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MLS and the Mexican Federation: A Beautiful Friendship

RafaelMarquez370x270 MLS and the Mexican Federation: A Beautiful Friendship

Rafa Marquez and his mates play as many games in the US as on Mexican Soil these days/ Photo from esmas.com

Many I speak to wonder sometime quietly why the Mexican National Team seem to play all its friendlies on US soil and not in its home country. These same people wonder what affect this has on the US National Team, as their big rival often plays to bigger and more vocal crowds. The truth is that the Mexican National Federation (FMF) and Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the marketing arm of Major League Soccer have a complex marketing agreement.

Many times in the last few years on the very same day the United States National Team plays in front of half empty stadiums somewhere else in the USA, the Mexican National Team is playing in front of a ruckus full stadium. That alone should not be alarming: After all the Mexican National Team rightfully enjoys more support in the United States than does the US National Team. This is due in large part to the massive Mexican-American population in the states. What should be alarming is who markets and makes a big profit off the gate at these matches: Soccer United Marketing, aka MLS. What’s even more interesting is that the Mexican League, arguably the best in the world outside of Europe determined two Copa Libertadoras spots not on its league table or playoffs but on a two week tournament held at MLS venues marketed by MLS, known as Interliga. Most Mexican coaches and players rightfully dislike the event. It takes place in between the Clausura and Apertura tournaments, when the players of the Mexican clubs should be resting and recharging their batteries. But the tournament is a great boon financially both to the FMF and MLS. Interliga takes on a significance it should not since the tournament is not even played on Mexican soil. For whatever reason FIFA and COMNEBOL have allowed Mexico to use this sham of an event which simply is designed to help fill MLS and FMF coffers to determine participants in the world’s second most prestigious club competition.

Major League Soccer’s marketing relationship with the Mexican Federation is from what I can tell unique to the world of Football. Can you imagine the French Ligue Un entering into a similar relationship with the Mali or Algerian Football federation both of whom have large immigrant communities in France. Or how about the German Bundesliga entering into a similar relationship with the Turkish Federation due to the massive Turkish population in Germany? How about the Premier League entering into a relationship with the Australian or Indian Federations to promote those national teams on UK soil?

The obvious answer to this is that MLS is not as financially healthy as they claim. From my vantage point Major League Soccer was struggling with bad attendance and an even worse perception between the contraction year of 2001 and the signing of David Beckham in 2007. The result was the need for MLS to branch out and stay afloat in some manner. The shrewdness of Don Garber cannot be underestimated. His business and marketing smarts have kept MLS in business. But as time goes on and MLS is more established as a business entity, the relationship becomes more extensive and worrying. As mentioned above Mexico has not played a friendly at home in some time: in fact the last home Mexican friendly not held on American soil was prior to the 2006 World Cup. In addition, the concocated Superliga Tournament between FMF and MLS sides has netted decent TV ratings and entertaining football but has found itself to be little more than a cash grab. At the same time MLS due to this tournament is forced to play right through qualifiers involving the US National Team, in some cases playing matches at the exact same time. Now this for certain would not be tolerated in any other country on the planet. For example, last year as the United States began Copa America play, MLS was kicking off a match on ESPN 2. Last September as the US played Brazil at Soldier Field, DC United and New England were playing live on Telefutura. Most recently, The United States played a qualifier against Barbados while DC United and San Jose did battle on Telefutura. MLS’ schedule is not flexible for international dates because its top teams take more than a month off from MLS competition because of Superliga, an entertaining tournament no doubt, but one that is proving to be merely a cash cow.

A strain between MLS and US Soccer has been reported in some place. Others tell me the relationship is fine. One thing is for sure: MLS, the US/Canadian domestic league has a stronger more developed relationship at least outwardly with the Mexican Federation than with its own federations. While the need to keep MLS afloat dictated the forming of this relationship at this point its more counter productive from my vantage point to US Soccer and the success of the US National Team long term. Moreover, as the relationship becomes closer and closer at what point do FIFA and CONCACAF become alarmed. It’s not unusual for clubs to partner with other clubs across national boundaries. But from what I can tell this is by far the most established relationship between a national federation and a domestic league in another country. The simple motivation is money for both parties. What a beautiful friendship.

