A recent advertorial in AdAge describes the Leagues Cup as the “soul of North American Soccer” ahead of the 2024 Leagues Cup. Certainly, the organizers of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, a competition that was originally established in 1962, may have a bone to pick with that story.

The article, paid for and approved by Soccer United Marketing (SUM), Major League Soccer’s marketing arm, reads, “Here to showcase the soul of North American soccer, Leagues Cup represents unity off the pitch, rivalry on the pitch and audacity everywhere.”

The competition only started last year, and it found decent success. However, much of that interest came from the arrival of Lionel Messi at Inter Miami. The Argentine went on to win the inaugural Leagues Cup last year.

Is the Leagues Cup the ‘soul of North American soccer’?

SUM paid for the editorial in AdAge to build up anticipation for the competition, which is less than 100 days away. Similarly, SUM published the article to court new advertisers for the competition as well as a way to tell its own story with complete editorial control and approval over the finished article. After all, when you’re paying to have a story published, you can say whatever you want.

While the Leagues Cup encompasses every MLS and Liga MX team, saying it represents unity off the pitch is close-minded regarding North America as a whole. There are far more clubs in North America than just the 47 that took part in the Leagues Cup. The continent of North America also includes nations in Central America and the Caribbean. In total, there are 21 sovereign states in the continent of North America other than the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The better representation of the soul of North American soccer would be the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Not only does the CONCACAF equivalent to the Champions League feature clubs from every member association. The history of the tournament shows the development of North American soccer over the years.

The Champions Cup is not a perfect tournament, particularly compared to both the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores. However, several key blemishes also exist within the Leagues Cup that show it is not the ‘soul’ of CONCACAF.

Lacking the character of a true international tournament

Having every MLS and Liga MX team compete in one competition is a great way to demonstrate competition between the two leagues. Indisputably, these two leagues top the popularity rankings in North America, and they are likely the best teams in the continent and the Caribbean, too. However, the fact that almost every game of the tournament was played in the United States does little to establish itself as the “soul” of a continent. In 2023 and 2024, Liga MX teams are playing all of its Leagues Cup games in the United States.

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Throughout the 2023 tournament, there were iterations of Liga MX sides finding travel issues in addition to playing in front of hostile crowds. One report claimed Liga MX sides traveled twice as far on average to play their Leagues Cup games than their MLS counterparts. One notable issue forced a delay in the fixture between Leon and the LA Galaxy. The Mexican team’s charter flight had a mechanical delay that stranded the players and staff at the airport.

Putting games in Mexico would make it a more balanced competition. Even though it requires teams to go to smaller nations and venues, the CONCACAF Champions Cup goes across the continent. That can make it more compelling for underdog clubs in the tournament.

Watching the Leagues Cup did not fulfill MLS or Liga MX sides

Likewise, attendance and viewership for the Leagues Cup were not as strong as SUM would have readers and advertisers believe. The best of the Leagues Cup centered on Lionel Messi. His arrival, not necessarily the Leagues Cup, brought hundreds of thousands of new subscribers to MLS Season Pass. Fittingly, any game he played in on either English- or Spanish-language TV and streaming brought the averages up.

The actual attendance for the Leagues Cup was weak. On average, Leagues Cup games averaged 17,678 people. That was the lowest among the four competitions in the United States last summer. For reference, those were the Leagues Cup, Gold Cup, Premier League Summer Series, and Soccer Champions Tour. To be fair, though, the three other competitions included much larger NFL stadiums. However, the percentage of capacity filled put the Leagues Cup in third out of the four. The Leagues Cup games averaged 75% attendance capacity.

The AdAge article claimed part of the big draw for the Leagues Cup is that “Liga MX is the most-watched league in the United States.” However, that isn’t true. The Premier League overtook Liga MX last year when it comes to popularity in the United States. The Mexican top flight still ranks second in terms of American audiences, but the Premier League continues to grow.

What is an advertorial?

Sometimes business or industry publications will offer clients the opportunity to publish an advertorial in a magazine, newspaper, or website. The article looks like a typical article you’ll see, accompanied by a headline, photographs, and copy. But it’s paid for, reviewed, and approved by the client before publication. One of its purposes is to make it look like a real article so that the unsuspecting readers don’t realize they’re reading what is essentially a puff-piece, full of exaggerated praise.

If MLS and Liga MX can find a way to make the Leagues Cup more compelling, it could be the soul of North American soccer. Whether that be more international games or a format change, it is hard to say. However, the second iteration of the Leagues Cup this summer will be a test to see how viable the competition is.