One of the world’s most valuable sports teams could join the English Premier League if Catalonia gains independence from Spain

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi could move to the English Premier League without having to switch clubs. Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Tensions are rising in northwest Spain as Catalonia fights to hold an independence vote. Now comes word from the region’s sports minister that independence could have a huge impact on one of the world’s most valuable sports clubs — Barcelona FC.

According to Gerard Figueras, Catalonia’s sports minister, Barça would be free join another country’s football league, including England’s Premier League, if Catalonia gains its independence from Spain. This would also be true for the other two football clubs in the northwest Spanish region who currently play in Spain’s La Liga, Espanyol and Girona.

“In the case of independence, Catalan teams in La Liga — Barcelona, Espanyol and Girona — will have to decide where they want to play: in the Spanish league or a neighbouring country like Italy, France or the Premier League,”Figueras said, via the UK Independent.

In other words, the three clubs would effectively become free agents.

Barcelona would also have to want to leave La Liga and join the English sides. However, the Premier League’s $US4.6 billion in annual broadcast rights is considerably larger than any other league. The German Bundesliga is a distant second at $US1.6 billion and La Liga is fourth, taking in $US1.3 billion annually.

That increase in revenue would have to at least be tempting for Barcelona and their status as the one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world would have to be tempting for the Premier League.

As noted by Figueras, there is precedent for clubs playing in leagues based in other countries, including AS Monaco, who plays in France’s Ligue 1 and Welsh side Swansea City, who plays in the English Premier League.

Obviously a lot must happen before the Premier League adds a club from outside the United Kingdom, including first and foremost, Catalonia must gain their independence. At this point, it is not even clear if there will be a vote. In addition, adding one or more top-tier teams to the Premier League might only make sense for the league if they are willing to expand to 22 or 24 teams.