Part two of this conversation with Boris Gartner is also available using this link.

LaLiga’s growth in North America truly sped up about four years ago. A deal with Relevent, a multinational media company, came into effect to promote the league and sport in North America.

Now four years removed from that deal, La Liga is one of the more popular leagues in the country and region.

At the recently completed Soccerex and Sportel Rendez-Vous conferences in Miami, La Liga was ever-present. The CEO of La Liga North America, Boris Gartner, sat down with World Soccer Talk to discuss the growth of the league’s marketing prowess and presence in the United States. 

LaLiga’s growth in North America

WST: The deal with Relevent, which you launched a joint-venture to aid LaLiga’s growth in North America, has now been in place for several years. It increased La Liga’s visibility in this market. You opened an academy in south Florida. Plus, several clubs launched academies down here as well. How has this  joint-venture improved your marketing in this country? 

Boris Gartner: We formally launched the joint-venture in August 2018. Coming to the market here was something we had an incentive to do and something we had to make. Looking back four years later, this was absolutely the right move. We needed a partner that had market insight and really knew the United States. The second thing is in 2018, a lot of the attention was about us bringing a game here, and the media tended to focus on that, not you guys (World Soccer Talk) but much of the rest of the media did.

But, the venture is about a lot more than that. Right now, we have production studios in Mexico that are pumping out more than 20 shows a week in both English and Spanish, specifically for US audiences. That’s a key component of what we have done. We’ve done media rights deals not only here in the US with ESPN but in Mexico with Televisa as well. That’s a result of all the work we have done. In a nutshell, we wanted to create enough demand for the La Liga product. We also have generated $10 million per year in sponsorship with seven partners.  

LaLiga in North America vs. LaLiga in Asia

WST: Those are specifically US partners?

Boris Gartner: Yes, specifically US partners. I believe we are the only league from Europe that successfully built a sponsorship model in the US. This is not just a marketing exercise, we’re running it as a business. We have a content studio that produces marketing materials but also inventory that you can monetize. We have the commercial business that, again, is worth $10 million a year and was worth nothing in 2018. Also, We generate localized content you can market and also content you can monetize. We have the two media rights deals which set up a new standard for what the league should be doing here in the US and Mexico. We are the two largest two media rights deals for us outside Spain.

WST: It’s larger than your deals in Asia? 

Boris Gartner: Bigger than the deal in China, yes. That’s looking different from the US and Mexico. We’re second and third overall with those two deals behind the domestic deal in Spain. We are taking a different approach than other leagues. Credit where credit is due. Premier League and NBC with the My Premier League mornings have done amazing. That’s a model that works for them. But, for us, we have some key markets where we don’t want to just show up every year or two.

We want to build hubs where we are always present. New York, Miami, LA, Houston or whatever it is. We partnered with José Andrés. He has an amazing space in New York, Hudson Yards. So, the home of La Liga in New York is at his place. If you are a La Liga fan and you are in New York and you want to watch any La Liga game, it does not matter which match, date or time, and you want the original experience, you go there. It also allows us to do special events in that space around bigger matches.

Special coverage for certain fixtures 

WST: What sort of events have you done around bigger matches including El Clásico at these hubs? 

Boris Gartner: So these are the first live events we’re doing post-COVID, or let’s hope we are post-COVID. For El Clásico we’re doing events in New York, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles. It’s a slightly different approach, so we’re working with the local fan clubs and taking a club legend to some of the cities. We feel this is more organic, we have one of our sponsors, Verizon, involved with it. But, it is more organic and stimulated by local supporters. In-person events have a space but we have also have had virtual events which have been very successful.

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We began this due to COVID, you get to watch on your screen at home and interact with 30-50 other VIP’s and a club legend during the match. It’s been a huge hit and we are continuing these alongside the in-person events. In our mind, we asked what kind of event whether in-person or virtual would we want if we were watching a game and created both models from there. We are really focused on that user experience and fan experience. We have pregame, halftime, and after the game chatting among this virtual VIP crowd with a legend. 

The grassroots piece is another pillar, we’re here for the long-run and we’re not going to just do the next deal and leave or promote the next match and leave so this is all about building a longer-term soccer community locally. 

Outside the bigger clubs

WST: What growth have we seen in the growth of other clubs outside Real Madrid, Barca, and Atlético since this joint-venture began? 

Boris Gartner: It’s directly proportional to the work we do to elevate those clubs. Let me explain, on our content hub we’re creating content. So, for El Clásico, we create content and it has a number of impressions because it’s Real Madrid and Barcelona without us doing much work in promotion. But, there’s a lot more work to develop storylines about Betis or Mallorca or Sevilla, Rayo, whomever. It is more work for us, but once you have ten of those it has as much impact as a El Clásico piece. So, that’s what we’ve done. We developed content on all these clubs.

What are the individual demographics we want to grow? Betis and Mexico and using influencers including a famous YouTube influencer that goes by Luisito Comunica, a very famous Mexican travel YouTuber. He developed a voice and a space for travel videos. We took him to El Gran Derbi and he spent a week with the Sevilla and Betis players. We built a content program around this and it got a great reception not only in Mexico and also in the US. Of course, we need to continue to leverage our top club brands, but it is our duty and good business when we highlight the other clubs and we build a larger La Liga community.