There was a debate last week in a section of U.S. soccer media and on social networks over a perceived lack of coverage of Liga MX in English-language publications in the United States. It was interesting to see the back and forth, especially given that it comes at a time when the league is adamant it wants to open its doors and internationalize like never before.
"Over a four-year period, we should work to search for new markets, to expand our football ... so that it isn't only known in Latin America," said Liga MX president Enrique Bonilla in December. It was a bold statement from Bonilla, but the wheels of the internationalization of Liga MX have arguably already slowly started to turn.
The league's website and clubs' social media content have markedly improved on what they were a couple of years ago. Then, there was the decision to play the SuperCopa MX and Campeon de Campeones matches in the United States ahead of each Apertura season and hold the Balon de Oro awards north of the border too.
But it is also clear, as Bonilla admitted, that more needs to be done if Liga MX is to promote itself outside of the country and its lucrative core of Spanish-speaking fans in the United States. With this in mind, ESPN FC got in contact with four soccer marketing experts from around the globe to come up with some solutions that could help to make the outside world watch, cover and take interest in Liga MX.
More stars like Gignac
"Liga MX is a regional league, not a global league," said John Guppy, head of Chicago-based agency Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing, who added that almost all the players are from Latin American countries. "I would think teams could still find more [Andre-Pierre] Gignacs and thus expand their global appeal beyond Spanish-speaking countries if they wanted to. Star power is one of the keys to building a true global brand."
France international Gignac has become a club legend at Tigres after leading the team to two Liga MX titles in the past three seasons, sparking column inches and intrigue about the Mexican league in his homeland.
"Andre-Pierre Gignac at Tigres and Paco Jemez at Cruz Azul are two good examples of how Liga MX is gaining international recognition by their presence in the competition," added Diego Valdes, the director of the Sports Business Institute in Barcelona. "The more talent Liga MX can recruit, the better it will be for its international value proposition for international broadcasters, sponsors and fans/consumers."
Emphasis on English-language media
"[Liga MX] is the most popular league [in the United States] in terms of ratings, but it would be fair to say that the majority of its viewers are first- or second-generation immigrants from Mexico," explained Walter Franco, an associate at Victus Advisors with experience dealing with Liga MX clubs. "That is not sustainable in the long term. Liga MX first needs to capture the Mexican-American millennial demo, in particular those who speak little to no Spanish and are often opting for MLS."
Franco suggests that clubs need to make a "collective push" to at least have the high-profile matches broadcast in English. Additionally, Liga MX should implement "a universal plan for all clubs, and the league, to begin to produce English-language content within three years," in an effort to both to reach out to Mexican-American fans and create the foundation to reach new markets.
Added Valdes: "Having tailor-made content in English would allow [Liga MX clubs] to engage with the young Mexican-American fans who are looking to consume football from the league and the top clubs in Mexico."
Embracing the international media
Liga MX is already a big deal -- in Mexico. The demands on press teams at clubs can be great and the players are treated like bona-fide stars. But outside the bubble, players and clubs need to be talked about elsewhere if the league is to internationalize.
At present, it is difficult to find out who to contact in order to arrange interviews at Liga MX clubs, even for Spanish-speaking journalists. The league's official website directs you to a general email address and the individual club pages often don't prove much more useful. In comparison, you can find every single media contact you need for each club (and the league) on one page on the Major League Soccer website.
If there is one league that could be used as a benchmark for Liga MX for media, it's the Bundesliga. Mexican soccer supporters have found out firsthand what a good job the clubs do at keeping them informed about the goings on of Mexican internationals Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Marco Fabian. Both Hernandez's club Bayer Leverkusen and Fabian's Eintracht Frankfurt have English-language websites, as well as English and Spanish social media accounts.
Big teams stepping up to the plate
"I'd say that big teams really need to drive the agenda," suggested Guppy. "Real Madrid and Barcelona drive La Liga. Bayern, the Bundesliga, the big six drive the Premier League. I think Liga MX can certainly play a role, but really it's Chivas, America, etc. that have the ability to drive global interest -- not the league."
Chivas and Club America hoard the sports pages in Mexico and share a rivalry that produces the most-viewed game each season. All-Mexican club Chivas set the benchmark in many ways when it comes to Liga MX clubs and social media and could have a significant opportunity moving forward now that they are showing their own games on Chivas TV, but neither of Mexico's best-supported clubs has made the leap into producing any non-Spanish-language content.
The other two of Mexico's "big four" -- Cruz Azul and Pumas -- seem to be further behind.
High-profile events and long-term planning
Ricardo Zayas, director of the Johan Cruyff Institute in Mexico City, mentioned some of the key points above in his correspondence with ESPN FC, but also came up with a couple of more specific ideas.
"Football is probably the most global phenomenon that exists and Mexican football's market has to be the world," he said.
Zayas mentioned the possibility of opening offices or creating Liga MX ambassadors in strategic markets -- taking advantage of Europe-based players like Hernandez, Fabian, Raul Jimenez and Miguel Layun to talk up the league that they came from; opening up academies abroad; taking preseasons and friendlies abroad (which many clubs already do); and consolidating an efficient administrative, sporting and commercial model that can make it a reference at world level and promoting the league in conventions and international world football events.
To that list you could add a sustained effort to eradicate the goalkeeper chant in order to create more positivity, hyping up the opening weekend of each season, clearing up some of the gray areas like the "Gentlemen's Pact" and even copying an idea like rivalry week from MLS.
There certainly isn't a shortage of ideas, and while Liga MX is in some ways well positioned to achieve Bonilla's goal, in others it is still lagging behind.