A lucrative spending frenzy that would make even the Yankees and Dodgers envious has engulfed Spain’s La Liga with World Cup champion Toni Kross, World Cup scoring leader James Rodriguez and Luis Suarez, last season’s leading scorer in the English Premier League, jumping to Spain for deals that totaled more than $280 million.
And that threatens to widen the already enormous gulf separating the world’s two richest soccer clubs from the rest of the league in which they play.
Although Atletico Madrid won the league title on the final day of the season last spring, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have combined to capture nine of the last 10 and 10 of the last 12 La Liga crowns. And now with the addition of three of the world’s top players, the richest have gotten richer.
In Barcelona, Suarez will join a lineup that already included Lionel Messi, who has been selected as the FIFA world player of the year an unprecedented four times, and Brazilian star Neymar. At Real Madrid, Colombian star Rodriguez, coming over from Monaco, and German star Kross, jumping from Bayern Munich, will team with reigning world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo and Welsh standout Gareth Bale.
Real Madrid, the reigning European club champion, hasn’t confirmed Rodriguez’s transfer, but the Spanish media said an announcement should come shortly. The team is currently training at UCLA ahead of Saturday’s International Champions Cup opener with Inter Milan in Berkeley.
Both Spanish teams are valued by Forbes at more than $3.2 billion with revenues of more than $625 million each. The Yankees are the world’s most valuable non-soccer franchise with an estimated worth of $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.
The financial -- and competitive -- disparity in La Liga stems from the way the league has allowed its TV contracts to be negotiated. Currently teams are allowed to negotiate their own broadcast deals independently of the rest of the league, so while Barcelona and Real Madrid each earn more than $182 million from TV, Atletico, which has the third-richest deal, gets a third of the that. And Rayo Vallecano made just $18.2 million off its latest TV deal.
Add in jersey deals that net Barcelona and Real Madrid more than $80 million each during the season, and it becomes impossible for the rest of the league to compete financially with the Big Two.