• Loading stock data...
Friday, July 19, 2024
Join us this September for Tuned In Request to Attend

La Liga’s Quest to Become Your Favorite Soccer League

  • Spain’s premier soccer league has grand ambitions.
  • A $2.3 billion investment from CVC Capital Partners can help make them a reality.
La Liga

I’m at La Liga’s corporate offices in Madrid, sitting a few feet away from the league’s president, Javier Tebas, and he’s clearly pleased with the way business is going.

He’s fresh off of closing a groundbreaking deal with CVC Capital Partners last December. The British private equity firm invested $2.3 billion in the league for an 8% stake in a new company that will hold the revenue from La Liga’s broadcast rights for the next 50 years.

“We think we can get our clubs growth that would have taken 20 years, in five years,” he says.

The investment is part of the grand vision he has for the league — one where La Liga is the dominant global force in soccer. At minimum, he wants La Liga to be the second-most popular soccer league in every country after their domestic league.

The idea isn’t implausible.

  • FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the most valuable soccer franchises in the world at $4.76 billion and $4.75 billion, respectively.
  • Last summer, the league announced a massive new streaming deal with ESPN+.
  • Then there’s the La Liga North America joint venture with Relevent Sports Group, which is specifically focused on expanding business across the Atlantic.

“In 2013, a lot of clubs were bankrupt. They owed €800 million to the state, €190 million to players — we turned that around,” Tebas says. “We’ve gone from financial problems to an investment from one of the most important private equity firms in the world. They’ve invested because they know they’ll get their money back.”

Not Everyone Is Happy About The CVC Investment

La Liga clubs have guidelines for how they’re allowed to spend the portion of the CVC investment allocated to them: 70% on infrastructure (i.e. renovating stadiums), 15% on servicing debt, 15% on signing players. Thirty-seven of the league’s 42 clubs voted in favor of the agreement in December.

One club opted out of making a decision, and four clubs voted against it, most notably Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao.

The CVC deal is “an illegal transaction that causes irreparable damage to the entire Spanish football sector and flagrantly violates the most elementary principles of Spanish sports law and the La Liga statutes,” the three clubs said in a statement announcing a lawsuit over the matter.

La Liga fired back, saying, “This decision by Real Madrid CF was a foreseeable reaction, given the club’s history of head-on opposition and appeal against any strategic initiative that represents an advance and a boost for the competition and its clubs.”

The Royal Spanish Football Federation, the nation’s governing body for the sport, joined Madrid, Barca, and Athletic’s lawsuit against La Liga in February.

This isn’t CVC’s first encounter with this sort of tension.

Similar proposed deals with Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga fell apart in recent months. However, earlier this week the firm closed a $1.6 billion deal for a 13% stake in a commercial Ligue 1 subsidiary that will control the French soccer league’s broadcast rights.

ESPN’s Biggest Overseas Soccer Deal Ever

Experiencing El Clásico in person at the famed Santiago Bernabéu Stadium put into perspective why ESPN would pay a reported $1.4 billion for eight seasons of La Liga.

Though Barcelona trounced Real Madrid 4-0 and the stadium never erupted like it would have had the home team scored a goal, the atmosphere was special — a vast crowd stoked with as much passion as I’ve ever personally witnessed in live sports.

Disney is betting that that energy translates to a U.S. audience, its 21.3 million ESPN+ subscribers in particular.

“We have more soccer than we’ve ever had in the United States. Last year, ESPN aired 5,400 matches in the U.S. alone, including 380 La Liga matches exclusively,” ESPN’s VP of International & Deportes Production, Rodolfo Martinez, told me in Madrid.

Back in the States, I had a separate conversation about the La Liga deal with John Lasker, ESPN’s VP of Digital Programming.

ESPN+ doesn’t share viewership numbers, but Lasker said that March’s El Clásico was “the most engaged, most used, most viewed soccer match we’ve ever had on the platform.”

“The investment [in La Liga] is paying dividends in a lot of ways,” he continued. “It’s an anchor tenant for us — a long-term investment to establish ourselves as an indispensable subscription service for soccer fans here in the U.S.”

