Spurred on by the lucrative potential of making American spectators fall in love with European football, a billionaire father and son-in-law duo are betting they can sell the world’s most popular sport in the United States.
Relevent Sports Group, a New York-based media company backed by real estate mogul Stephen Ross and headed by chief executive Daniel Sillman, is battling for part of an international gold rush involving teams, leagues, sports brands and media companies.
The bid comes as the United States is set to co-host the 2026 World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada, a tournament that world soccer’s governing body Fifa expects to generate revenue of more than $10. billions of dollars. Miami’s Ross’s Hard Rock Stadium is one of the venues. The United States is also set to host the Copa América next year and the revamped FIFA Club World Cup in 2025.
“The next five years are huge,” Sillman told the Financial Times in an interview. “You will see a steady pace of events coming to the United States.”
Although American investors have typically bought top clubs such as Chelsea and AC Milan to get into football, Relevent has taken an alternative route, hosting matches and expanding in media rights deals.
From its origins in organizing big-budget exhibition matches for clubs, Relevent has branched out into the leagues. The company has partnered with the Premier League for a nine-match “Summer Series” which attracted 265,000 attendees, as well as the Spanish La Liga for a four-match summer tour of the United States and Mexico which attracted 100,000 fans.
Relevent and La Liga want to go further by possibly hosting competitive matches in the United States.
The company is currently involved in legal action against Fifa and US Soccer as he fights to hold official league games in the United States. In 2018, Relevent teamed up with La Liga to host an official match of the season between Barcelona and Girona in Miami. However, Fifa introduced a policy prohibiting leagues from holding matches outside their home country and Barcelona pulled out.
“Our hope is to have an official Spanish league game in the United States,” said La Liga president Javier Tebas. “You can rest assured that when we can, legally, the next day we will host a game in the United States.” Fifa declined to comment.
But more than six years after bringing El Clásico – the showdown between Barcelona and Real Madrid – to America for the first time as an exhibition match, Relevent no longer depends on events.
When the pandemic made global travel impossible, the company accelerated its move towards media rights and has since negotiated billions of dollars in US TV deals for the UEFA Champions League and La Liga. .
“We have reached numbers that we did not expect,” UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin told the FT. “In the United States they are willing to pay a lot more for the best and nothing for the rest.
Backed by capital from Ross, which also owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team and promotes the city’s Formula 1 grand prix, Relevent is in expansion mode. He is building a team in Switzerland and strengthening his presence in Europe as he targets more football media rights deals.
Sillman is also looking for acquisitions that could help it grow. Its targets include sports media, content assets, brands and live events. He says he wants to make the company a “bridge” that works both ways, seeking partnerships with American leagues as they aim for international expansion.
Sillman, 34,’s rise in the sports world began while still a student at Michigan Ross, the business school named after Relevent’s owner. While there, Sillman emailed Ross for advice on his business advising professional athletes, and the pair struck up a relationship.
Sillman eventually sold the company and joined the billionaire’s venture arm in 2014 before becoming chief executive of Relevent three years later, aged 28. He is also Ross’s son-in-law since 2020.
“I know him and I work with him and he works hours and hours and hours,” said Ferran Soriano, chief executive of City Football Group, which owns Premier League champions Manchester City.
Relevent’s ground for linking American and European football predates Sillman. That vision came from co-founder Charlie Stillitano, a former general manager of the New York-based MLS team that would later become the New York Red Bulls. Stillitano, who has since left the company, used his decades of footballing experience to develop Relevent into the sport.
But Sillman’s position in the football establishment was bolstered during the uproar of the European Super League in April 2021, when a dozen elite clubs sought to form a breakaway competition. Their mission failed after a backlash from fans and decision-makers, but Sillman’s opposition to the project helped him make friends in the industry.
“I was in contact with him at the time after it happened and it was quite amazing to see that someone who lives in a country of closed leagues clearly understands what it means to have a pyramid and why football European Union is so successful,” said Čeferin. .
Relevent has negotiated $2 billion worth of media rights deals for La Liga in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2021, a welcome boon as football struggles to recover from its Covid losses.
The following year, the company brokered a deal in which Paramount agreed to pay $1.5 billion over six years to screen UEFA’s European club competitions in the United States. At $250 million per season, it was 2.5 times higher than before.
“For decades people have been talking about football becoming more popular on television in the United States, and it’s really starting to happen, it’s happening,” Sean McManus, president of Paramount’s CBS Sports told the FT.
As more viewers tune in, City Football Group’s Soriano, who also owns New York City FC, says the trade opening in the United States for the football industry is “huge” and growing rapidly .
“In the United States, there will be a major world football event every year. When you say update the size of the opportunity, multiply it by 10 because it’s already large,” he said. “This is the opportunity for companies like Relevent.”