Could Liga MX and MLS Merge?

By | 23 December, 2020

Whatever you call it, football, fútbol, or soccer, the beautiful game is the most-watched and most-played sport in the world.

The FIFA World Cup final has the biggest television audience of any major sporting event, beating the NFL’s Super Bowl, the UEFA Champions League, and even the Olympics. 

As well as being the most-watched, it’s also one of the most bet-on sports in the world. This is partly because it’s quite straightforward to place a bet on football since typically you’re only looking to predict whether a team will win, lose, or draw.

This is why in countries like the UK, where football is popular and betting brands are not as heavily restricted like in the US, almost all football clubs have a sports betting or casino partner. It’s also why so many brands run free bet promotions as they try to maintain market share. 

Throughout most of Latin America, football is the national sport with leagues like Mexico’s Liga MX followed by millions of fans around the country. 

North of the border, in the United States, things are a little different. The country has a huge love for sport, though it has several of its own home-grown competitions that take up most of the public’s attention. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB are each decade’s old, with tens of millions of fans in the US alone.

Traditionally, this has meant that football hasn’t had much room to grow. Things have changed more recently though, with MLS becoming the fastest-growing club competition in the world. In the next two years, the league will expand to 30 teams, three-times the number it had when it began in 1996.

Off the back of this, league bosses are looking for ways to continue their expansion. One way that has been suggested is a merger with Mexico’s Liga MX, creating a single North American football league. 

Does a Liga MX/MLS Merger Make Sense?

If you’ve never heard or thought about a merger between the two leagues before, the prospect may seem quite strange and it may be difficult to understand the rationale behind it. 

After all, the leagues are incredibly different. For a start, MLS operates as a closed league with no promotion or relegation while Liga MX sits at the top of a pyramid like in most other countries. 

It would also mean more than 50 clubs in a single league, something that would become a logistical nightmare for those organising schedules. 

However, when you look a bit more closely, a merger actually begins to make sense. The two leagues actually compete for TV audiences, sponsors, players, supporters, and investment, so merging them would put an end to these pressures. 

In the US, Liga MX is actually the most-watched professional football league, beating the domestic MLS. This is because it’s popular with the large Mexican and South American can bases. Mexican-Americans alone account for more than 10% of the US population, with nearly 37 million as of 2017.

Would a Merger be Possible?

A merger on this scale could not happen overnight. It would require structural changes to be made by both leagues ahead of the merger, as well as huge PR campaigns to get buy-in from the millions of fans on either side of the border. 

Creating a league of 50 football clubs would require Liga MX to promote two additional clubs from the second tier, and then close itself off from promotion and relegation. This would have knock-on effects elsewhere in the Mexican football pyramid. 

The next hurdle to overcome would be how to split the 50 clubs up. Either, the newly-created league would itself need to be split into two tiers with promotion and relegation or form two or three conferences.

The latter is far more likely as it would make more commercial sense for everyone involved and would make easier for fans in the US and Canadian markets to understand since they are more used to a single league with multiple conferences and divisions. 

Scheduling would also be a huge issue. The climates in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Seattle are very different to Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Morelia. Liga MX typically plays games into November and December, months where snow and ice are likely in some parts of Canada and northern US cities. 

Scheduling and league structure would also need to account for the international travel teams will be required to undertake. Travelling from Vancouver to Mexico City would take two days of non-stop driving or a six to seven-hour flight. This would hand teams playing a home a larger than usual advantage as they would be far more refreshed.

Creating conferences that avoid long-distance travel could lead to a Mexican-only conference, negating many of the benefits of merging in the first place. 

This also doesn’t account for the fact that a huge number of stakeholders would need to approve the merger before it could go ahead. Each of the clubs, as well as officials from both leagues, will need to give the deal the green light. As would both FIFA and CONCACAF, the international and regional governing bodies. 

When Could a Merger Take Place?

In business, mergers and acquisitions can take many years to complete, especially when they require regulatory approval or traverse international borders. A joining of forces between MLS and Liga MX would certainly tick all of these boxes, ensuring the process would be drawn out.

The two sides have already begun working more closely together, announcing a strategic partnership in 2018. This has already seen the Campeones Cup and the prospect of a potential All-Star game at some point in the future. In 2019, the sides launched the Leagues Cup, a competition featuring four MLS and four Liga MX clubs. 

Both Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, and Enrique Bonilla, the president of Liga MX, have both publicly stated that they would like their entities to merge into one. 

With that said, there are many many hurdles to overcome before this could take place. So many, in fact, that a reasonable timescale could be a decade or more. Therefore, fans shouldn’t get too excited just yet, although there is appetite from both sides and there are many potential benefits, it won’t be happening any time soon. 

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