When LaLiga and Relevent Sports Group announced a 15-year equal joint venture to promote soccer in the United States and Canada in August 2018, much of the attention surrounded the partners’ plans to bring a LaLiga match to the U.S.
While that game is an integral part of the partnership and is still in the works despite a few complications—“It’s not a question of if, but when,” according to Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America—many of the other initiatives have been overlooked.
“What we’ve been putting together around helping grow soccer in the U.S. and growing LaLiga, its teams and players goes beyond that match,” Gartner said.
LaLiga is utilizing a five-pillar approach to expand its presence and brand in North America via: media/TV rights, digital and social-friendly content, development projects, grassroots events and activations, and, of course, hosting a regular-season match on U.S. soil.
Spain’s top domestic division boasts 29 million fans in the United States among the nation’s 71 million soccer fans. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, soccer is the second-most watched sport among 18 to 34 year olds in the country. Unsurprisingly, LaLiga North America is targeting this audience through its programming and content on platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
The league currently offers six weekly Spanish-language programs on its digital platforms, but is expanding its reach with United States of LaLiga, an English-language documentary-style series that showcases unique stories of LaLiga fans across America. The 12-episode series, which is scheduled to launch ahead of the 2019/20 LaLiga season, features fans including a Washington, D.C. couple’s love story that has deep ties to SD Eibar and a Brooklyn Deportivo la Coruña supporter’s Galician roots.
“Let’s find as many stories as we can of Americans that have some connection with LaLiga,” Gartner said. “Let’s build that bridge.”
Gartner said the series is being shopped to a variety of streaming services following successful and popular soccer-focused programming including Sunderland ’Til I Die (Netflix), All or Nothing: Manchester City (Amazon) and First Team: Juventus (Netflix). He said while most of LaLiga’s current Spanish programming is for diehard fans of the league and sport, United States of LaLiga is geared more toward the casual viewer and non-soccer fans as a way of introducing them to the sport, LaLiga, its clubs and history.
“We realize that if we put it on our platforms or social, our following there is soccer fans, so we’d be missing the target audience we’d want to reach,” he said.
Showcasing LaLiga beyond Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Real Madrid is also a priority for Gartner, and the new docuseries emphasizes that. He said that while a story on Messi has an immediate global appeal, finding 10 or so more niche stories—like Mexican internationals Andrés Guardado and Diego Lainez playing together at Real Betis—can equal or trump one Messi story while showcasing the league in a more well-rounded way.
In a similar vein, LaLiga became the first major European soccer league to launch its own OTT service. Begun on March 25, LaLigaSportsTV offers fans outside of Spain an opportunity to watch LaLiga soccer, handball, futsal, basketball, hockey and more.
Diego Forlán, who played in Spain with Villarreal and Atlético Madrid from 2004-11, is excited to see how LaLiga is expanding not only in the United States, but globally. LaLiga matches are broadcast in more than 180 countries globally and the league has seen a 29% year-over-year growth in total audience from 2015-16 to 2017-18.
“It gives people from all around the world an opportunity to watch games and be in touch with the league,” Forlán said of LaLiga’s increased digital presence. “Having this kind of technology and easier ways of watching football helps a lot.”