MADRID (AP) — The Spanish league is launching a campaign hoping to show that American fans are behind its plan to host a regular-season soccer game in the United States.
The league and its U.S. partners on Thursday began asking fans to sign an online petition to show their support for the planned Barcelona-Girona game near Miami in January.
"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," the league and sports and entertainment group Relevent said in a statement. "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."
The league's idea to play games in the U.S. to promote its brand has been met by criticism from soccer officials and some fans and clubs in Spain. The dispute has become a tug-of-war among the several stakeholders, with all sides trying to weigh-in and defend their ground.
The FIFA Council recently opposed the plan after receiving a request to take a stance from CONCACAF and the federations in the United States and Spain, which have a say on whether the game can be played, along with UEFA. FIFA's permission for the match is not mandatory but its opposition was a setback for the league.
The league said it is prepared to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if FIFA somehow prohibits the match, and it is also ready to go to court in Spain if the local federation denies its request to play abroad. The Spanish federation already hinted it opposes the match but hasn't yet made a final ruling.
Staging the game in the United States is seen as an important step for the Spanish league to continue expanding internationally and to close the gap on the powerful Premier League. The Spanish league has a 15-year deal with Relevent to promote soccer and bring games to the United States. The group operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played around the globe during the European offseason in July and August.
"All of America's top sports leagues — the NBA, NFL and MLB — have played regular season games all over the world to reach international fans and have great success popularizing these sports globally," said Relevent founder Stephen Ross, owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins. "We hope all of our partners in the soccer community recognize and support the positive impact of bringing the highest level soccer to the U.S. will have on turning more people on to the sport."
The Jan. 26 game would be played at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Dolphins.
The league said it will use social media to spread the new "grassroots campaign," asking fans to upload videos expressing their support and engaging their friends.
"We just want to give an opportunity for fans to talk about this game because we feel that so far the conversation has been very one-sided," Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America, told The Associated Press. "We want to give a voice to the fans."
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