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Ligue 1 in no hurry to set up New York office in US push

The French Football League (LFP), which runs Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, has no plans at present to set up a regional office in New York in its attempts to crack the United States market.

In recent years, LaLiga and the Bundesliga have set up bases in the United States, as have a number of European clubs including Paris St-Germain, Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona and Ajax.

And while the LFP has an office in Beijing, which was opened in partnership with the French Football Federation (FFF) in 2017, it has no plans to follow suit in the US.

“The US is a very, very big country. To have one or two people based in the US, I’m not sure it’s that much more efficient than if we are in France and come on a regular basis,” Olivier Jaubert, the LPF chief sales and marketing officer and investor relations, tells SportBusiness.

“We are very focused when we come here and set up meetings all week long, which can be in LA, New York, Washington [DC]…so I’m not sure having an office in the US is the right timing now. If we want to do it, we need to come in seriously and make sure it is efficient. Otherwise, there is no need to do it.”

To help increase the exposure of its clubs in the US, and in turn grow commercial revenues, the LFP is staging the inaugural EA Ligue 1 Games July 18-21 at Audi Field in Washington, DC, home of Major League Soccer’s DC United. The participants of the four-team tournament are Olympique de Marseille, AS Saint-Étienne, Montpellier HSC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux.

Marseille and Bordeaux both have US owners and LFP chief executive Didier Quillot is hoping the tournament will lead to further American investors and sponsors.

The LFP has signed a three-year deal to play at Audi Field and will consider moving to another venue in the US for the second half of the tournament’s six-year title sponsorship deal with EA Sports.

EA Sports, the publisher of the Fifa video game, is covering the bulk of the costs while Elevate Sports Ventures has been hired to secure further sponsorship deals as well as broadcast deals. The agency will also help with ticket sales and securing meetings with potential commercial partners for both the league and the participating clubs.

A wide range of soccer fans are expected to attend the tournament, including the local French population in the Washington metropolitan area and DC United supporters. Around 2,000 Marseille supporters from across the US are expected to come to the game.

On choosing Audi Field as the initial venue, Jaubert said: “Everybody is in New York but we thought to go to Washington because it is a very interesting city, it’s a very internationally-orientated city and DC United is a great club, with a great facility.”

To further expose the Ligue 1 brand in the US, the Trophée des Champions – the annual match between the winners of Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France – will be held in the States in 2020. It was previously held at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, in 2012.

“We’re going to start the process of finding a venue in September/October. We have an idea where we would love to do it but we haven’t had discussions yet,” Jaubert said at Leaders Week New York 2019.

There are no plans, however, for an official Ligue 1 game on American soil, as LaLiga is still looking to do. “We think our games should be played at the home towns at clubs,” says Jaubert. “We have events to go abroad like the Trophée des Champions and the EA Games. There is no need.”

Working partnership with MLS

The LFP is also eager to develop a working partnership with Major League Soccer and develop academy partnerships with US clubs.

“We want to build a good relationship with MLS. We think it is important that we have connections and not that we come here and jeopardize MLS,” Jaubert said.

“Maybe we could do a reverse of this tournament: maybe we could bring four MLS teams to France during the MLS break,” he said. “This could be a possibility. We need to talk together and discover what could be interesting for both of us.”

Jaubert concedes that Ligue 1 is lacking in exposure in the US compared to the likes of the Premier League, in part because its broadcast partner beIN Sports is not widely available in the States due to a series of carriage disputes.

“This why we need to showcase our clubs. We think this tournament in Washington, DC, is a very good way to do this,” he said.