The North American Mission

Part of the credit for the ESPN+ partnership goes to La Liga North America, which brokered the deal.

Rather than leaving growth in the U.S. to chance, La Liga North America — a 15-year, 50/50 joint venture with Relevent — is wholly dedicated to building up the league’s brand on this continent. In turn, the media rights deals inked in the U.S. and Mexico in the past year are the league’s most lucrative outside of Spain.

“The team at La Liga North America has a deep knowledge of the market, deep connections on the broadcast side and on the sponsorship side, and can help drive the business in a much better and faster way than they could have done by themselves,” the venture’s CEO, Boris Gartner, told me on a call.

Gartner also said the business is generating $10 million every season from U.S. sponsors alone, which is just a fraction of the league’s global haul. He expects growth to “explode” on all fronts as we approach the 2026 World Cup in North America.

Of course, the Premier League is still the most-followed soccer league in the U.S. and La Liga’s stiffest competition if it wishes to achieve true dominance in the territory.

In Spain, I asked Tebas if surpassing the Premier League’s popularity in the States is a realistic goal. “Yes, that’s the objective,” he said. “That’s why we work every day — and not just to beat the English Premier League. We want to be bigger.”

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Argentine Minister Fired After Criticizing Messi Silence on Racist Chant

Argentine players sang a racist chant after their Copa América victory.

Angel City FC Sale Official at Record $250 Million Valuation

Disney CEO Bob Iger and wife Willow Bay now control the club.

Record Soccer Viewership in U.S. Despite Copa América’s Finish

The Euro 2024 final was Fox’s most-watched non–World Cup soccer broadcast ever.

CONMEBOL, Hard Rock Stadium Continue Trading Blame Over Copa Disaster

Each blames the other for the security madness at Sunday’s final.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

‘EA Sports College Football 25’: It’s More Than a Game


Featured Today

Jan 7, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium.
July 14, 2024

Without Hard-Line Bans, Pro Athletes and Personnel Will Keep Betting on Sports

Penalties often aren’t stringent or consistent enough to deter banned behavior.
Oct 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goddell speaks during the Don Shula Celebration of Life at Hard Rock Stadium.
July 13, 2024

The NFL Is Confident It Can Overturn the Sunday Ticket Verdict

The league may have good reason to believe it can win.
July 8, 2024

NFLPA Report Cards Have Become the ‘Talk of the Locker Room’ Across..

NFLPA report cards have become the ‘talk of the locker room.’
Jul 14, 2024; Miami, FL, USA; fans rush the gates before the Copa America Final match between Argentina and Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium.

Copa América Fallout: Greater Logistical Challenges Await 2026 World Cup

Argentina beat Colombia after unticketed fans entered the stadium.
June 7, 2024

U.S. Cricket Stuns Goliath Behind Its Star, an Ivy League Software Engineer

Team USA upset Pakistan, one of cricket’s superpowers, in overtime.
July 7, 2024

Tour de France Forced to Navigate the Paris Olympics, Too

The Olympics are disrupting the route of the iconic cycling race.

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
Jun 16, 2022; New York, New York, USA; A detail view of The FIFA World Cup Trophy sits on a stand outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
June 5, 2024

Saudi Arabia, Likely World Cup Host, Slammed With Workers’ Rights Abuse Claims

The nation needs to build at least 10 stadiums to host.
May 6, 2024; Paris, FRANCE; A general view of construction of the Eiffel Tower Stadium, the venue for beach volleyball, in preparation for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
June 4, 2024

Microsoft Warns of Russian Olympic Disinformation Campaign

Russian actors used an AI-generated Tom Cruise in a fake propaganda film.
Aug 18, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Julio Cesar La Cruz (CUB, red) faces Adilbek Niyazymbetov (KAZ, blue) during boxing final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion
May 29, 2024

Discredited Boxing Organization Vows to Award Prize Money to Paris Olympians

The IBA, unrecognized by the IOC, vowed $50,000 to boxing gold medalists.
May 28, 2024

Here’s Why Cricket Is Having a Major American Moment

The U.S.’s Major League Cricket just received a key sanction—and credibility.