MLS, Liga MX, and Theory vs. Practice

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Everybody wants to talk about TV viewership and make unflattering comparisons between MLS and any other league. As a fan of MLS, I know intimately well both the current challenges, the flaws of the league, and just how far the league has come in the last decade and how much more work is left to do. However, the people who paint Liga MX as some paradise and paradigm to follow are perhaps misguided.

Yes, a bit more flair and technical play in MLS would be fun. However, I honestly dislike split seasons and, in many ways, lots of general public interest and money prop up and gloss over the problems in Liga MX. And these are problems MLS should not ignore or try to replicate.

First off, as duly noted here earlier, the toxic combination of a franchise model and promotion/relegation leads to scarred Earth capitalism at its worst. The franchise model in North American sports is bad because when fans or local politicians lose interest in a losing team that has a tight-fisted owner, the team pulls the circus act and leaves for another town. And, of course, leaves behind the unpaid debt for the stadium they once inhabited.

When you toss relegation into the mix, things get even worse. Thanks to nonexistent regulation, sports teams will always be the playthings of the fickle-minded and extremely wealthy. Thus, when a team drops or gets relegated, why not just dissolve them and buy a franchise from another town and relocate them? That is the rational economic decision from a sponsorship and general interest perspective.

And now the more topical point: just how great is Liga MX for players? Well, Rafa Marquez, an indisputable star, has publicly complained that the players’ union down there lacks the huevos to really protect players. For example, in the latest round of MLS CBA talks, the MLSPU fought for limited form of free agency. It was not perfect, but it was better than the reentry draft.

Yet, if you look South, Liga MX is arguably even worse because there exists a Pacto de Caballero aka Gentlemen Agreement by club owners to not buy an out-of-contract player from another club. This is a pretty clear violation of FIFA rules and a restriction on the freedom of movement of labor in a bigger sense, but, because it’s an informal practice and not written down, would be hard to pin down and blow up in any major legal proceeding.

Thus, when you look South with envy, don’t forget to see the cracks in the facade.

Elliott’s Kick Startering for a debut novel about futbol and, of course, it involves Mexico and Mexican-Americans. Click here to check it out and please consider pledging by June 14.

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