I’m in the La Liga offices in Madrid, sitting a few yards from league president Javier Tebas and he’s clearly happy with the way business is going.
He just struck a groundbreaking deal with CVC Capital Partners last December. The British private equity firm has invested $2.3 billion in the league for an 8% stake in a new company that will hold La Liga broadcast rights revenue for the next 50 years.
“We think we can get growth from our clubs that would have taken 20 years, in five years,” he said.
The investment is part of the grand vision he has for the league – one where La Liga is the dominant global force in football. At a minimum, he wants La Liga to be the second most popular football league in any country after their domestic championship.
The idea is not implausible.
- FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are the most valuable football franchises in the world with $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 focuses specifically on expanding business across the Atlantic.
“In 2013, many clubs went bankrupt. They owed 800 million euros to the state, 190 million euros to the players – we reversed the situation,” Tebas said. “We went from financial trouble to investing in one of the world’s largest private equity firms. They invested because they know they will get their money back.
Not everyone is happy with HVAC investment
La Liga clubs have guidelines on how they are allowed to spend their allocated portion of the CVC investment: 70% on infrastructure (i.e. stadium renovations), 15% on debt service, 15% on signing players. Thirty-seven of the league’s 42 clubs voted in favor of the deal in December.
One club chose not to make a decision and four clubs voted against, including 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 basic principles of Spanish sports law and La Liga statutes,” they said. the three clubs in a statement announcing legal action over the matter.
La Liga hit back saying: “This decision by Real Madrid CF was a predictable reaction, given the club’s history of upfront opposition and appeal against any strategic initiative which represents a step forward and a boost for the club. competition and its clubs.”
The Royal Spanish Football Federation, the sport’s national governing body, joined Madrid, Barca and Athletic’s trial against La Liga in February.
This isn’t the first time CVC has encountered this kind of tension.
Similar deals offered with Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga have collapsed in recent months. However, earlier this week the company struck a $1.6 billion deal for a 13% stake in a commercial Ligue 1 subsidiary that will control broadcast rights to the French soccer league.
ESPN’s Biggest Foreign Football Deal
Experiencing El Clásico in person at the famous Santiago Bernabéu stadium put into perspective why ESPN would pay $1.4 billion for eight La Liga seasons.
Although Barcelona beat Real Madrid 4-0 and the stadium never erupted as if the home side had scored a goal, the atmosphere was special – huge crowds fueled by as much passion as I have never seen personally in live sports.
Disney is betting that energy translates to an American audience, its 21.3 million ESPN+ subscribers in particular.
“We have more football than we’ve ever had in the United States. Last year ESPN showed 5,400 games in the United States alone, including 380 exclusive La Liga games,” he told me. says Rodolfo Martinez, vice president of ESPN, International & Deportes Production, in Madrid.
Back in the States, I had a separate conversation about the La Liga deal with John Lasker, ESPN’s vice president of digital programming.
ESPN+ won’t share viewership figures, but Lasker said March’s El Clásico was “the most engaged, most used and most watched football game we’ve ever had on the platform.”
“The investment [in La Liga] pays dividends in many ways,” he continued. “It’s an anchor tenant for us – a long-term investment to establish us as a must-have subscription service for football fans here in the United States”
The North American Mission
Part of the credit for the ESPN+ partnership goes to La Liga North America, who brokered the deal.
Rather than leave growth in the United States to chance, La Liga North America – a 15-year 50/50 joint venture with Relevent – is fully dedicated to building the league’s brand on this continent. In turn, the media rights deals signed in the United States and Mexico over the past year are the most lucrative in the league outside of Spain.
“The La Liga North America team has deep market knowledge, deep relationships on both the broadcast side and the sponsorship side, and can help move the business forward in a much better and faster way than she couldn’t have done it on her own,” company CEO Boris Gartner told me on a call.
Gartner also said the company generates $10 million each season from US sponsors alone, which is only a fraction of the league’s global haul. He expects growth to “explode” on all fronts as the 2026 World Cup in North America approaches.
Of course, the Premier League remains the most watched soccer league in the United States and the toughest competition in La Liga if it wants to achieve true dominance in the territory.
In Spain, I asked Tebas if overtaking the Premier League in popularity in the United States was a realistic goal. “Yes, that’s the goal,” he said. “That’s why we work every day – and not just to beat the English Premier League. We want to be bigger.