With women’s soccer growing in popularity globally, Liga MX Femenil is quickly gaining fans around the world and especially in the United States. It makes sense, as Mexico and the US have long been intertwined culturally. With women’s soccer continuing to gain popularity in the United States thanks in part to the success of their National Team winning back-to-back World Cups and the ever growing presence of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in media and popular culture, there’s been a lot of opportunity for cross-border fandoms to emerge.
Liga MX Femenil is in a very unique position. Unlike NWSL teams, all teams are fielded through organizations with established men’s teams. Fans of a men’s Liga MX team don’t need to think about picking a team to support when they can simply support the women’s team for their club.
I was able to speak to two friends of mine in the United States who recently became fans of Liga MX. André Carlisle is a fellow writer with several SB Nation blogs and the co-host of the Diaspora United podcast, and Sylvia Bullock co-hosts the Shea Butter FC Podcast. Both are fans of women’s soccer in general and it was interesting to dive into how each’s fandom came about.
Carlisle got into Liga MX Femenil a little by accident. “I follow a bunch of people on Twitter who are like, entrenched in Women’s Soccer World,” he told me in a Zoom interview last week. “Every now and then somebody would drop a link to a match. And I wouldn’t really know who’s playing or any of the teams, but the games were exciting. So I would just like watch.”
Bullock’s introduction was similar. “Myself, my podcast partner, a few other people came to it about maybe two months ago,” she tells me, also via a Zoom interview. “I’ve certainly seen some of the clips online of some of the classes and different things and that sort of my brand of soccer.”
What’s kept them interested is the excitement of the games. “I like a little bit of audaciousness,” says Bullock. “I know people (may) call it arrogance, I call it confidence to take shots and make certain passes, right that particularly as opposed to maybe European football, and even to some extent American, United States football doesn’t actually exist, or doesn’t exist outside of a few players. It seemed to be happening everywhere and all the time.”
Bullock is a Tigres fan thanks in part to Stephany Mayor and Belén Cruz, and she enjoys the strategic aspect of the games. “I think it’s really smart football. I like when people think outside of the box, I tend to see soccer is sort of chess, in terms of moving pieces around and different philosophies in how you play. I really like the style of this league. I like the pace of it. It’s never boring. Always a bit audacious and experience almost experimental.”
Carlisle is a Chivas fan, and got into them because of the big presence of Chivas fans online. “I just kind of tweeted like, ‘I don’t know who I should support.’ I’m going to open this up and the first person to respond is kind of going to have the first shot at securing my fandom.” While he couldn’t recall the exact person who reached out first, “all of a sudden, like I was in Chivas world, and that was great because I was like, ‘Alright, well, I guess this is my squad then.’ ”
While that got him into Chivas, ironically enough it was players leaving that made him realize he was a fan. “Because I just started kind of following the team, I got used to certain players and (all of the sudden) there there was a huge amount of turnover. María Sánchez was one of my favorite players for the team, and then all of a sudden she’s gone. And I felt this sadness. It was like, ‘I guess I’m really connected to the team somehow.’ I mean, it sounds stupid. But that’s kinda like how football fandom happens.”
The big drawback about supporting a team in the league that I heard from both Carlisle and Bullock was the availability of the matches. “I think that’s the biggest barrier, right is to be able to access it with consistency,” says Bullock.
Liga MX clubs have a large following in the United States. It’s worth pointing out that Liga MX men’s games are the most watched in the US, and have been for some time. Liga MX Femenil is leveraging that to an extent. Six Femenil teams (Tigres UANL, Pumas UNAM, FC Juárez, Toluca, América, and Cruz Azul) have their home matches broadcast into the United States over-the-air via TUDN and streamed via the TUDN website and app, while Chivas has their home games broadcast by NBCUniversal, usually via the Telemundo Deportes app and for big occasions over-the-air by NBC Universo.
The games have also been well received. A May 10 semifinal match between América and Tigres drew 81,000 viewers on TUDN in the US. Not bad for a match that started at 8:00 PM Central Time on a Monday night in a series that Tigres already lead 4-0.
Where those games aren’t available however makes it difficult to follow a team. There’s a patchwork of pirated streams that fill in the gaps for teams whose matches aren’t broadcast outside of Mexico, and these streams sometimes have tens of thousands of viewers. This however doesn’t have to be the solution.
“(It) sounds like a basic thing,” says Carlisle echoing the sentiment, “(but I) prefer to watch soccer on TV as opposed to some random feed that somebody put through YouTube. So yeah, I think it’s really accessibility of the matches.”
Neither cited the language barrier as a barrier despite neither being Spanish-speakers. “I’m perfectly fine with it being in Spanish,” said Bullock. “I think that (access is) the real barrier, because I can get the rest of the information. I can learn about the teams.” She cites English-language coverage of the league to help fill in the gaps.
“I just think like the league should have more visibility,” Carlisle concluded. “Getting into it has been so fun over the past like just two seasons and it’s automatically a league that I know I’m going to follow the rest of my life. As long as it exists I’m gonna be watching. I think other people will get that connection (too),” especially if they move past what Carlisle described as “it only exist(ing) in their mind.”
“This league, you really want to pay attention to (it) because it’s fun as hell.”