The league has completed construction on an in-house studio in Guadalajara, Mexico, and will kick off the 2020-21 season with 14 weekly shows, a combination of English- and Spanish-language programming designed exclusively for North American fans.
The shows, which include two new series and six new on-camera hosts, are distributed across LaLiga’s social channels, primarily YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The league’s reach on those platforms has increased significantly—13-fold, in fact—over the past two years, from 325,000 U.S. impressions for its original content in July 2018 to 4.2 million this June, when the league resumed its season following the COVID-19 shutdown.
This surge is thanks to the efforts of LaLiga North America, the 50/50 joint venture formed in 2018 with Relevent Sports Group, a soccer media and event organizer backed by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The group’s mandate is to help the league, which is headlined by top clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid, gain a larger commercial foothold in one of its biggest growth markets.
European leagues, having hit a saturation point in their home territories, have spent the last decade trying to grow their footprints overseas, particularly in the U.S. and China—an effort that LaLiga North America CEO Boris Gartner says is easier said than done.
“There is no other international league or football team with a presence in the U.S. that has been as successful on the commercial side,” he said. “They all think that because they’re a big soccer brand in Europe, they’ll come here, take a WeWork, put out a press release saying they have a U.S. operation, and companies will line up at the door throwing money at them. The reality is that as much as this market has huge opportunity, it’s also more complicated than almost any other market.”
As such, Gartner adds that his group is taking a different approach: “We’re behaving more as a media company here than a league. That’s what we see as the right strategy to engage with an audience on a consistent and scalable basis, and the right way to build a business that can be monetized beyond random marketing stunts.”
LaLiga North America’s original content makes money through sponsorship revenue, which was nil in its first year and nearly $2 million last season. Gartner said the group has already booked $4 million for this season from a group of partners that includes PointsBet, Verizon and streaming service Fanatiz. Roughly 90% of that money is specifically for marketing through LaLiga’s original media, as opposed to live events like watch parties.
LaLiga North America has other initiatives beyond media. The group runs youth academies and coaching clinics and is trying to host a LaLiga match in the U.S., a plan that is currently tied up in court. All of these efforts are done to increase the value of the group’s main revenue driver: LaLiga’s U.S. TV rights.
The league has four years left on its long-term partnership with beIN Sports. What the deal lacks in exposure—beIN’s U.S. distribution is smaller than that of NBC Sports (the English Premier League’s partner) or ESPN (the Bundesliga’s partner)—it makes up for in money. LaLiga receives a little more from beIN than the $166 million average that NBC is paying the Premier League annually in its current agreement, according to a source familiar with the deals.
LaLiga’s original content serves as a way for people who don’t pay for beIN to follow the league, and ideally contributes to its coffers in both the short and long term.
“We have the immediate monetization through sponsorships,” Gartner said, “but we truly believe that what we’re doing will help increase the value of the TV rights exponentially.”