Kudos to ESPN for reporting on today's Barcelona LaLiga game being played in front of no fans.
I have been critical of ESPN lately for delving into the Culture Wars instead of reporting on scores and highlights. But what's going on in Spain is real and could potentially be a billion dollar explosion and the splintering of one of the world's top soccer leagues.
Today, as we speak, the Catalonian region of Spain is in turmoil because Spain is trying to prevent Catalonia's secession from the country. It is assumed that if Catalonia does seceed, Barcelona would be the new Capital of the breakaway region. What does that have to do sports? The Spanish soccer league LaLiga is one of the top soccer leagues in the world. It is dominated by 2 historically great teams in all of Europe, Barcelona and Real Madrid. In the last 10 years, only twice has Barcelona and Real Madrid not been either the first or second place teams in the league.
2008- Villarreal / 2nd
2014- Athletico Madrid / 1st
Other than that, Real Madrid / Barcelona or vice versa. Every year.
On top of that, 6 of the last 10 Champions League winners have been either Real Madrid or Barcelona.
With the country of Spain on the brink of Civil War....
Editor's Note: Barcelona just finished off Las Palmas 3-0.
...the future of LaLiga is probably not a priority for the citizens of Spain. But for fans of World Soccer, this is a huge development.
It's not a perfect analogy, but what this reminds me of, on a much smaller and less historically significant scale, is what happened in the KHL in 2014. The Kontinental Hockey League in Russia was growing by leaps and bounds and one of its newer teams was HC Donbass. They had won the Ukrainian Hockey Championship every year between 2010 and 2012 then joined the KHL in 2013. On the night of May 26, 2014 because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, the home arena of the club was looted and set on fire. HC Donbass initially expected the arena to be reconditioned within 90 days and fully restored by the start of the KHL season.- HC Donbass website
But the restoration never happened. The next season HC Donbass was out of the KHL and was back as the champion of Ukrainian Hockey in 2015, albeit in a different home stadium. I can't imagine that with the continued tension in Ukraine, that any Ukrainian team is welcome in the Russian-based hockey league.
If Catalonia is granted independence, Catalonia would have to sign a working agreement with LaLiga. If there is an armed conflict, I can't imagine any agreement being put in place. The expanded Catalonian Football Federation would be Barcelona and a bunch of scrubs (and FC Andorra). And that doesn't include having to sign new agreements with the Champions League or any other European based League.
If having to play in an empty stadium today is any indication of current political tensions, think of the anger at the next step of the independence process.
I cannot stress this enough, besides being one of the most successful soccer teams in Spanish history on the field, Barcelona is a powerhouse off the field.
In 2016, Barcelona was the third most valuable soccer franchise on Earth:
Worth $2.99 Billion, according to Sports Illustrated.
Today, Barcelona is the fourth most valuable sports franchise on Earth:
Worth $3.64 Billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
Today, Barcelona has, under contract, the second most famous soccer player on Earth:
Lionel Messi, according to ESPN.
Barcelona has, under contract, the third most famous athlete on Earth:
Lionel Messi, according to ESPN.
Barcelona wins and is a juggernaut in the fame and fortune categories. They have an iconic face of the franchise. And yet it may be geo-political rigmarole that could potentially be their downfall.
ESPN ain't off the hook for their shenanigans concerning the National Anthem. Last week they cited poor, innocent Michael Bennetts as a reason for Anthem protests. Today Michael Bennetts don't look so innocent. Now ESPN is too busy reporting on real games to report on the story of Bennetts now that the story no longer fits their narrative.
Editors Note: Thanks to Jeff Groves for the Bennetts link.