How Liga MX is thinking big with a link-up to US and live data for fans

Mexico’s Liga MX is determined to grow and compete with Europe – and it is ready to integrate with MLS to achieve its goal

How do you solve a problem like the Liga? That’s Liga MX, by the way, Mexican football’s top flight. As football’s cultural (and financial) explosion continues, it’s a competition keen to get a piece of the action, but how?

Mexico is, of course, football mad. Hirving Lozano’s goal against Germany triggered earthquake alerts in Mexico City, such was the fervour with which it was celebrated. Footage of supporters bouncing a South Korean embassy official around after Son Heung-min’s goal against Germany sent Mexico through to the second, was one of the highlights of the tournament.

El Tri never made it to the ‘quinto partido’, the fifth game at a World Cup being something Mexico have not managed since 1986. Post-partido depression might explain why attendances in Liga MX always drop the season after a World Cup. But still they average at 30,000 a match, according to the league’s president, Enrique Bonilla.

Bonilla visited the Leaders Sport Business Summit in London this week, to help sell his product and market it as a competition fit for the 21st century. One thing he is sure of is that Liga MX has to grow if it is to thrive. “We have to grow,” he says, “we have to be better and we have to be efficient so that, one day, we can compete with the Europeans.”

Despite the apparent saturation coverage of football, Bonilla feels there are opportunities for Liga MX, the first of which is in the US. Bonilla was quite keen to tell those listening in London that he would be happy to integrate Liga MX with MLS. The 2026 World Cup, to be held in Mexico in conjunction with Canada and the US, he thinks, would be an ideal springboard for such a move.

“One way is maybe you make a joint venture with the MLS and grow together to get stronger,” Bonilla says. “A North American league is possibility. If we can make a World Cup then we can make a North American league or a north American cup. The main idea is that we have to grow together to compete. If not, there is only going to be the rich guys in Europe and the rest of the world.”

Bonilla says that relations with MLS are close and that “we agree on several things”. Liga MX would not go into any negotiation from a position of weakness. The competition is the third most popular sport on US TV, he claims, after the NFL and the NBA, watched by more people than the Premier League or La Liga, MLS too.

At a conference where everyone talked about going ‘glocal’ – ie making a global product feel local – Liga MX can sell a local product to an audience outside its domestic market. But the league’s striking growth is not all to do with a Mexican expat audience, according to Bonilla.

Fans watching Liga MX on TV could get access to live data unprecedented in football.
Fans watching Liga MX on TV could get access to live data unprecedented in football. Photograph: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

“The funny thing is that in the States many more non-Latinos are now following these games,” he says. “The other big data is that they are between 18 and 44 years old. We think people like what we are showing. It’s different football, it’s passionate, it’s fun to watch. I think we’re on the right track. But we have to be smart. We have to give them [the fans] more things.”

One of those things is data. Football may have gone crazy for analysis in recent years but it still lags some way behind north American sports. In January Bonilla plans to make his sport more like an American one, by adding a layer of live data on to TV coverage that would be unprecedented in football.

Combining with leading analytics companies such as Wyscout and Wimu Pro, online viewers will be able to call up performance data in real time during Liga MX matches, and not just touches and passes but sprints and distances covered. They will even have access to players’ training data (or at least, some of it).

“We have that [information] for the teams, so we thought maybe we could create between us something very interesting for our fans,” Bonilla says. “If my hero is ... the Mexican Messi ... then I can see how many passes he gives, his oxygen consumption, how many miles he runs, how many times he runs in practice. We had to think about what else we can give to our fans to keep them engaged with our league, and this is something different that no one else has.”

Liga MX has no plans to crack Asia but it will be interesting to watch a competition without the historical baggage of leagues from the old continent try to get a seat at the table when it comes to football as global entertainment. Bonilla plays up to the perception of his competition as something new, perhaps the better to sell it with. But Mexican football is hardly a flash in the pan. “We are a new league, a young league,” Bonilla says. “Although we are also 100 years old.”