The rise of women’s football in Mexico – The creation of LIGA MX Femenil

Published 27 April 2018 | Authored by: Jonathan Rangel

Two years ago, the idea of having a professional women’s football league in Mexico was difficult to imagine. Though no championship existed, Mexico did have a women’s national team, which, despite all sorts of obstacles, obtained the silver medal in the Winnipeg Pan-American Games in 1999. Unfortunately, there were no other significant achievements to write home about.

Then, in December 2016, the Mexican Football Federation began an initiative to create a professional women’s league - the LIGA MX Femenil (LMF).1 The objective was twofold:

  1. strengthen women’s football in Mexico; and

  2. strengthen the women’s national team.

After much hard work, the project came to fruition, and the inaugural season of LMF Apertura Championship kicked off in July 2017. This article briefly explains the creation and format of the LMF and reflects on its success to date.

The creation and format of LIGA MX Feminal

In May 2017, the Clubs General Assembly2 approved the 2017-2018 Governance Statute3 (Statute) for the creation and operation of the LMF. The rules set-out therein govern the league’s structure, match format, participants, and other necessities.

The first season was comprised of sixteen teams,4 and only Mexican born citizens were eligible to participate (which caused some controversy5). 406 players were successfully registered and split into three age brackets: under-17, under-23, and over-23. To further player development, the teams essentially field an under-23 squad. However, they must also select four under-17 players (who must play a cumulative total time of at least 680 minutes per championship), and up to four over-23 players (of whom only two may appear in the match-day squad).6 Accordingly, there is a real emphasis on developing younger players, and the average age in the league is just 20.1 years old.

As to the format of the tournament, the 2017 Apertura and 2018 Clausura championships are each comprised of two stages:

  1. A qualifying stage - which has fourteen league stage fixtures; and

  2. A final stage - the semi-finals and final.

The qualifying stage operates a group system, with the sixteen teams being split into two groups:

  • Group 1: América, Club Tijuana, Cruz Azul, Monarcas Morelia, Pachuca, Tiburones Rojos del Veracruz, Toluca, and Universidad Nacional; and

  • Group 2 is comprised by Atlas, Gallos Blancos de Querétaro, Guadalajara, León, Necaxa, Rayados de Monterrey, Santos Laguna, and Tigres de la U.A.N.L.

Similar to most of football leagues, the qualifying stage is three points per win, one per draw, none for a loss. The top two teams in each group progress to the final stage. The semi-finals and final are each played over two games, with the winner being the team with the most cumulative goals.

The disciplinary entity for the LMF is the Disciplinary Commission, which pursuant to Article 78 of the Social Statute of the Mexican Football Federation7 has the power to sanction any violation of the Statute.

 

How successful has the league been to date?

After examining the league’s structure, let us reflect on its popularity to date.

According to statistics from the last football survey held by Mitofsky Consulting8, 58% of Mexicans are football fans (that’s 66 million people roughly); and 38.5% of Mexican women are declared national football fans. Football is also regarded as the national sport. It is fair to say, therefore, that there should be fertile ground for the LMF.

However, Enrique Bonilla, president of the LMF, has admitted that, to date, the women’s league has not been a financial success in that it is not yet profitable9. Nonetheless, there is a strict commitment on the part of the men’s LIGA MX clubs to keep financing the project to try to achieve growth and entice third party investment, with the overriding aim of accomplishing the two goals set out above.

But it is not all bad news. Several of the LMF teams have secured a broadcast agreement with Fox Sports for an initial six years period10. This contract is particularly significant in the context of the Mexican football industry, as prior to it the longest term achieved in the men’s league was only five years. The agreement provides that Fox Sports broadcast at least one match per match-week of the following teams when they play at home: Pachuca, Rayados de Monterrey, León, Club Tijuana, Guadalajara, and Santos Laguna.

This deal is also of symbolic importance, as it acts as a vote of confidence for the league and recognition of its latent popularity and value. Fox Sports has seen an untapped and potentially lucrative market and has decided to bet big on it, with production and quality standards to match the men’s league.

And early indications are that the bet is paying off. The second leg of the 2017 Apertura Championship final generated an attendance record of 33,000 people, who turned up to see Guadalajara beat Pachuca 3-0 (3-2 overall). The match generated a lot of local excitement, as Guadalajara are regarded as the most popular team (and certainly sell the most shirts).

The general view in Mexico is that, despite being only two years old, the LMF has been an undeniable success. Aside from the financial performance (which will have to be addressed in due course), the results and in particular the growing interest among fans are very encouraging and will – it is hoped – be the spark that encourages new sponsors to join the project.

 

Areas for improvement

Notwithstanding the above, there are a number of considerations that should in the author’s view be addressed in order to make the league fairer and more appealing.

Salary levels

Perhaps most important among these is salaries. The men’s league, perhaps not unexpectedly, pays substantially higher salaries. The LMF also compares poorly to other major women’s leagues around the world. The average salary across France, Germany, England, Sweden and the USA (comprising some fifty-six teams and 1147 players) is $2,985.33 per month; whereas the sixteen teams in the LMF pay an average salary of just $194.59 per month.11

The differences will, perhaps understandably, be explained away by the comparative commercial and economic clout of the leagues. None the less, pay equality should be something that we strive towards. Offering better salary conditions for the players, as the professional sports people they are, ought to be one of the LMF’s priorities. Affording the players a fair salary will not only benefit them on a personal level, but also increase the quality of the league, as players won’t have to seek out second jobs and can dedicate more time to training and playing.

Age limits

The league’s age brackets are another factor that, in the author’s view, need rethinking. As above, the senior category of women (“over-23s”) are significantly restricted from playing. Essentially, it is an U-23 team, with clubs only able to register four seniors, only two of whom may appear in the match-day squad. Presumably this is with an eye on developing younger players. However, it is unquestionable that experienced players in any sport significantly increase the level of the sport itself, and consequently, the fans’ interest. The author is of the view that greater flexibility in the age brackets will not only be fairer to more senior players, but also help improve the quality of the league and the fostering of younger talent, which will in turn increase fan interest and make the LMF more appealing for the Mexican market.

 

Comment

By and large, in spite of significant challenges, the LMF has to date been a resounding success for the Mexican Football Federation and the people who surround it. There are clearly some issues that still need to be resolved, but it is hoped that through hard work and appropriate governance, the project will soon mature into both a financial success and a must-watch product for football fans.

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About the Author

Jonathan Rangel

Jonathan Rangel

Jonathan is an IP Litigation Manager and Sports Lawyer at Dumont Bergman Bider & Co in Mexico City. Jonathan's practice focuses on the enforcement of IP rights in the field of trademarks, patents and copyright and on sports law.

Jonathan received his Master degree on International Sports Law from the ISDE (Madrid).

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