How does a soccer league grow its brands beyond the country it plays in? Television deals plus digital and social media have the greatest impact in the present day, but various international soccer leagues are looking beyond that for growth mechanisms. While access to matches via television and digital media allows fans to experience a league from afar, there’s no comparison to watching a match in person. For years, major European clubs have played preseason friendlies abroad, with an increasing focus on the United States and Asia, but those matches didn’t really count. That could change sooner than later.
Earlier this year, we wrote about how “friendly derbies” have started gaining in popularity for preseason tournaments, with the Manchester Derby and El Clásico both taking place in the U.S. over the summer. Now, the next time that Barcelona and Madrid play in the United States, it might not be a preseason friendly; it could be an actual La Liga matchup.
While there’s been talk of a “39th Premier League game” for a few years now that would be played in the United States as the last match of the season, it seems that proposition is more than a few years out from coming to fruition. However, La Liga intends to host regular season matches abroad – either in the U.S. or China – as soon as the 2018-19 season.
Regular season games abroad are nothing new to American sports leagues. The NFL continues to grow its presence in England with now 4 matches in London each season, with an eye on awarding the city an NFL franchise in the coming years to play at Tottenham’s new stadium. The NBA also hosts regular season games in London and recently in Mexico City. MLB has hosted games in Japan and Australia.
It will only be a matter of time before international soccer plays a regular season match abroad. The only questions left now are what league and when?