Last summer the USA hosted its first ever ‘El Clasico’ when Real Madrid and Barcelona met at the Hard Rock stadium in Miami. A sell out crowd of over 66,000 thousand paid over $200 each to witness the friendly game that ended 3-2 in Barca’s favor. Celebrities on hand included Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Draymond Green, Drake and 40 Miami Dolphins, a clear indication that the Beautiful game has finally caught on in the States.
Prior to that game, La Liga set up an office in Manhattan to help them tap into this lucrative new market. We recently caught up with the head of La Liga’s operations in the US, Carlos Perez, to find out how things are going.
Carlos, what was La Liga’s thinking behind opening an office in Manhattan?
One of the points of the mandate of our president, Javier Tebas, was the internationalization of La Liga, so we started to open offices around the world, one being here because for us the USA is a key market.
Having seen the English Premier League take off here over the past few seasons with the help of NBC, does La Liga have ambitions to emulate that success in the USA?
Sure. We are working toward that success. We know that the Premier League started to bloom here a long time ago and we’ve been working here for the past two years, which is a short time, but our goal is to be not just as successful as them, but even better.
What are your plans for the year ahead in terms of expanding recognition of La Liga in the USA?
We’re planning a lot of action. We’re planning to do several watch parties, we want to be present in different conventions around the country. We plan to be everywhere expanding La Liga.
Some La Liga teams have set up academies here, can you tell us about that?
Right now Barcelona, Valencia, Levante, Espanyol have academies here. I know that in the coming months Malaga and Real Betis will also come, so we are supporting them as this is a huge market and there is space for all those teams. So we are supporting them in their goal to try to teach kids the Spanish mentality and approach to the game.
Are any La Liga teams affiliated with MLS teams?
Not yet, but I know there are some conversations happening right now between teams in the two leagues. So at some point in the near future some of them are going to try to sign affiliations.
Does La Liga see the US as a source for integrating young American players into the Spanish league?
We hope so. I think there is a lot of talent in this country. So with better development of this talent, hopefully in the near future a lot of US kids will come and play in the Spanish league. That would be great for us. Some La Liga teams are starting to scout players in MLS.
Are there any examples of players who have gone from here to La Liga?
We have a player right now in Levante, Shaquell Moore from the US national under 20 team. He made his La Liga debut a few weeks ago, and we are working towards having more come over.
Are you happy with the TV coverage that La Liga receives in the US?
Yes, we are working very closely with beIN Sports. I know that they are working really hard, so we are also trying to help them and they are trying to help us, and hopefully in the near future beIN will be one of the biggest broadcasters in the US. It’s difficult because they are competing against giants like Fox and NBC, and they are also pretty new to the US. So they are working really hard to become one of the major broadcasters.
What other important alliances has La Liga formed since opening the office here?
We have a really good alliance with Disney. We’ve opened our own academy with them – La Liga Disney Academy. So that’s one of the most important alliances we have right now. We also have pretty good alliances with MLS, also with NBA and a really good relationship with relevant Sports who stage the ICC (International Champions Cup) that featured El Clasico in Miami last year.
Are there any plans for La Liga teams to visit the US this year?
We want La Liga teams to play in the US as much as possible. The ICC offers a good opportunity for teams to play here, but we are also encouraging teams to come and play outside of that tournament. Last year Valencia were here playing two games. One in Canada against New York Cosmos and one in Cincinnati against Cincinnati FC. So we’re going to continue to support our teams to come out here.
How is La Liga reaching fans on a local, community level in NYC?
We are planning to do at least four viewing parties in the next five months followed by a huge one for El Clasico in May. We are also talking with various organizations to stage little clinics here for kids. We are talking with the Spanish Consulate, we are talking with Cervantes Institute also. We are also trying to reach out to the rest of the country, which is why I am traveling a lot. We go to the West Coast, we go to Orlando frequently because of our academy, also Miami which is another key market for us.
How did you personally become involved with La Liga?
I was the CEO of Malaga CF and a year ago I received an offer to become the CEO of La Liga here in the US. I was happy to come back to NY because I worked for 3 years with NY Cosmos from 2012 to 2015, so when I received the offer from La Liga I took it straight away.