We are just days away from the third iteration of the now annual Superliga tournament. The 8 team event features 4 teams from MLS and 4 teams from Mexico’s Primera Division. Placed into groups of four (consisting of two MLS teams and two Mexican teams), the teams play one game against each team in their group before a semi-final and final. The New England Revolution are the defending champions after a penalty kick victory over Houston last year in an all MLS final.
Last year the event tried to build off the success of year one, when David Beckham’s Los Angeles Galaxy lost in penalty kicks to Mexican champion Pachuca and Superliga 2008 drew consistently good television ratings, surpassing local Major League Baseball numbers. All matches will be televised in the United States on the Telefutura Network and by Televisa and TV Azteca in Mexico; english language broadcasts are carried by Fox Sports Canada.
In addition to declaring a US/Mexican champion, Superliga provides a unique marketing opportunity for both MLS and its Mexican counterpart. The Mexican teams get an opportunity to play meaningful games in the U.S. before Mexican ex-pats, while MLS gets to showcase its teams before a Latino fan-base still warming to American Soccer. Last year the event was somewhat marred by tension between the MLS Players Union and the League. The union announced that the $1,000,000 championship bonus – in a league where the salary cap does not exceed $3,000,000 – was a bit of mirage. As a result, there was a bit of a protest when the Revs won the trophy.
Attendance at the 2008 version dipped a bit and this year the big time Mexican clubs will be absent with no Chivas, America or Pachuca involved. Chivas and America are the teams with the biggest followings in the States, and thus attendance may suffer this year as well. However, with the Chicago Fire involved, it does mean that Blanco will be part of the proceedings. Blanco is always a big draw in the Mexican community. Add in a Chivas USA/Chicago Fire game in Los Angeles and Group A may have some significant draws at the gate. The tournament will feature a couple of doubleheaders and a game in St. Louis (KC match).
Coming mid-season, the event is a bit controversial as it forces teams to take a break from League play. MLS teams are then forced to make up games with some additional mid-week games during the rest of the season. In addition, SuperLiga does detract from the Champions League that also pits teams from MLS, Mexico and other CONCACAF countries. However, as a business model, SuperLiga is a fantastic idea. We have repeatedly discussed how there are enumerable soccer fans in the United States, many of whom do not pay attention to MLS. Many of these fans are far more interested in Mexican Soccer and Superliga does serve as an entre to MLS. Ultimately, we view the tournament as neither a fierce competition or a waste of time, but a golden business opportunity. Whether that is a proper use of the teams’ time is a different issue