Money over morals: La Liga betraying Spain's teams, players & fans with US deal

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Moving a 'smaller' side's home game against Barcelona or Real Madrid to America proves brand-building trumps all other concerns in modern football

The best thing one can say about La Liga's decision to stage a game in the United States this season is that the game's major powerbrokers are no longer even attempting to hide their disregard for the welfare of players or the interests of 'smaller' clubs and their supporters.

That was made abundantly clear in an incredibly revealing interview ESPN conducted with Charlie Stillitano, Executive Chairman of Relevent Sports, the company which has signed a 15-year agreement with the Primera Division's governing body.

Asked about rumours that Miami will be the venue for the chosen Liga fixture, and that either Real Madrid or Barcelona will be involved, the American explained: "Obviously we want to have a recognisable team, you know?

"If this were two or three years from now, it becomes less important. But I think it's critical that we have one of the top five or six teams that's recognisable. 

"Obviously, everyone knows Barca and Real Madrid, but equally people know Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia. I think that it's got to be one of the bigger teams."

After all, who cares about the likes of Betis, Real Sociedad, Athletic Club or Villarreal? Certainly not Relevent Sports or La Liga.

Indeed, it is expected that Betis' fixture with Barca will be relocated to Florida, thus depriving thousands of fans – Betis have approximately 50,000 season ticket holders, none of whom were warned in advance about this possible loss of a marquee match – of the opportunity to see Lionel Messi & Co. at the Benito Villamarin.

Lionel Messi Luis Suarez Barcelona Betis

More importantly, it robs Betis of the one advantage they would hold over the reigning champions, as they would be forced to play at a neutral venue but before an undoubtedly partisan Barca crowd in Miami.

It has been suggested that Betis would benefit financially but no details of the financial arrangements have been forthcoming. However, one can safely assume that the token opponents won't make as much out of the enterprise as Barca or Real.

Stillitano, though, insists that this is not all about money, at least, not yet.

"It's not really a big part of our deal at this point," he told ESPN. "We have TV rights, we have games, we have sponsor rights - we're doing a lot of things for the league over a 15-year period and the idea is to build the brand so that we can bring more money to the league.

"But this specific game won't be a huge money game. This would be more of a brand-building, promotional exercise."

Such honesty is actually refreshing and even La Liga president Javier Tebas admitted this initiative isn't about anything other than advertising,a chance to open up new markets: "It's important to develop our brand.

"And if the NBA and the NFL play their games outside their countries, why wouldn't La Liga do it?"

But why stop there? If the NBA and the NFL can move clubs from one city to another in order to make more money, why wouldn't La Liga do it? It would just be good business, after all.

Javier Tebas Liga US game PS

Credit to La Liga and Relevent Sports, though, they haven't completely forgotten about the fans.

They would like to compensate the 'smaller' clubs and their supporters for taking a home game away from them. Not that anyone has worked out exactly how to do that just yet.

"Most likely [the US game] will be [taken from] a smaller team's stadium; it'll be a small team's home match," he confirmed. "We'll figure out different ways to accommodate the fans. We haven't decided yet.

"The other part is that we want it to be so that there's not a cup game in between so that there's a little bit of rest for the players. We're trying to respect the game. We're trying to respect the players."

Ah, the actual players. Even they have been factored into the equation.

Still, if they were hoping to show them some respect, La Liga and Relevent Sports have already failed spectacularly in that regard, with the Spanish Association of Footballers (AFE) announcing on Wednesday that they are even willing to strike over the proposed US game.

"The players are outraged, very surprised, and are all against it. It's unanimous,” AFE president David Aganzo told reporters.

"The players don't want to play overseas. Things have to be done in a more coherent way and with common sense.

"A decision of this magnitude, that affects players, referees and fans, was taken unilaterally and is a lack of respect."

But then, that's the least surprising part of this whole affair. We've learned nothing new. After all, Premier League executive Richard Scudamore touted the idea of a 39th game a decade ago.

The only difference is that the broadcasters and elite clubs have been emboldened in the intervening years by the gradual erosion of the game's core principles and are now far more transparent in their commitment to brand-building and money-making. 

Sadly, this is modern football and it will be coming to a ground near you very soon. Or taken away from one...

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