Despite commonly held misconceptions, soccer is a popular sport in the United States. Over 24 million people regularly play the beautiful game, and 15% of whom are registered players. In 2018, the analytics company Gallup reported that soccer was the fourth most-watched team sport in the country, behind American football, baseball, and basketball.
Its top-flight league, known as Major League Soccer (MLS) is the fastest growing professional soccer league in the world. Its creation came about as the US held the 1994 FIFA World Cup, although it has since undergone several expansions and now includes teams from Canada.
Although MLS is one of the fastest-growing football leagues, it faces an uphill battle. The Mexican league, Liga MX has a bigger following with the United States than MLS thanks to the large Mexican diaspora.
The league is also facing competition from esports which have experienced exponential growth in recent years attracting millions of followers, and making titles like FIFA 20 and even card game tournaments on legal US poker sites hugely popular because of a vibrant fan base and streaming platforms such as Twitch or YouTube Gaming.
One solution to help the MLS get to the next level, a merger between it and Mexico’s Liga MX has been suggested by some in the sport. This would create a pan-North American league, including Canada, the United States, and Mexico, consisting of up to 50 teams.
The rationale of a merger
Since MLS and Liga MX are in direct competition for supporters, television viewers, sponsors, players, and investment, a merger would help them pull these resources together.
MLS has more in the way of financial clout, while Liga MX has a bigger and more dedicated fanbase. It would help MLS increase its viewing figures across the US and the continent as a whole, a crucial metric when negotiating contracts with sponsors.
Logistics of a merger
A merger between MLS and Liga MX would not be plain sailing. A 50-team-strong league will pose scheduling problems and will likely require the creation of a system of promotion and relegation or a conference format like in the NFL.
Liga MX will also need to permanently promote two extra teams from the Mexican second tier and then permanently fix the teams in the top tier.
Scheduling issues will also likely arise since the climate is significantly different in Mexico and Canada and some northern US states. While Mexico players soccer through the winter, snow and freezing temperatures will prevent those games in colder regions.
The logistics of traveling across the entire North American continent should also not be underestimated. The amount of time that teams could spend on the road would be significant, giving a large home-team advantage to the team that doesn’t have to travel.
That’s not to say a merger wouldn’t be possible, it’s just that these hurdles need to be overcome.
When could a merger happen?
In business, mergers between international businesses are complex and can take years to complete. Sports make this even more complicated as there are sporting bodies like CONCACAF and FIFA that need to give their blessing to a merger as well as national governments.
It’s therefore unlikely we’ll see a merger between MLS and Liga MX any time soon, if at all.