The over-consolidation of Mexican club ownership raises the potential for conflicts of interest.
On Saturday, Atlas will take on Morelia in the Estadio Jalisco in a Liga MX duel between two teams with the same owner – Grupo Salinas. It will be the first time the clubs meet since Los Rojinegros were controversially taken over by the company that owns TV Azteca last November.
Atlante – Atlas’ direct rival in the relegation race – has made an official complaint to the Liga MX, which is unsurprising when you consider it is was only last May that Liga MX clubs “unanimously” voted in favor of banning multi-ownership within five-years.
“No owner will be allowed to increase the amount of clubs it has at present,” stated Liga MX president Decio de Maria on May 20 in a press conference. That was widely understood to be an attempt to stop the Carlos Slim-backed Grupo Pachuca-Grupo Carso continuing on from Leon and Pachuca and buying more teams.
“The idea was to reduce (the number of clubs owners have), not to buy (more),” Atlante president Jose Antonio Garcia pointed out in December in widely published quotes.
Los Potros are alleging that the deal wasn’t done in the correct timeframe and didn’t get enough votes for it to legally go through.
Mexican soccer federation president Justino Compean said Tuesday that there are ongoing talks with both Atlas and Atlante to resolve the situation, but the truth is that Mexican soccer is a muddle when it come to the issue of multi-ownership with no clear direction.
For example, how much should we read into the fact Atlante president Alejandro Burrillo Azcarraga is the cousin of America president Emilio Azcarraga, who is also owner of Televisa – TV Azteca’s direct rival in Mexico’s television market? Or when Puebla’s president picks up the phone to, say, trade a player or discuss a new league rule with Chiapas’ president, does it matter that they are brothers? Or when Leon’s president Jesus Martinez calls his father and he gets Pachuca’s president, who has the same name?
There is no concrete evidence that plays any part at all, but they aren’t the only types of links that would raise eyebrows in many leagues around the world.
Of Mexico’s 33 clubs in the top two divisions, seven ownership groups control almost half the teams.
Group Televisa (Club America, Necaxa), Grupo Salinas (Atlas, Morelia), Oceanografia (Queretaro, Delfines) the Lopez Chargoy brothers (Puebla, Chiapas) the Cruz Azul cement company (Cruz Azul, Cruz Azul Hidalgo), Grupo Caliente (Club Tijuana, Doradaos de Sinaloa) and Grupo Pachuca-Grupo Carso (Leon, Pachuca, Estudiantes Tecos) wield much influence and are often involved in the type of thick political plotting that wouldn’t be amiss in an episode of Game of Thrones.
Most of the owners that have more than one team have them split between the first and second divisions and are in place partly to promote player development.
A good recent example is the Xolos-Dorados relationship, with the “big brother” loaning younger players out to gain valuable experience against fully-grown players in a professional league. It bridges the gap between the Under-20 league and the Liga MX, which can be considerable.
It is model Barcelona and Real Madrid have used with success in Spain, but what does it say about the Mexican second division in a country of 120 million and in which soccer is by far and away the number one sport? Six of the 15 Ascenso MX teams are being used as farm teams. What are the rules if Cruz Azul Hidalgo, Dorados, Estudiantes Tecos (currently flying high in the Ascenso MX), Delfines, Necaxa or Dorados win promotion, or get relegated?
Presumably, the owners would be forced, or want, to sell up and the merry-go-round of buying and selling franchises and moving them around the country would occur last it did last summer when La Piedad became extinct, Veracruz took its place in the first division, Queretaro bought Jaguares and the Chiapas club then purchased San Luis.
Of course, the authorities and some club owners have launched a defense of multi-ownership – even if they did vote against it - by arguing it is far better Atlas, for example, have the responsible ownership of TV Azteca, which is economically solvent and willing to invest in the club as a whole, rather than let one of Mexico’s historic clubs collapse.
There remain plenty of good things coming out of Mexican soccer, especially in terms of the young players being produced in youth systems and high quality imports, but the organization and direction of the Liga MX when it comes to contentious issues like multi-ownership remains a serious stumbling block, as the Atlas versus Morelia game in the Estadio Jalisco this Saturday reminds us.