FC Barcelona, Real Madrid Paving Way for LaLiga Clubs in U.S.

When a club takes the field against FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, powerhouses in La Liga and world soccer, it’s typically a David vs. Goliath scenario. The two giants of the game have won a combined 58 LaLiga titles, 49 Copa del Rey crowns and 18 UEFA Champions League trophies.

Not only do they dominate on the field, but Barça and Madrid also tower above the competition in the business of soccer. Real Madrid and Barcelona are the second- and third-most valuable soccer franchises in the world at $4.088 billion and $4.064 billion, respectively, according to Forbes.

Despite feeling like minnows swimming in the wake of a pair of great white sharks, smaller LaLiga clubs are benefiting from what Barcelona and Real Madrid have done for Spanish soccer not only in Spain, but internationally.

“Years ago, when you thought about French champagne in Spain, you said Moët & Chandon, but now there are many brands of champagne in Spain,” Real Betis CBO Ramón Alarcón said. “Sometimes if you have a huge brand that is making the path for you, it has its advantages.”

One major path opened by the El Clásico rivals for its LaLiga brethren is in North America. For example, since opening an office in New York City in 2016, FC Barcelona has landed major sponsorship deals, seen its academy system grow to eight throughout the U.S., six in Canada and nine in Latin America, and is in the process of establishing a professional women’s team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

“We compete against them every year and sometimes we beat them so we have to try to look at the advantages in being part of the same industry as Madrid and Barcelona,” Alarcón said. “Our league is well known because of those two huge brands. We hope in a few years people won’t just be in love with Real Madrid and Barcelona, but with Spanish soccer.”

Based in Seville, Real Betis is one of just nine clubs to ever win a LaLiga title, taking home the trophy in 1935. The organization might not have the global star power of a Lionel Messi or Gareth Bale, but is utilizing two Mexican internationals—El Tri captain Andrés Guardado and teenage sensation Diego Lainez— to bring its brand, culture and style of play to a North American audience.

Betis is investing in the market more so than ever with the club set to play in the United States for the first time in its 112-year history. Real Betis will play exhibitions against D.C. United (MLS) on May 22 at Audi Field and against Chattanooga FC (NPSL) on May 25 at Finley Stadium in Tennessee. Alarcón said the club plans to return for future friendlies, potentially in Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.

The increased investment and prioritization of the American market by Real Betis, Sevilla FC and other smaller clubs is thanks to a collaborative effort with LaLiga. The league has made more of a concerted effort of late to research and present analytics, market potential and metrics to its organizations, knowing the legwork alone can be a daunting task for many.

“We’re talking every week with the league. They’re doing a cracking job supporting us and providing us with good information and strategies,” said Ramón Loarte, Sevilla FC CMO. “We don’t have offices in the U.S., so having them fully involved with our strategy is key for success.”

Like their El Gran Derbi rivals, Sevilla FC is also visiting the United States for friendlies in 2019. Loarte confirmed the club will play four to six matches between the summer and end of the year in the U.S. Sevilla FC already has an on-the-ground presence with four academies—two in Newark, New Jersey and two in Miami—and is looking to further expand in Boston, Texas and Los Angeles.

Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America, said just because the league has presented its clubs data and analysis on the American market doesn’t mean they need to prioritize or utilize it. For instance RCD Espanyol is focusing on the markets in China and Asia after signing Chinese international Wu Lei; an estimated 40 million in China tuned in for his LaLiga debut on February 3, while an estimated 25 million saw his first LaLiga goal on March 2.

“Each team will have a different strategy but the underlying concept of internationalization is important,” Gartner said. “The realization from everyone at the end of the day is that this is a global sport, we live in a global entertainment world and we all need to play in it.”

Regardless of their strategy or market prioritization, all of the clubs are working toward the same goal: LaLiga prosperity.

“If the league grows, there’s more cake to share,” Alarcón said. “Sure, you have to fight for a piece of the cake, but the first step is to have more cake to eat.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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