MIAMI — Soccer leaders from across the continent gathered Thursday at Marlins Park in Miami for the first day of SoccerEx, a two-day convention focused on business in the soccer industry.
Scattered between display booths — everything from Miami FC to nonprofit Autism Soccer, media companies Univision and beIN Sports, a Concacaf booth with shiny trophies scattered throughout and tech and eSports companies getting attendees to try their latest products — three areas hosted sessions on various topics, including one panel on the budding partnership between Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX.
MLS commissioner Don Garber and Mexican federation president Yon de Luisa spoke about their accomplishments and goals for the future of soccer in both countries.
“We have had this strategic partnership for over 16 years,” de Luisa said. “And this has been a natural strategic relationship, where we have both grown together.
“In the last five years we have been in over 19 [U.S.] venues, exploring not only the natural markets but others as well. We were a few weeks ago in Nashville. It was a great experience. USA versus Mexico, it was a great match.”
He went on to say the future for the partnership includes having a “very good annual tournament,” which will be the new Campeones Cup, which pits the reigning MLS champion against the Liga MX Campeón de Campeones winner, and also working together to share sponsorships and partners across borders.
In the future, Luisa said, the way Mexico, the United States and Canada share information will change dramatically. That will include hosting youth tournaments that not only benefit the players but also allow technical staffs from each country to stay with, study and learn from each other.
“This is something that among U.S., Canada and Mexico, we will develop in the next eight years and beyond,” de Luisa said.
That focus on furthering partnerships across borders is essential leading up to the 2026 World Cup, which the three countries will jointly host. Both leaders believe the eight-year timeline until then presents obvious shared growth, marketing and promotional opportunities to raise the profile and quality of the sport in the region, providing what Garber termed “generational value.”
“Mexico and the U.S. both need to be contenders for the title,” de Luisa said.”On the sports side, we need to work now … not only on the sports side, also on the fan base and commercial side.”
Said Garber: “Think about where our region was a couple years ago and where it is now. To show the rest of the world what is happening in this part of the world. They don’t really understand what the value is of the rising tide that’s happening in this region. People don’t view our leagues the way they view other leagues. They don’t view our national teams the same. … With the size of our market share, we ought to be able to stand toe to toe with CONMEBOL and UEFA … and the World Cup will be able to pull us there.”
When asked whether the contentious political climate between the three nations has seeped into their soccer relationships, Garber gave credit to the leaders of all three federations and the countries’ presidents for “threading that needle” to create a successful World Cup bid.
“Ya know, I was very intrigued by the process … in engaging the political leadership in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico to try to put whatever issues that the countries had aside, in many ways, around immigration and around trade, and try to align around this grand vision, which is, ‘Let’s try to bring the biggest sporting event in the world to our region and we have plenty of time to deal with all these other very important issues,'” Garber said.
“I know the president of the United States was very engaged. The White House came through with a wide variety of elements that are sort of outside the box in supporting our bid, similarly in Canada and in Mexico. I’m thankful about that, and I think the leadership of our countries and our World Cup bid deserve a lot of credit for threading that needle, because it wasn’t an easy achievement.”
Now, he’s hoping the budding partnership with Mexico will culminate in a rivalry match on the world’s biggest stage.
“A U.S., Mexico game is like God and Country. People really care about it,” Garber said. “Hopefully that will play itself out in World Cup.”