The wait is nearly over for MLS fans, as the 2017 MLS season is a little over a week away. Orlando City supporters anticipate the opening of a new home, and soon questions about Orlando’s readiness to challenge for an MLS Cup will get some answers.
Amidst all the excitement brewing in America’s top league, many American fans know that MLS trails behind European leagues in average television viewers. Still, America’s domestic league continues to grow, and these are exciting times to follow the league’s progression. But it might come as a surprise that MLS’s battle for soccer supremacy in the U.S is not only with the European big boys. In fact, the most viewed league in the U.S. is not an overseas European league. That title belongs to America’s southern neighbor, Mexico’s Liga MX.
Last week, Liga MX and Facebook announced a partnership to stream live, select Liga MX matches in English. Until now, Liga MX’s superior U.S. ratings existed in Spanish. Liga MX is betting on the growing American appetite for soccer content.
The deal signals a novel development for the future of soccer broadcasts and TV in general, but, given MLS’s challenges to raise the profile of the league in this country and around the world, the agreement adds to a clustered soccer market available to U.S. residents. Liga MX and Facebook did not disclose the financial details of the partnership, but it’s fair to assume that the Mexican league is testing the English-speaking market for Mexican games with a minimal investment.
Should MLS be worried about Liga MX broadcasting in English?
The short answer is no. MLS should see the deal with Facebook as evidence of soccer’s continued growth in America. San Diego’s MLS bid offers a microcosm of how Liga MX and MLS can support each other. An MLS team in San Diego joins not only market with other MLS teams, but Club Tijuana of Liga MX plays home games about 20 miles away. Nick Stone, a member of San Diego’s hopeful ownership group, told ESPNFC, “Personally, I think a rising tide lifts all boats...when people discover there’s Xolos soccer right across the border, we’ll figure out how to play both teams against each other.”
How can MLS use LigaMX to grow the profile of the U.S.’s league now?
Two ideas come to mind: more MLS success over Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League and the development of a tournament between the two leagues since Mexico will no longer compete in Copa Libertadores.
MLS teams are on the losing side of a lopsided record against Mexican teams in CCL. Since the LA Galaxy won in 2000, Mexican teams have won the competition 13 times. The Vancouver Whitecaps, FC Dallas, or the NY Red Bulls have the next chance to improve MLS’s record against Mexican teams in the tournament. Repeated success in CCL will be tangible evidence that the quality of play in MLS is on the rise.
The two leagues began talks last year about creating a tournament since Mexico will no longer participate in Copa Libertadores. Mexico and the U.S. enjoy a healthy rivalry. Why not capitalize on that with more meaningful games between MLS and Liga MX teams? A future agreement makes too much sense to fail.
Even as MLS ratings continue to rise, the ratings speak for themselves: Spanish-speaking soccer content dominates U.S. ratings. MLS needs to capitalize on this reality with a stronger showing in the CCL, and, hopefully, an announcement of a tournament deal with Liga MX. Rather than compete with the neighbors from south of the border, why not join the fun?