In the past two weeks we’ve seen La Liga announce a deal to bring league games to the United States. We’ve also seen Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt strike a deal to move his team to Austin, Texas.
Two stories, two different leagues, united by a single thread: Soccer leagues don’t care about their fans.
Begin with La Liga, which trumpeted a 15-year deal to bring one game per year to the U.S., much like the NFL playing a game in London every year. La Liga is so unconcerned about its fans that it regularly schedules games to start at 10:15 p.m. local time in Spain. Four upcoming matches will start Sunday and Monday evenings and end after midnight, all so that zero of the league’s matches overlap, thus making the TV broadcasting rights for the league more lucrative.
The American games will be more of the same for Spanish fans, especially those of smaller Spanish clubs, which already end up hosting the sleep-defying 10 p.m. starts. Teams like Real Madrid are not going to give up lucrative homes game to play in the United States. It’ll be the small, unknown teams – Huesca, say, or Vallodolid – that will get a home game taken away.
La Liga not only doesn’t care about its fans, it also doesn’t care about American soccer fans, whom the league will try to bilk with huge ticket prices. The players will hate it (they’re already talking about going on strike). The fans will loathe it. But La Liga’s administrators will get to fly to Miami or New York and sit in suites with NFL owners and feel like big shots.
The barefaced gall it takes to move Spanish league games to America, though, pales compared to the brazen behavior of Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt. When Precourt bought the team in 2013, he thanked the sellers “for having the trust in us to become the Crew’s new steward.” At the same time, Precourt was secretly making deals with Major League Soccer to give him the chance to someday move to Austin, which he’s on the verge of doing.
MLS pays plenty of lip service to its commitment to its fans, but this should make it clear: MLS does not care about soccer fans. It doesn’t care about Crew fans who have put 22 years into supporting their team, who made Columbus the spiritual home of the U.S. men’s national team. If business is slow in St. Pauldown the road, you can bet that it won’t care about Minnesota United fans, either. In the same announcement that Precourt called himself a “steward” of the Crew, MLS commissioner Don Garber lauded his “his commitment to joining our other owners in continuing to build the league and sport in North America.”
That’s what administrators always say — they want to build the league and grow the sport. It’s funny, because as far as I can see, whether it’s MLS or La Liga, they’re only after one thing: short-term cash.
• The Bundesliga is the last of the big European leagues to return for the season, with games beginning this weekend. Everyone expects Bayern Munich to win the title, even though the perennial champion has a new coach, Niko Kovac, and lost standout players Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal. Kovac convinced striker Robert Lewandowski to stay, at least. The rest of the team is so solid that FiveThirtyEight.com gives Bayern an 82 percent chance of winning the league.
• After another heartbreaking loss last week, NWSL bottom-dweller Sky Blue FC still has a chance to be the first women’s pro soccer team in the U.S. to finish a season winless. Sky Blue is 0-15-5 this year. Almost as astonishing is the Washington Spirit, which at 2-16-4 somehow has even more losses. The Spirit fired coach/General Manager Jim Gabarra this week. Sky Blue may just fold the whole franchise.
• French wunderkind Kylian Mbappe scored twice for Paris Saint-Germain in its Ligue 1 opener last weekend, but some doubt he’ll stay at PSG. UEFA could still fine Paris Saint-Germain for breaking financial fair play rules, the European version of the salary cap. A ruling should come this week. PSG could be forced to send Mbappe back to AS Monaco, where Real Madrid would be waiting to snap him up.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Serie A: Lazio at Juventus, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN2. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t score in his first Serie A game for Juventus, but “the Old Lady” started its title defense off right, with a late comeback victory. Now, Ronaldo will have a chance to get that first Juve goal in front of his new home fans. Lazio is smarting after a home loss to Napoli to begin the season.
Premier League: Brighton and Hove at Liverpool, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Ch. 11. Liverpool is everyone’s pick to unseat Manchester City at the top of England. Last year for some reason, Liverpool was terrible against the bottom teams, dropping most of its points against the worst teams in the league. That has to stop if there’s going to be a title chase.
Bundesliga: RB Leipzig at Borussia Dortmund, 11 a.m. Sunday, Ch. 9. The Bundesliga is back, and there’s plenty of intrigue among the top teams (OK, maybe not with Bayern Munich). At Dortmund, new manager Lucien Favre is in charge. He almost lost his first game, in the German FA Cup, to a second-division team.
MLS: Seattle at Portland, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, FS1. MLS’ best rivalry is the story of two teams going in different directions. Portland has lost three consecutive matches. Seattle has won six in a row. If the Sounders pull off another victory, they’ll jump into the playoff spots at the expense of, you guessed it, Portland. Expect a contentious postseason-type atmosphere.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. • firstname.lastname@example.org