Monday Night Fútbol? Five ways to solve Liga MX's TV problem
MEXICO CITY -- Last Saturday, the vast majority of Liga MX fans got to see newly promoted Lobos BUAP live, at home, for the first time. The Week 8 match between the Puebla side and Morelia, however, was not on television. Unable to secure an agreeable distribution deal on its own, the team decided to stream its most recent game on the internet, for free.
There is no centralized media rights package in Liga MX, a growing problem for a league that is quickly going global. In 2012, when the league rebranded from the old Primera Division moniker to Liga MX in a move reminiscent of the English Premier League makeover, matches reached people in 41 countries as far-flung as the Middle East and North Africa. With television companies in Mexico owning four of the 18 first-division clubs (Televisa owns Club America, Grupo Imagen owns Queretaro and TV Azteca owns Atlas and Morelia), it seems unlikely that the media giants will join forces to split revenue with their league partners any time soon. In the U.S., some measure of uniformity has been attained, with Univision and ESPN Deportes combining to cover all but one (Lobos BUAP) of the clubs involved with the league.
Despite ratings for Liga MX routinely showing up in top 10 charts for soccer events in both Mexico and the United States, the Lobos BUAP situation is a clear indicator of the work that needs to be done to improve the league's product, including cooperative strategies to maximize ratings through event planning and stronger, more centralized coverage.
Here are just five ways that Liga MX can bolster its product to audiences in Mexico, the U.S. and beyond:
1. Friday night lights, or Monday night futbol
Faced with dwindling ratings and increased competition from other events each weekend, TV Azteca came up with the novel idea of programming on Friday night. The result has been a perfect way to kick off the league weekend, with one or two games starting the Liga MX slate and monopolizing the attention of fans looking to get their soccer fix.
However, the quality of teams usually featured on Friday night is limited by the teams that TV Azteca is obligated to feature. Through centralized rights, companies in Mexico could rotate in and out of the Friday night slot, putting the weekend's top games in prime time and potentially swapping out a Morelia vs. Veracruz for a Tigres vs. Cruz Azul fixture, for instance.
On the women's side, Liga MX is adopting a similar strategy by placing top games on Monday night. A rotation policy between the men's league and the women's league could also help, featuring games from both circuits in those coveted front/back spots.
2. Better planning around holidays
The NFL plays on Thanksgiving. The NBA is busy on Christmas Day and MLB dominates the fourth of July. It seems foolish then that Liga MX is not taking advantage of the calendar.
It's a coincidence for Liga MX that this year, the Mexican Day of Independence lands smack in the middle of the Week 9 schedule. It seems a wasted opportunity, then, that the league didn't plan for this. The biggest sporting event in Mexico scheduled for the holiday weekend isn't even soccer-related: it's boxer Canelo Alvarez facing Gennady Golovkin.
A holiday weekend would have been the perfect chance to pair up teams with rivalries. Chivas vs. Club America on Independence Day? Perhaps even taking a cue from U.S. sports leagues, Liga MX could honor the country with special kits for the occasion or some sort of patriotic cue before the match.
3. Playoff pageantry
Speaking of special occasions, liguilla matches are clearly the centerpiece of the league experience owing to their importance in deciding the champion. Liga MX has already gone out of its way to create championship events in their summer calendar. The Campeon de Campeones and Supercopa MX titles are one-off proceedings that have a neutral venue (this year's games were played in Carson, California) and are branded as special events.
Though the idea of neutral venues for league championships doesn't necessarily sound viable, the existing playoff system could benefit from the other characteristics, such as specific branding for these playoff games and visual pageantry at the stadium would add an extra element worthy of showing off on television.
4. Revenue sharing
Quite frankly, this is something we will probably never see. It's not likely Liga MX will adopt a Premier League model in which every club gets an equal size of the pie. Chivas, and most recently Lobos BUAP, have already stepped away from television entirely in the hopes they can self-sustain via advertising sales and fan investment.
However, the disparity between clubs is something that needs to be addressed. According to research published by Reporte Indigo, the top-earning club, America, makes $15 million a year from their current deal (doled out by parent Televisa) while Veracruz, makes just $3.5m a year. A fairer model would help the league's teams invest more in signings and infrastructure, effectively creating more parity and prompting teams outside the usual suspects to splurge on bigger signings, as is the case in the English game.
5. Official English-language content
Only two Liga MX clubs (Tijuana and Santos Laguna) have official English-language social media accounts. Beyond the league's following in the United States, an easy way to reach out to fans around the world is to export its content in English.
As of now, the league does not provide English-language content on its website, nor does it ask of its TV partners in the U.S. and beyond to provide commentary in the language. Recently, Univision has taken to broadcasts in English mostly via Facebook Live and fans have been generally happy with the attention.
In the end, there's a reason why this article is being written in English to begin with. There's a growing appetite for non-Spanish everything when it comes to Liga MX, a cry that has mostly fallen on deaf ears in the league's official headquarters. It could very well be the next great frontier for the league to cross.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.