Former FC Barcelona soccer player Gerard Piqué unveiled a huge banner in Barcelona on Friday throwing shade at mainstream soccer for being “scared” of his new Twitch soccer league, the Kings League, and its upcoming final at the famed Camp Nou stadium.
“The thought of us filling up Camp Nou really scares them,” the banner read in Spanish and Catalan, part of Piqué’s final push to sell out the 99,000-seat Camp Nou stadium, the largest in Europe, for the Kings League final on March 26.
Although the Kings League did not confirm the banner was aimed at anyone in particular—league officials told Gizmodo that they were leaving the interpretation up to the public—it’s pretty clear for anyone who’s been following the indoor soccer tournament that the message is aimed at Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish soccer league LaLiga. Piqué and Tebas have been clashing over the Kings League, which the former soccer player invented to make the sport more accessible and exciting, and its impact for months.
Mainstream Spanish soccer calls the Kings League a “circus”
Shortly after the Kings League’s debut on Jan. 1, Tebas dismissed Piqué’s new form of soccer as a competitor to traditional soccer on paid TV, even though LaLiga and the Kings League go head-to-head for viewers every Sunday. While LaLiga broadcasts its games on traditional paid TV, the Kings League streams its marathon six-hour-long game days on Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok and offers them for free.
“It’s a circus, and it’s not about whether it can attract younger viewers,” Tebas said on Jan. 9. “As a circus, I like the Kings League, but you can’t compare it to the soccer industry.”
Piqué wasn’t deterred. Hours after Tebas’ made his comments to the press, he tweeted out, “Welcome to the Kings League circus!” and proceeded to offer a tease of a soccer star playing in that weekend’s game, who he dressed as a mysterious clown. The player turned out to be the retired Argentine striker Sergio “El Kun” Agüero.
Unlike traditional soccer, the Kings League is indeed part-circus and part-soccer, with a sprinkle of video games. Its 12 teams are headed by Twitch streamers and ex-professional soccer stars, and games are made up of two 20-minute halves where anything can happen. Coaches can use “Secret Weapon” cards to gain an advantage over the opposing team. Piqué also has a hand in the games with his “League” cards, which take a certain number of players off the field at the end of the first half.
Tebas showed his distain of the Kings League again in mid-February when responding to critiques from Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Soccer Federation, soccer’s governing body in Spain. Rubiales said the Kings League was “a different and entertaining format” that needed to be respected, adding that changes needed to be made in traditional soccer’s format to surprise audiences. Tebas responded drily and with unabashed scorn.
“Rubiales’ analysis is that the league should follow the example of an event led by streamers where they dress up like clowns,” he stated.
The Kings League prepares for its final at Camp Nou on March 26
The tension between Piqué and Tebas has hung over the Kings League’s inaugural season as the former soccer star strives to prove that his new vision of soccer can appeal to large audiences and attract young people. So far, the Kings League has seen massive success.
Its Twitch channel was the top channel in Spain in January and February, according to the Spanish streaming tracker TVTOP España. In addition, on Feb. 26, the Kings League announced that more than two million people had watched the live debut of Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldinho, who played for Spanish streamer Ibai Llanos’ “Porcinos FC” team.
On Friday, Piqué and Kings League officials revealed the entertainment lineup for the final at Camp Nou on Chup Chup Kings, their streaming show for league announcements. Besides face offs between its final four teams, the event will feature performances from Argentine artists Lali and Tiago PZK. Ever the showman, Piqué also announced that the Kings League would try to break the Guinness world record for the most people wearing costume masks, which stands at 30,050, and would hand out free masks with the Kings League logo at Camp Nou on March 26.
Selling out the Camp Nou stadium with a three-month old Twitch soccer league would no doubt be a win for Piqué and give him the proof he needs to show mainstream soccer that the Kings League is a force to be reckoned with. As of Friday, more than 60,000 tickets had already been sold.
“There is no stadium like Camp Nou,” Piqué said in his Friday pitch to sell tickets on Chup Chup Kings, set to dramatic music. “The finalists are going to put on a show that the city of Barcelona is going to remember. You can’t miss it.”