During the regular season in the Mexican Primera, the occasional water-break at the 25th and 70th minute mark is not an unheard of occurrence. However, this happens only if the temperatures are high enough so as to require that the players and referees need the opportunity to rehydrate during matches.
In the past week, though, these water breaks, even without the required temperatures, appear to have become a permanent fixture, with neither players nor referees knowing the real reasons behind them. It is a normal situation when temperatures are high and the sun and heat are at extremes. Lately, however, players and coaches have started to question why the referees were stopping play during a night match when temperatures were low and wind was blowing in from all directions.
A recent example of this is this week's Liguilla match between Club America and Monarcas Morelia that took place at 9PM Central Time in the cold city of Queretaro. At one point during the first break you could see Aquivaldo Mosquera asking the referee why he was stopping the game. According to Aquivaldo, the referee responded "That’s what they told me to do."
Who are "they," you ask?
The illusive "they" that the referee was referring to is the television networks, mainly Televisa. Before yesterday, everyone thought this was just part of regular routine to try and keep the players from fainting during games, but after seeing the Powerade beverages shine all over the sidelines (and in Mexico, seeing actual commercials during the five minute breaks), the questions started rising.
Morelia’s manager, Tomas Boy said about the situation: "I don’t know why they are stopping the game, it was very cold and windy tonight."
It is common sense to know that your average customer or soccer fanatic is more likely to stay around the television at the 25th and 70th minute mark when the game is ongoing, as opposed to halftime when you know you have 15 minutes to spare.
As far as marketing goes, it is a pretty well thought out strategic campaign and one that could bring in a lot of money for the networks. But as a fan, a football fan, this is the last thing you want. This is not the NFL or NBA, we do not need four quarters. Yet, during the liguilla that is exactly what is happening, four quarters as a result of the two extra breaks at both the 25th and 70th minute (or as close as you can get, play must be dead).
After the games on Wednesday and Thursday night, social networks started exploding with questions, insults, and people demanding answers regarding the situation. Most of them directed their anger towards the well known commentators, narrators, and hosts of the different networks in Mexico.
One of them was Javier Alarcon, a well known face at Televisa Deportes. He responded: "Lots of questions regarding the famous hydration. First, no one stops us from talking about it. I don’t like it, and I suppose that the majority doesn’t either. Televisa will look for new alternatives because the most important thing is the audience. Ricardo Perez Teuffer, VP Of Televisa Deportes tells me he will give you his thoughts regarding this via Twitter in 15 minutes."
Ricardo Perez Teuffer is the head of operations at Televisa Deportes and apparently one to blame for the now infamous water-breaks. Please keep in mind that none of this was known a few days ago, as prior to this the breaks were viewed as just a way to take care of the players, not a marketing stunt.
The response and anger from the fans regarding these breaks did not go unnoticed. So much unrest was generated that it forced an official response from Ricardo Perez Teuffer: "We look for new options in soccer, and in this occasion, it wasn’t the best for soccer or the fans. First, I would like to thank you all because you let us know your thoughts. Second, we ask you to propose ideas to make our soccer better, ideas that we will let the FMF know about so that we can study them, because it is a fact that people are losing that attraction during the regular season and this affects everyone, whether you are a fan or in the business. We noticed this happens only during the regular season from Week 1 to Week 17, this does not happen during the Liguilla, where there is more attraction."
Maybe for once, all fans and followers of the Mexican League can claim a victory. The question now is whether this is an apology and it actually stops, or is it an excuse to keep the practice in effect? The game between Chivas and Tigres, which is happening one day after the apology may be indicative of the answer. At the 25th minute, the referees signaled for the water break and play stopped for a brief period of time. Granted, the temperature may merit the break in this case, yet the question still nags; if the same game were being played only at a cooler temperature, would the water break still be a part of the game?