Mexico is the Most Popular Soccer Team in the U.S.

The summer of 2018 was a tough time for American soccer fans. Not only did the US Men’s National Team fail to qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986, but former USMNT star Landon Donovan effectively rubbed salt in the fresh wound by pledging his footballing allegiance to Mexico as part of a promotional campaign for Wells Fargo. 

The soccer community was up in arms that Donovan, who sits tied atop the USMNT all-time scoring list at 57 goals with Clint Dempsey, would dare support the United States’ fiercest rivals, especially when the country he represented 157 times from 2000-14 disappointedly didn’t book its ticket to Russia for the world’s most popular sporting event.

While Donovan defended his actions in proclaiming “¡Vamos México!” and holding up a green scarf reading “My other team is Mexico,” the spot represented the growing popularity of El Tri in the United States—even if many American soccer fans, who were obviously still fuming from the team’s calamitous CONCACAF qualifying shortcomings, were vehemently against it.

Since 2003, the Mexican national team has played friendly matches on US soil as part of its partnership with Soccer United Marketing (SUM), the commercial arm of Major League Soccer. More than 4.4 million fans have attended 98 matches across 15 states including California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and New York. 

A 2020 study by Equation Research identified 60 million fans of El Tri in America, while the Mexican national team’s jersey was the top-selling jersey in the United States on the prior year — even ahead of the USWNT kit as the American women went on to win their fourth World Cup.

“Soccer is on the rise like never before and Soccer United Marketing’s multi-year partnership renewal with the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol will undoubtedly help accelerate the sport’s growth in North America,” said Gary Stevenson, MLS Deputy Commissioner, and President and Managing Director of MLS Business Ventures. “We look forward to working with the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol to capitalize on the momentum ahead of the World Cups to provide unparalleled soccer experiences for fans, to celebrate the global game, and provide new opportunities for partners to engage with the sport.”

Building on passion

In an effort to continue to connect with its passionate fans across the United States, the Mexican Football Federation (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol, or FMF) is expanding its two-decades-long partnership with SUM through 2028.

The extended partnership will be more than the matches as part of the Mex Tour, it will expand to include festivities, concerts, celebrations, events, and content to engage with fans year-round. Futbol Fiesta is an interactive fan experience before each match with sponsor activations, meet and greets with Mexican legends, food, music, games, and more. After unveiling a new crest in December 2021, the FMF recently announced a new mobile app and women’s and youth platforms in conjunction with partners including adidas, Bud Light, General Mills and Wells Fargo.

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup this summer, the Mex Tour features matches against Guatemala, Nigeria, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Paraguay around the United States. The tour will celebrate its 100th match on June 5 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

“For us, it’s a must. It is something we cannot leave behind. It’s something we need to do better every year,” says Yon de Luisa, Mexican Football Federation president. “Now it’s not only soccer matches. Those are fantastic, but for us, it’s about sharing this passion not only on match day but throughout the week. To be this link with Mexico and our fans in the States and to share that passion and this relationship with their families and cultural background is extremely important. 

“It isn’t only the 90 minutes we play on the field, it’s all of the surrounding activities that are extremely important for the federation.”

The Mex Tour and its increased content and connection with US fans gives El Tri an opportunity to engage with the second-largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. Currently, 13% of the US population speaks Spanish at home and estimates are that by 2050, one in three people in the country will speak Spanish (the data also includes bilingual English speakers).

The relationship with SUM, which oversees the commercialization, marketing, promotion, and operational execution of soccer entities including MLS, US Soccer Federation, the Mexican National Team in the US market, the Leagues Cup, Gold Cup, Nations League Finals, CONCACAF Champions League, and CONCACAF W, will aid the Mexican Football Federation in achieving its goal of being one of the top eight soccer organizations in the world by 2026 in time for the World Cup jointly hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

(SUM’s 20-year commercial rights partnership with the USSF will not be renewed after the current deal expires at the end of 2022.)

A new era

Mexico, currently No. 9 in the FIFA rankings, has reached the Round of 16 in every World Cup dating back to 1994, but de Luisa wants to take it one step further as he plans to usher in a new era of Mexican soccer in which El Tri are constantly competing in major tournament quarterfinals or better.

The push for the top-8 also includes Mexico’s senior women’s team, which has failed to earn a win at the three World Cup tournaments La Tri have qualified for since 1991. The U-17 women’s team reached the 2018 FIFA U-17 World Cup final, and the U-15 squad earned bronze in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

“Developing the women’s game is extremely important,” de Luisa says, “not only on the sports side but within Mexico having girls believe they have an opportunity to progress in their careers and fulfill their dreams.”

La Tri will join El Tri with a U.S.-based tour beginning in 2023 in an effort to grow that fanbase; currently, 30% of players on Mexican women’s teams from the senior level through the youth ranks are Mexican-American.

While details of next year’s inaugural women’s tour are still to be determined, it gives FMF a greater year-round presence to engage with US fans firsthand, while other foreign soccer leagues, clubs, and properties may be limited to summer tours based around hectic domestic and international scheduling.

Soccer’s growth

The FMF-SUM relationship doesn’t only benefit Mexico’s national teams’ popularity in the US, but helps soccer’s growth in general. Nearly 18 million Americans played soccer in 2020, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, while a November 2021 survey by Ampere Analysis found that 49% of US sports fans like soccer compared to 37% who like hockey.

Domestically, MLS, NWSL, and USL have continued to expand and flourish, and access to soccer on US TV and streaming services is more prevalent than ever as soccer fandom continues to swell ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

“We know the outstanding job the MLS has done and how they have been growing not only in terms of fans but in terms of results,” de Luisa says. “We just saw the Seattle Sounders winning the CONCACAF Champions League and they’ll be playing in the next FIFA Club World Cup. 

“We also know we have been an important part of the growth of soccer in the States. Why? Because we have been consistent, and we’ve been consistent because of this partnership with SUM.”

NOTE: First appeared on Boardroom


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