LaLiga, the premier domestic soccer league in Spain, wants to continue to expand its presence in North America.
Uninterrupted, the athlete-empowerment platform founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, has its sights set on the European market.
So it’s an obvious win-win for both brands to form a partnership in order to continue to grow their respective presence in those markets, especially among new audiences.
“All the work we’ve done so far has been focused on that core soccer fan, making sure we’re getting LaLiga clubs and players closer to the fans,” LaLiga North America CEO Boris Gartner said. “Recently we’ve started to do more content to reach new fans and this is probably the most aggressive initiative tailored to those new fans.
“What we want to do in the U.S. [Uninterrupted] can be of great help and what they want to do in Europe we can be of great help.”
Said Uninterrupted CEO Maverick Carter: “Soccer is Europe’s biggest sport and the world’s biggest sport, so as we look to go into Europe, soccer is the way to do it because of the sport’s size and scale, as well as its athletes who know and understand our brand. What we do is unique in helping empower athletes and their voice through long-form and short-form content to social to our products. Nobody over there has a brand like ours.”
The partnership was facilitated by Relevent Sports Group, the sports and entertainment marketing company which owns and operates the International Champions Cup (ICC). Relevent and LaLiga entered a 15-year joint 50-50 venture in 2018 forming LaLiga North America to grow the audience and culture of soccer throughout North America.
With European soccer leagues and all major sports in North America postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 ICC cancelled, all three brands had to pivot in order to create engaging content for fans, while still focusing on each brand’s mission of new-market growth.
The partnership kicks off with a charity FIFA 20 tournament called Kick COVID headlined by 16 NFL, NBA, NWSL and LaLiga players taking place April 25-26; the event is co-sponsored by the ICC Women’s tournament.
Participating players include DeAndre Hopkins (Arizona Cardinals), John Collins (Atlanta Hawks), former NFL receiver Chad Johnson, Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid), Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad), Allie Long (USWNT, OL Reign) and Pau Torres (Villarreal).
Matches will be played between 12-5 p.m. ET each day and can be viewed across 30 LaLiga broadcasters around the world including BeIN Sports in the United States, and Uninterrupted, LaLiga and ICC social channels.
All proceeds from the tournament will go toward Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief charity organization that features more than 200 food banks which feed more than 46 million Americans.
“Obviously with everything going on in Spain, the U.S., and across the globe that’s been hit by the pandemic … so to create something that’s going to drive proceeds to helping people get fed is important to us as a company,” Carter said. “It’s important and it’s awesome these athletes are partnering with us to do this. We’re trying to do our part.”
While the idea of having professional athletes play a video game that fans can watch via linear TV or an online stream is nothing new, especially during the pandemic—NBA, MLB, MLS and NHL have all done or are doing this—there hasn’t been crossover between sports, athletes and brands like this, which plays into bigger goals moving forward among all involved.
“You see this in how brands use influencers to engage with new audiences and you see it with how brands are partnering to open new distribution,” Relevent Sports CEO Daniel Sillman said. “We think there’s an opportunity to use American stars as an inlet to teach domestic fans in the States about a sport they don’t regularly watch or interact with, which is soccer.
“For us, it’s an amazing opportunity to use the platforms of the American sports stars and engage with their fans while teaching them about soccer and about the athletes from across the ocean.”
The crossover between NFL/NBA and international soccer is stronger now than ever. Paris Saint-Germain recently incorporated Milwaukee Bucks players into a kit unveiling campaign. FC Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann played NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash in a game of HORSE. Tottenham star Harry Kane, a big New England Patriots fan, has expressed a desire to play in the NFL as a kicker one day. Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have been courtside at NBA games. The connections go on and on.
Even while live sports are suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, professional athletes aren’t just longing for the days they can return to the field or court, but they also miss watching other athletes at the top of their level. NBA players Josh Hart and Larry Nance Jr., for example, have both expressed their feelings with no English Premier League to currently watch on the weekends.
“There’s already that connection at the athlete level and that kind of brotherhood,” Gartner said. “It’s getting better and better for the fans to see, but it hasn’t been intentionally done at their level. There’s that mutual respect and fandom that we want to bring to the fans as well.”
For Uninterrupted this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to soccer. The brand has already worked with David Beckham and his Studio 99, and has a development deal with Liverpool FC; James received a two percent ownership stake in the English club in 2011.
“We’ve done stuff with Beckham, have a development deal with Liverpool, and are having conversations with more clubs as we’ll continue to work with Relevent, LaLiga and the ICC,” Carter said, “So you’ll definitely hear more from Uninterrupted with soccer.”