La Liga games in the US 'not fair for anyone,' says Liga MX president

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by Perry Kostidakis, CNN

Enrique Bonilla, president of Mexico's top-flight football division Liga MX, has told CNN Sport that he is against the proposed decision to host a La Liga game in the United States or Canada.

In August, Spain's top-flight league announced a 15-year marketing deal with US-based sports media company Relevant, which included a provision for the annual match.

La Liga teams, along with other major European leagues, have played exhibition games in the United States before, but never a competitive match.

When asked about the arrangement, Bonilla expressed his disapproval, holding out hope for an intervention by those governing North American football.

"We have to play for our fans," Bonilla said to CNN's Alex Thomas. "The fans in other cities, or countries, out of our region, they can watch on TV if they want to, or they can travel to our facilities.

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"But I think that our fans deserve the respect of having their teams in their home, watching them, touching them and having the satisfaction or the sadness of the outcome of the game. I don't agree with the decision of Mr. Tebas [La Liga president].

"He has the right to do whatever he wants but I think that FIFA, CONCACAF and the US Soccer Federation will take the right decision and they won't allow it."

Bonilla acknowledges that the move could be financially lucrative, but maintains it has the potential to rob fans of one of the essential aspects of the sport: locality.

"In terms of strictly money, yes [I'd like to play Liga MX games in the States]. But it's not fair for the fans. It's not fair for the Mexican fans, it's not fair the for the American fans, it's not fair for anyone."

The Spanish Footballers Association also denounced the decision, saying in a statement: "As per usual, La Liga has dispensed with the opinions of the players and has undertaken actions that only benefit them, regardless of the health or risks to the players, and even less of the following masses of the clubs who are being 'forced' to compete in North America once a season."

Joint North American League

This June, FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada; a combined North American League could end up being the legacy of the bid.

Major League Soccer (MLS), the American league that also features Canadian teams, and Liga MX have reportedly ventured into talks concerning a potential merger.

After news of the proposed league broke on Wednesday, MLS issued a statement from Executive Vice President of Communications Dan Courtemanche.

"In March, Major League Soccer entered into a formal partnership with Liga MX and last month we held our inaugural Campeones Cup between Toronto FC and Tigres.

"We have been discussing with Liga MX additional ways we can collaborate on and off the field, and we are excited about the future opportunities that exist between our two leagues."

This March saw the announcement of the Campeones Cup, which features the respective champions of each league facing off.

The first iteration of the match took place in September, with Mexico's Tigres UANL taking down one of MLS' Canadian sides, reigning league champions Toronto FC, by a score of 3-1.

'Walls or no walls'

Bonilla noted that in light of the successful combined bid, all parties involved realized the collaborative potential that lay ahead.

"[The World Cup bid] showed us that we can work together, that we can do things together," Bonilla said.

"No matter if there was are walls or no walls, that we can work together, we can share our passion for football together and we can make things happen and it opened our eyes and I think we're on the right path."

While Bonilla acknowledges that discussions are still in the early stages, the already-established pipeline between the two has already opened doors previously thought closed.

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The main incentive seems to be the ability to compete with Europe's heavyweight sides, both financially and in terms of attracting the sport's top talent.

"There is no way that by ourselves, we're going to compete in the short term or in the mid-term with the amounts of money that it pours into football here in Europe," Bonilla said.

"So we have to be smart, we have to share best practices, and we have to work together. How long is it going to take? We are still in the table drawing the picture. And someday we will announce something, I hope so."

It's a partnership that seems to make sense for both leagues, even outside the appeal of competing with the likes of the English Premier League and La Liga.

A wider and more diversified league arguably benefits viewership and player development, key for the relatively young MLS.

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It can also enable Liga MX to further explore opportunities in an American market that already prefers watching the Mexican league, according to some television ratings.

Specifics, like potential revenue boosts or the concept of establishing a promotion/relegation system, are still a long way from being agreed upon.

But given that the current television rights deal per match for the English Premier League in its own country hovers around $12.3m, it's not a stretch to see how lucrative a combined North American league could be for all parties.

"We need to do to grow together, we need to make the biggest market for our football and we have to learn from each other, so that we really can be strong, so that we can really be a bigger market with where we can be attractive for bigger players," explains Bonilla.

"It's the product that we have to create. The experience for our fans. And from that moment then everything's going to flow in: The money, the players, everything."