About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

21 Responses to MLS and the Mexican Federation: A Beautiful Friendship

  1. Lee says:

    I am not sure how having the Mexican NT play games in the US is hurting the US NT… Clue me in.
    I mean its not as if Mexico stops, suddenly those fans will flock to the US games, its been well documented that they will not.
    While I find it humbling a foreign team gets better support than our nations own, the fact of the matter is we're simply not a soccer country. And won't be in any of our lifeteimes.

    Oh not to mention, especially in this day & age, sports is business. MLS & SUM have a more pressing issue than international dates to worry about right now: staying afloat. If that means an MLS kickoff time that that conflicts with a NT kickoff time, well thats business baby.

    -Lee

  2. Joe says:

    You've written some absoulte rubbish on this site and your other sites lately but this is a fantastic piece. Absolutely fantastic.

    Many of my friends and myself have wondered what this relationship is all about. Why does MLS play right through international breaks while setting up these sham tournaments with the Mexican League? Why does the FMF use interliga to determine Copa spots and not the league table? Why is Mexico constantly playing matches in the US? Why do Mexican league teams spend all their off season in the US?

    The whole thing makes sesne now. I guess all these factors I was aware off but had never put them all together into one puzzle.

    Oh and by the way it does hurt the US Team big time from an exposure standpoint. Probably from a playing standpoint too as your other article mentions.

  3. Football Detective says:

    Lee – you're off base – USA is becoming a soccer country in that there is a market for high profile games. Just ask Chelsea, Barcelona, Mexican clubs and national team.

    The point here is that the saturation of better and more well-known teams is limiting MLS and the USA national team.

    But if MLS' investors make good money from these other friendlies (better even than their own league games) what is their motivation for improving the product?

    It is a massive conflict of interest.

  4. Lee says:

    I am not sure how having the Mexican NT play games in the US is hurting the US NT… Clue me in.
    I mean its not as if Mexico stops, suddenly those fans will flock to the US games, its been well documented that they will not.
    While I find it humbling a foreign team gets better support than our nations own, the fact of the matter is we’re simply not a soccer country. And won’t be in any of our lifeteimes.

    Oh not to mention, especially in this day & age, sports is business. MLS & SUM have a more pressing issue than international dates to worry about right now: staying afloat. If that means an MLS kickoff time that that conflicts with a NT kickoff time, well thats business baby.

    -Lee

  5. Peter C says:

    Just head over to SUM's website, http://www.sumworld.com and you'll see the web of affiliations including:
    MLS, USSF, Gold Cup, InterLiga, SuperLiga, Mexican National Team, Chivas de Guadalajara and the new Barcelona deal.
    Speaks also to what owners buy into when they pay their franchise fee to join MLS, as they are buying a piece of SUM(as far as I can tell).
    Makes it difficult to separate an MLS club making money and its owner making money.

  6. Joe says:

    You’ve written some absoulte rubbish on this site and your other sites lately but this is a fantastic piece. Absolutely fantastic.

    Many of my friends and myself have wondered what this relationship is all about. Why does MLS play right through international breaks while setting up these sham tournaments with the Mexican League? Why does the FMF use interliga to determine Copa spots and not the league table? Why is Mexico constantly playing matches in the US? Why do Mexican league teams spend all their off season in the US?

    The whole thing makes sesne now. I guess all these factors I was aware off but had never put them all together into one puzzle.

    Oh and by the way it does hurt the US Team big time from an exposure standpoint. Probably from a playing standpoint too as your other article mentions.

  7. Football Detective says:

    Lee – you’re off base – USA is becoming a soccer country in that there is a market for high profile games. Just ask Chelsea, Barcelona, Mexican clubs and national team.

