Guest Column

How will US soccer handle El Tri’s summer broadcast invasion?

When events and poor performances conspired to thump the United States National Team from World Cup qualification, many pundits wondered what missing the tournament might do to the sport in this country. It was a failure that launched at least half a dozen USSF presidential candidacies with the rationale that only major change at the top could restore the nation to its World Cup qualifying ways.

While that debate will rage on even after the federation picks its next president, something very interesting will happen this summer to this sport in the United States when local media and some fans decide to adopt our southern rivals, Mexico, which is sending its national team to Russia.

Fox Sports, World Cup broadcast rights holders for the World Cup, promised last year to treat El Tri as a “second team.” Now it’s the only team. ESPN recently doubled down its efforts to cover El Tri and announced that it is sending Herculez Gomez and Sebastian Salazar to Russia to cover Mexico in the World Cup. The pair launched a podcast on the Mexican National team called “Two on Tri,” a cultural and historical review of the Mexican National team’s past failures and triumphs.

In other words, U.S. World Cup coverage is going get a healthy dose of Mexican coverage in English.

The decision by the networks makes a ton of sense. There are more than 36 million Mexican Americans in the U.S. — nearly 12 percent of the population. Mexico’s Liga MX generates far greater TV crowds in the states than MLS, too, drawing between 650,000 and 1 million to weekend games compared  to regular season highs of 275,000 for MLS games on ESPN. When it comes to the most watched league in the U.S., it is far away Liga MX.

The decision for U.S. soccer fans, however, is not so easy. Mexico is our sole North American rival (sorry Trinidad and Tobago). How will U.S. fans live with a summer of coverage that focuses on El Tri, even if the team fails to make it out of its group (not likely, but stranger things have happened)? Is it “OK” to live vicariously through El Tri’s coming run against the world’s best?

I am not by nature tribal and welcome in depth coverage of our southern neighbor. Even though Mexico is a rival, I find the sport’s history and culture in Mexico fascinating. I will watch. But I can’t help but wonder if Mexico’s gain will be the U.S.’s loss. I don’t have answers, but I have a couple questions.

First, should U.S. soccer be worried about the vacuum of a U.S. presence as it applies to recruitment, more so in the lingering aftermath of the Jonathan Gonzalez debacle? If today’s Jonathan Gonzalez was motivated by the U.S. World Cup runs in 2010 and 2014, the next generation will have only El Tri. If there is a fight for the hearts and minds of potential youth players, the U.S. absence and a boost of El Tri will not help U.S. soccer.

Second, what will be the impact of this summer’s will trial run for Mexican soccer broadcast in English? If ESPN or some other network could put together a broadcast team as excellent as NBCSports’ classy Premier League crew, what would that do to future MLS ratings? One could argue that Liga MX’s draw is niche — that it can’t grow far beyond the U.S. Latino audience. But that might be an audience MLS and other domestic leagues would like to attract.

What’s bad for MLS is not necessarily bad for U.S. soccer, and the two questions raised above are pure speculation on my part. But as much as missing the World Cup is a missed opportunity for U.S. soccer, it is a huge opening for Mexican soccer and Liga MX. We won’t know the answer.

I’m sure it will make sleep difficult for soccer decision makers in the U.S.  this summer.

 

6 Comments

  1. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Changing the federation president does not replace Landon Donovan.
    .
    At the Kentucky Derby, they hang the roses on the Horse. Not the Jockey, not the trainer, not the owner. The horse.
    .
    Just sayin’.

  2. I will never root for Mexico. Never.

    • Maybe that’s why the U.S. didn’t make it to the world cup this year, because of haters like you.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Funny. I have the exact opposite reaction.
      .
      I would love for Mexico to validate the validity of CONCACAF and unless in direct or indirect competition with them I tend to pull for el Tri
      .
      …not to mention-
      .
      -some of the greatest human beings, most humble, generous of spirit people I’ve ever met are Mexican.
      .
      I have no quarrel.

  3. Duestchland Uber Alles!!!!!!!! Dark horse……Egypt! Yeah, I can’t root for El Tri either…….respect the hell out of them…….but can’t root for them!

  4. I absolutely consider Mexico as our Rival and will boo them any time we play them. I’ve seen practically every meaningful game against them since ’90 WC, and have little love for them.
    .
    But I want to follow them during this WC, and would welcome any english coverage.
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    #1 I want to see our competition. I want to see what they are made of and what we will have to contend with in the near future.
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    #2 I would watch more Liga MX if we had english broadcasting and this will move us a notch toward that – as long as we can convince MLS/SUM that it won’t affect their ratings/income.
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    #3 I want to see CONCACAF represent. I’m rooting primarily for Iceland purely for the underdogness. But I will absolutely be rooting for our Federation to gain some worldly respect. Yes we missed out this year, but we benefit from having a stronger region.

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