership but we don’t want to hang around for a couple of years.”
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While numerous top European teams enjoy making lucrative preseason tours to North America, a regular-season game from one of the world’s leading leagues has, until now, remained elusive for American fans.
A decade ago, EPL chiefs suggested a plan that would see an extra round of games played each season, all of them to be staged overseas. It was assumed that as many of three of those could be held in the U.S., but the concept was quickly shelved after an angry backlash from supporters.
“We are devoted to growing the passion for soccer around the world,” said Javier Tebas, the president of LaLiga, which has capitalized on the high quality of its product by gaining a strong foreign fan base in recent seasons.
The deal was negotiated by Relevent CEO Danny Sillman, backed by company owner (and Miami Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross.
There will still be some hurdles to overcome. Stillitano admits that “no team wants to give up a home game” and the reality is that the match which comes to the U.S. is not going to be Real Madrid vs. Barcelona with the league title on the line.
However, it can be expected that a strong name, if not Real or Barca then possibly Europa League and European Super Cup champion Atletico Madrid or former Champions League finalist Valencia, will be involved.
“We want to put the league’s best foot forward,” Stillitano added. “La Liga’s standard of play is second to none. They believe that it is a matter of getting it out there in front of the world, and the rest will follow.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.