The Imperialization Of Soccer

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We live in an interesting time for a thousand reasons, large and small. Everywhere you look things are changing, and developing and evolving for better or for worse. Growth is nearly always the goal of any innovation or fresh thinking and it was the intended outcome of La Liga’s (the Spanish soccer league) decision to play an official league game in The United States in the 2018/19 season. Since the announcement was made that La Liga had signed a 15-year deal with American media company Relevant to host an official league in The States every season there has been nothing short of uproar in Spain.

The NFL blazed the trail on this one by starting to play games in England and Mexico in the last few years to attract foreign interest. It seems far less bizarre to play an NFL game overseas for marketing purposes simply because the NFL is, and for a long time has been, an endorsement and marketing monster. The fact that everyone talks about the Super Bowl commercials as much as they do the actual game is all the proof we need to see how true that is. Now it seems that La Liga has taken a page out of Roger Goodell’s playbook by putting the interests of the league above the interests of literally all other parties involved—except for the American spectator and the staff of Relevant Media.

After learning more about the details and discussions that led up to the deal being struck, the one word that seems to be repeated more than any other is “unilateral”. It’s very clear that the players in the Spanish league were blindsided by the news that the league had taken the liberty to schedule one of their games on a different continent, and they have every right to be furious. The decision being made without any of their input means that the Spanish league governing body sees them as servants instead of world-class players. Captains and representatives of each of the 20 La Liga teams held a meeting in Madrid on Wednesday with the Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles (the Spanish players association) and AFE president David Aganzo said that the players and club representatives were willing to “go to the end if necessary,” meaning a player strike is not out of the question.

On a moral basis, the whole situation is just wrong. If the game happens, it will be one of the larger, more well known teams playing against one of the smaller, more unheralded teams. It will be a substitute for the smaller team’s home game against the larger team. First, it’s unbelievably unfair to the fans of the smaller club who will miss out on seeing the stars of the bigger team in their stadium that season. Second, it takes away the advantage of playing at home for the smaller team and the game will certainly be more like an away game since all the fans attending in Miami or Atlanta or wherever will certainly be supporting the bigger more famous team.

It’s not so much a loss for the smaller team or the players as it is a loss for the game of soccer itself. It’s one thing to play exhibition games in America in the off-season but to move a league game overseas is undeniable proof that the sanctity of the game is less important than financial incentive. La Liga accumulated a total of €2.6 billion in revenue during the 2016/17 season but apparently there’s room to grow.

Following the players meeting on Wednesday, David Aganzo told the news conference, “The captains are surprised and angry that such an important decision was taken without being consulted. The players are unanimously against this, no-one is in favor of it.” It’s a clear message and let’s hope that the powers that be come to understand that some things in sport are not worth tampering with in the pursuit of higher profits.

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Eddy Prugh is currently a professional soccer player from Montana. He plays for Skellefteå FF of Sweden’s Division 1 Norra and has spent time at The Colorado Springs Switchbacks of the United Soccer League and Bodens BK, another Swedish team. He spent one year playing at Oregon State University and has a love for the rain and laid-back lifestyle of the Northwest.

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