IT is the most watched football league in the US, has the fourth highest average attendance for a football league anywhere in the world, can boast having 46 international players in the past year from 15 countries, not including Mexico itself, and has had a representative at the previous 12 Club World Cups.
Liga MX is a massive global football league, but getting football fans across the world to sit up and take notice has proven a major challenge.
Marketing has long been a topic for discussion when thinking about how to grow Mexico’s top flight. The recent decision from US legend Landon Donovan to come out of retirement and play for Liga MX side Club León brought the lack of marketing and accessibility for those who don’t speak Spanish to the forefront of people’s minds.
Donovan has played just six times since 2015, but the US legend’s decision to end his retirement and play in Mexico for Club León was a huge news story. Coming out of retirement would have made waves under any circumstance, but “Captain America’s” decision to play in the domestic league of the US’ fiercest rivals was a major surprise, and captivated the attention of the Liga MX fan base.
Whilst the form and fitness of Donovan, and therefore his potential to impact León on the pitch, remains to be assessed, we’ve seen impact off the pitch.
León built-up hype surrounding the transfer with various tweets, and unveiled him in front of around 8,000 fans, but, with the exception of the “Is León landing?” tweet, there was a lack of English social media content.
León don’t have English social media accounts or an English section to their website, and failed to produce English tweets to officially announce Donovan’s arrival.
The official announcement tweet, in Spanish, was retweeted 4,700 times and liked over 11,000 times, and considering that the tweet simply showed a picture of Donovan, it appears that Liga MX marketing departments are behind the times.
Elaborate, dramatic, amusing and sometimes bizarre transfer announcement videos have become common practice amongst major European clubs this season, and have generated major social media interaction.
The recent announcement of Samuel Eto’o joining Turkish club Konyaspor is a good comparison. The Game of Thrones inspired video was retweeted 7,300 times and liked by over 17,000 accounts despite Konyaspor having a quarter of the following that León do. The video itself has been viewed a remarkable 1.28 million times.
Considering the large fan base in the US, and beyond, for Landon Donovan (who has 1.42 million twitter followers) León had the potential to generate a similar level of social media impact, to boost their own brand, but weren’t able to capitalise on the opportunity.
Guillermo Zamarripa; sports marketing expert, founder of CMAS Group and consultant for the Mexican Soccer Federation in the licensing space, was also critical of León when offering me the following quote:
“From a marketing perspective there is no doubt León could have taken a more aggressive and strategic approach to Donovan’s signing. You only get to sign the US soccer legend once, you had the attention of an entire country and failed to build brand equity out of the situation”.
León are not the only Liga MX club guilty of failing to tap into the English-language market. Whilst Barcelona have twitter accounts in eight different languages, only two Liga MX clubs have English-language accounts. Both of these clubs are located in the north of Mexico, with Tijuana situated right on the US border, and many of their fans travelling across from San Diego on game days.
Liga MX itself doesn’t have official English social media accounts, or an English section to their website, although, bizarrely, random words on the official site are in English rather than Spanish.
This is a huge shame, as there are plenty of highly marketable moments in Liga MX that could attract interest globally. Stunning goals with the potential to go viral on social media are scored on almost a weekly basis. There are also plenty of thrilling matches that could capture attention outside of North America. For example, the last five finals, which take place over two legs, have all been decided by penalties or a single goal.
It’s not just globally where Liga MX could be missing out. Many of the Mexican diaspora in the US prefer to talk, read, listen and write in English rather than Spanish, as Guillermo Zamarripa points out; “no, being a Liga MX fan does not mean they speak Spanish. Deal with it”.
These fans may still be watching Liga MX, perhaps due to their connection to a certain club or the lack of serious competition from football leagues in the US, but a greater connection to and engagement with the league could be generated if Liga MX and its clubs offered greater access for English speakers.
Social media is not the only aspect where Liga MX clubs are failing to accommodate English speakers.
Liga MX is not broadcasted on TV in English, and has not been since a short-lived trial by ESPN back in the 2013/14 season. US-based Spanish language channel Univision, which currently holds the rights to show every Liga MX team in the US, and has been a major part of Liga MX’s growth in ratings. The channel has setup English broadcasts via Facebook live, but this does not create an impact comparable to showing matches on TV.
One suggestion for improvement that is often mentioned within the Liga MX English-language community is to ‘package’ TV rights. Currently, Liga MX clubs negotiate TV deals for their own home games, rather than the packaging of games that we see from the English Premier League, for example.
The lack of packaged rights is likely to make Liga MX more difficult to sell to countries without large Mexican diaspora. Chivas and América do not have the same global influence and support as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, thus making it very difficult to sell their home games across the world.
Whilst time zone issues are very significant, arguably packaging rights could help Liga MX sell its product globally. MLS, which is not even as popular as Liga MX in its own country, has managed to sell rights to Sky Sports in the UK.
Cross-league TV rights could also help improve TV schedules, which often aren’t particularly fan-friendly. Liga MX clubs set their own home kick-off times, which rarely change, and without over-arching organisation, there are always multiple matches on at the same time on a Saturday.
During parts of previous seasons Liga MX fans have had to endure four matches (nearly half the games on a weekend) kicking-off at the same time on Saturday evening, and recently there was a clash between Chivas and América home matches, the two best-supported Mexican clubs. This is the equivalent of Real Madrid and Barcelona playing at the same time, and forces many fans to choose between two matches that they would enjoy watching.
“By failing to adapt, the league and its clubs are excluding themselves from engaging with the future fan”. Forthright in his criticism, Guillermo Zamarripa issues a warning to those in charge of Liga MX and their club sides, “we are probably one generation away from LIGA MX clubs truly paying the price for not adapting to the Liga MX English-speaking fan”.
With a huge, football-mad, fan base in both Mexico and the US, healthy finances for much of the league, and an influx in international talent following reductions in foreign player restrictions, Liga MX has the potential to dominate the football world outside of Europe’s major divisions. If this is to happen, marketing off the pitch needs to match the quality entertainment that is often produced on it.