This is a continuation of the interview with LaLiga North America CEO Boris Gartner. Don’t miss part one about LaLiga’s growth in North America. Both parts of the interview were done in person at the Sportel Rendezvous 2022 conference.
Here at World Soccer Talk, we break down and analyze the media rights deals regarding major soccer leagues. The LaLiga media rights in the U.S. switched hands ahead of the 2021/22 season. ESPN took over from beIN SPORTS, airing the majority of LaLiga games on ESPN+. This includes both renditions of El Clásico in league play this season.
LaLiga North America CEO Boris Gartner oversees the work put in by the league to grow its promotions and prominence in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. A major part of that is LaLiga’s U.S. media and streaming capabilities.
LaLiga’s U.S. media deal with ESPN
From TV to streaming
World Soccer Talk (WST): beIN was a linear channel. You probably get many more homes now being on linear and a mainstream streaming service in ESPN+. Any tangible uptick you are seeing from the ESPN deal yet?
Boris Gartner: Yes, it comes from a few different sides. First off, being part of the Disney family is massive for us. They have a marketing machine and when they get behind a product and have a cultural conversation. I don’t think there’s another company that can do that like Disney. When you add the exposure of the actual games, but when they do games on ABC, or other linear channels like ESPN or ESPN Deportes in addition to the massive digital footprint. If you have the ESPN app on your phone, you get the push notifications even things like Real Madrid is about to kick off or whatever. Just being part of that machine gives you an exposure that’s not just measured by households that adds value.
The first El Clásico they did amazing marketing campaigns running spots on NBA and college football games, and you add to that the editorial content on their website it’s pretty amazing. On top of that we have a super fan base that will watch La Liga anywhere, whether it is on BeIN Sports or whatever, but getting exposure to an audience that might not be into soccer or La Liga but being part of the larger Disney family and the platform on ESPN+ you get exposure. You log in and you see the PGA Tour or college football, right next to La Liga, for a fan that’s not a soccer fan, just having it there is important.
The Disney and ESPN experience
WST: Even Hulu. l log into Hulu, let’s say during the week. The first thing that pops up for me on that platform, also owned by Disney, is La Liga Confidential because it knows my preferences. That’s part of the Disney experience on digital and streaming.
Boris Gartner: So you have to take a step back and understand the touch points they have with consumers on TV, streaming, digital, social media, theme parks, etc, just being part of that is something we were not going to get with anyone else. The amount of resources they are putting into this is amazing. The production side, they aren’t just taking the feed, but for most of the matches they send crews to cover it, they have their own commentators in English and Spanish, we couldn’t be happier.
Length of the deal
WST: Eight years is a long deal in the soccer space. Granted, in U.S. sports, you see longer deals. Was that a conscious thing because this is Disney and ESPN?
Boris Gartner: This is specifically because of where we think the industry is going, and it helps that it is with a partner like Disney. I believe you are going to see more of those longer-term deals. The first of which was the Premier League deal with NBC, the previous deal which was six years. Now Bundesliga with ESPN is a similar length, our deal which is eight years and we did an eight year deal in Mexico with Televisa. So I think it’s just a realization you need more of a partner than just doing a deal. That was a common theme in our conversations, if it’s just getting a deal done, sure, that can be done with anyone, but if it is a true partnership with a longer-term vision and commitment you need more length to any contract.
Pros and cons
WST: What about other advantages that come on the side of the ESPN deal? Maybe a renewed focus on hosting regular season matches in the United States. Is it possible if we don’t get La Liga matches, we get La Liga branded friendlies here?
Boris Gartner: Philosophically, I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue against the attention and visibility it would bring to the sport and the growth it would help fuel for the sport heading into the 2026 World Cup to have official matches here in the US. I don’t think anyone can argue with that. What we are all saying here, regardless of whether you are a league or a club or a governing body, this will grow the sport heading into hosting a World Cup.
Effect on American soccer
WST: One objection has been that it would hurt USL, MLS, NWSL and other domestic soccer. But, could it be argued that, if you play the game in the close season of those leagues, it might actually help them?
Boris Gartner: So that’s the first thing a lot of people get caught up in with the controversy, but I don’t think there is any question it would help the sport. Now the process to actually get it, there is a lot of different perspectives. Does it impact the growth of the domestic league, to your point? I don’t think so, it’s not like we’re bringing 20 matches here in a season, some said it was going to open the floodgates. Taking one game from local fans there (in Spain) is one thing, but no one here or there is going to accept 20 games from us, or the Premier League or Bundesliga coming over here.
It’s not going to happen that way. There is a process and every time you do things differently or introduce change, people are apprehensive, but in time it’s going to happen, I am confident in saying that. We’re all going to all at some point it is going to help the sport so it’s best we do it in an organized fashion and in agreement with everyone. What are the additional steps the league and clubs can make to help grow the game here rather than just parachuting in, playing the game and leaving? So we have a process and we want to have a conversation about what we do benefitting the sport in general here.
Beyond the top flight
WST: Are there plans to enhance visibility of the Segunda in this country with LaLiga’s U.S. media deal?
Boris Gartner: The Segunda is part of the ESPN deal and we are in year one of eight and there is a lot more we can do and will do. It’s more of a strategic approach to the Segunda than a blanket approach. For example we have teams that have players that resonate in the US or teams that are more connected to the Us audience, we do that in Mexico. We have a number of Segunda matches we feature in Mexico, because of players or owners from Mexico. It’s about finding the right storylines. ESPN+ features on Segunda game a week and we’d like to do more but it’s easier to have those conversations once you have a specific programming goal rather than just giving coverage.
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