Four years ago, Liga MX Femenil was just getting off of the ground. Only 16 of the league’s 18 clubs had women’s teams to field, up from the 12 that participated in the Copa MX Femenil. The league had been constructed in just six months, and looked every bit the part.
Since then, the league has grown into a powerhouse. Every club has a team in the competition, with a U17 division slated to start in 2022. It’s not controversial to assert it’s one of the best leagues in North America and that teams like Tigres, Rayadas, Chivas, and América would hold their own against just about any club in the world. The league has also done what then-CEO of Liga MX Enrique Bonilla stated as its initiative: “We want to strengthen a women’s league to nurture the national teams with stars.” During the last series of friendlies México played, 15 of the 21 players listed a Liga MX Femenil team as their current club (Kiana Palacios would make it 16 when she joined América during the cycle).
Liga MX Femenil players have also gone on to play abroad. Rubí Soto played a season in Spain, helping Villarreal gain promotion to the Liga Iberdrola before returning to Chivas. And while Ceci Santiago and María Sánchez didn’t come up through the league, they were part of teams that won Liga MX Femenil championships before playing abroad, the latter with a wildly successful loan stint with the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States. And for the first time this season, foreign-born players are allowed to play in the league.
The league has also prioritized television and broadcasting to help drive revenue. Most teams have broadcast deals with either Televisa, FOX Sports, or TUDN domestically, and TUDN was able to leverage that and broadcast games into the United States. FOX is set to start that this week, utilizing FOX Deportes in the US. Chivas has their games broadcast in Mexico via FOX Sports but is broadcast in the US via NBCUniversal via the Telemundo Deportes app or NBCUniverso over the air and internationally via their CHIVASTV platform. A handful of others use TVC Deportes domestically, with Mazatlán using TVP and Atlético San Luis recently signing with ESPN.
This has allowed not only revenue growth in the lucrative US market, but also continually allows teams to promote themselves and gain new fans in a country with close cultural ties as well as a thirst for women’s sports, soccer in particular. Teams are also getting separate jersey and sponsorship deals for the Femenil teams, which is another revenue source.
The growth has occurred on the pitch as well. Not only are the upper echelon of teams powerhouses, but there’s been marked improvement on the quality of the teams as a whole. Teams in the middle of the field are always competitive, and even bottom tier teams can and do produce upsets. Blowout losses are far less common, suggesting more balance between the top and bottom clubs.
There’s still a long way to go however. Pay is low, even for women’s soccer which is underfunded in almost every country on earth. Travel accommodations are often spartan, and some teams don’t bring a full cadre of players on road trips. Most contracts are by season, with 84.6% of the contracts for the 2021 Guard1anes tournament (the last tournament data was made available) being single-season contracts. 10.8% were through the end of the 2022 Clausura, with just 1.1% going through the 2022 Apertura and 0.9% (just four players) going through the 2023 Clausura.
The disparity between training accommodations is also stark for some clubs. While some allow the femenil teams to train at the same facilities the varonil teams use, others are required to train elsewhere. Chivas Femenil recently left their training facility to train at Deportivo Morelos, and Cruz Azul Femenil moved their entire operation from Jasso in Hidalgo, about an hour and forty-five minute drive from Estadio Azteca (according to Google Maps, Mexico City’s notorious traffic not withstanding).
Some teams are also not using stadiums, instead playing matches on training fields. This impacts VAR implementation, since training fields often aren’t set up for VAR, which in turn effects the quality of the refereeing. While no league in the world is ever seemingly satisfied with the quality of refereeing, implementing VAR could do a lot to reduce the quantity of controversial decisions.
While Liga MX Femenil has grown into one of the pre-eminent leagues in the Americas, there are still things that can be improved upon. Hopefully the next four years see the continued growth of the league across all fronts.