“My dear friend (the late) Georgio Chinaglia used to play for the Cosmos and was my co-host on the radio used to say, ‘Charlie, it’s the money, you moron.’”
Charlie Stillitano was quoting his old partner to explain just why Spain’s La Liga is so hot and bothered to play an official, in-season match in the United States. La Liga has partnered with Relevent Sports in this venture and as the companies’ Executive Chairman Stillitano is right where he likes to be, at the center of things.
La Liga plans to play in Miami next January 26th with Girona surrendering a home game to “host” Barcelona at the Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins, the NFL team owned by Stephen Ross, owner and Chairman of Relevent Sports.
The plan has met with considerable opposition with the latest challenge to the project coming when FIFA President Gianni Infantino came out in opposition to the plan while at a FIFA Council meeting in Rwanda saying, “the FIFA Council has addressed the subject, and we stress that official matches of national leagues should be held in the country itself.
“As FIFA president, I announce that the organization is against LaLiga’s idea and will forbid Girona-Barca to be held in the United States or any other country that isn’t Spain.”
I asked Stillitano for his view of the subject and Stillitano didn’t shy away. “The game itself is a bit of the tail wagging the dog,” Stillitano told me over the phone Wednesday morning, emphasizing that the deal between Relevent and La Liga is for 15 years and this match is just one part of it.
The overarching point of the deal according to the Relevent Executive Chairman harkens back to Chinaglia’s words of wisdom from all those years ago. Calling La Liga “the league that has dominated Europe for the last 10 years,” Stillitano says, “they’re (La Liga) sitting here saying, ‘wait a minute, why are these guys (the Premier League) getting so much money.”
“The deal with us is really about selling TV rights in the future once the beIn deal (La Liga’s current contract is held by beIn) is finished, getting exposure for the league and to help build the league’s image and brand here, so that next cycle they can get increased financial benefits and they can keep up with the Premier League.”
Still, Infantino is only the latest to weigh in against the game taking place. In addition, the Spanish Players Association has said, no thanks to the game, and the Spanish Football Federation, the RFEF, can stop the whole thing and so far they have been opposed.
I asked Stillitano if Major League Soccer has raised any objections. “I haven’t had any personal (comments),” Stillitano told me. “I only know what I read in the papers,” he said, and it sounds like USSoccer and MLS are generally against it.”
Choosing his words carefully, Stillitano told me that he heard “FIFA and CONCACAF tweets that basically they’re against it,” adding, “I’m not really sure why they’re against it.”
“It’s so funny,” Stillitano said in defense of going forward with the game. “This morning (Wednesday, 11/31) they were talking about increasing the World Cup to 48 teams (in 2022 instead of 2026), then in Rwanda, they’re talking about having a World Wide Nations League, and they’re talking about having a (yearly) World Club Championship.” “It sounds to me,” Stillitano said with an exasperated laugh, “like that’s a hell of a lot of games and they seem to be focused on one game coming out of Miami.”
Stillitano espouses a “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy, sharing his belief that the International Champions Cup that he runs for Relevent, has helped grow the sport in America, which in turn helps grow MLS.”
Shortly after we spoke La Liga and Relevent went on the offensive, announcing a campaign to #BringUStheGame. Here is part of the press release.
“In an effort to showcase the public support to bring this match to the U.S., we are launching a petition campaign to encourage U.S. soccer fans to make their voices heard entertainment. The #BringUStheGame campaign will show the sports world that this match is good for the fans and good for the game in America and that U.S. Soccer risks alienating millions of fans if they choose to block this game.”
With this situation still very much up in the air, Stillitano’s appearance at the GotSoccer Convention on Saturday, November 11th will be one not to miss.