    The point here is that the saturation of better and more well-known teams is limiting MLS and the USA national team.

    But if MLS’ investors make good money from these other friendlies (better even than their own league games) what is their motivation for improving the product?

    It is a massive conflict of interest.

  8. Peter C says:

    Just head over to SUM’s website, http://www.sumworld.com and you’ll see the web of affiliations including:
    MLS, USSF, Gold Cup, InterLiga, SuperLiga, Mexican National Team, Chivas de Guadalajara and the new Barcelona deal.
    Speaks also to what owners buy into when they pay their franchise fee to join MLS, as they are buying a piece of SUM(as far as I can tell).
    Makes it difficult to separate an MLS club making money and its owner making money.

  9. J Harris says:

    SUM is really a scummy operation.

    AEG and MLS HQ essentially runs it and as Football Detective mentioned it is more or less competiting with MLS even though the money goes to MLS.

    The operation itself is shady with some people representing themselves as SUM and MLS or as one or the other.

    I don't care for this whole thing. Thank you for bringing further light to the situation.

  10. J Harris says:

    SUM is really a scummy operation.

    AEG and MLS HQ essentially runs it and as Football Detective mentioned it is more or less competiting with MLS even though the money goes to MLS.

    The operation itself is shady with some people representing themselves as SUM and MLS or as one or the other.

    I don’t care for this whole thing. Thank you for bringing further light to the situation.

  11. Liverpool John says:

    Superliga is a sham. No question about it. When a Champions League exists the idea of having a tournament that is around simply to make money for two entities: MLS and the Mexican Federation should be viewed as a tournament outside the rules or setup of FIFA. Both leagues should be sanctioned for creating and participating in the event. I understand it was made for TV, so that MLS and Mexico could take TVC money away from CONCACAF. The whole Superliga fiasco is all you need to know about MLS' business practices.

  12. Liverpool John says:

    Superliga is a sham. No question about it. When a Champions League exists the idea of having a tournament that is around simply to make money for two entities: MLS and the Mexican Federation should be viewed as a tournament outside the rules or setup of FIFA. Both leagues should be sanctioned for creating and participating in the event. I understand it was made for TV, so that MLS and Mexico could take TVC money away from CONCACAF. The whole Superliga fiasco is all you need to know about MLS’ business practices.

  13. Ian says:

    The ties are worrying and not proper in football.

    I can understand the desire for MLS to survive in a climate hostile to football, but FIFA must have something to say about this. It is inproper for two domestic leagues to have such a close association with one another independent of the governing confederation, in this case CONCACAF.

  14. Ian says:

    The ties are worrying and not proper in football.

    I can understand the desire for MLS to survive in a climate hostile to football, but FIFA must have something to say about this. It is inproper for two domestic leagues to have such a close association with one another independent of the governing confederation, in this case CONCACAF.

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  17. NJ says:

    I've heard this somewhere before, and I don't recall where. It may even have been from you Kartik, but is the FMF and MLS ultimate goal to have a club system that crosses borders. They both already travel alot, whats another hour or two in the air. In that scenario, you get the US $'s and the Mexican talent. I dont' know how you decide what teams participate and how promotion and relegation would work, but could that be the long term plan for the FMF and Sum????

  18. NJ says:

    I’ve heard this somewhere before, and I don’t recall where. It may even have been from you Kartik, but is the FMF and MLS ultimate goal to have a club system that crosses borders. They both already travel alot, whats another hour or two in the air. In that scenario, you get the US $’s and the Mexican talent. I dont’ know how you decide what teams participate and how promotion and relegation would work, but could that be the long term plan for the FMF and Sum????

  19. Ian says:

    NJ maybe it was from me on Big Soccer?

    I'm tired of MLS making its own rules. It's time FIFA stepped in.

  20. Ian says:

    NJ maybe it was from me on Big Soccer?

    I’m tired of MLS making its own rules. It’s time FIFA stepped in.

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