Tom over at Pitch Invasion has asked today whether the CONCACAF Champions League is a failure. He chose to focus on the “on-the-field” implications.
I would question the assertion that the CCL is making more money now. Is it? And who is it making more for? While it looks like CONCACAF was able to sell the tournament to TV companies (especially ESPN Latin American) and to advertisers (State Farm, T-Mobile, etc), I wonder how much value this tournament is actually providing to those advertisers and broadcasters. Clearly, it’s barely making a bump amongst American soccer fans. But, I wonder how much of a financial impact the tournament is really making in Mexico? I would love for someone more familiar with the domestic environment there like John, to let me know just how much Mexico really cares about the tournament. Are people watching the games on TV? Is the media treating the tournament like a “Champions League?”
Maybe, as long as Mexican clubs are winning, the interest will stay high. There are certainly numerous examples of international sporting events that, while including Americans as major participants, do not require American money or sustained interest to succeed financially. But every time I flip on a match on FSC and see tons of empty seats in an American stadium or every time I walk through a nearly-deserted State Farm marketing pavillion outside RFK before a CCL match, I wonder just who, other than CONCACAF’s usual corrupt flunkies, are making much out of this event. Are smaller clubs in Central America or the Carribbean making anything out of it? If so, that’s great, but I am not sure the sponsorship that a tournament like this demands will be sustainable.
I’ve always been very “bearish” on the CCL as they decided to construct it. I agreed with the sentiment to make CONCACAF’s “tournament of champions” a less jokey tournament. CONCACAF’s efforts to legitmize the Gold Cup (no entries for Brazil or Korea, for example) have done that tournament a lot of good and made it appointment viewing when the tournament doesn’t come during World Cup Qualifying. But the Champions League is a much more difficult enterprise.
Why can’t CONCACAF hold a “European-style” Champions League? For one, the difference in calendars between all the different leagues in play make it very difficult to find a time where at least one set of teams isn’t either in preseason, or coming down to the end of a grinding regular season. Once you remove the impossible option of MLS moving to a “standard calendar,” (and yes, it’s impossible in the short-to-medium term), it makes legitimizing this event very difficult.
Of course there is also the secondary issue of this tournament being very difficult to market in many MLS markets and one that, as long as MLS maintains its salary cap and low roster numbers, that MLS clubs will find very difficult to win.
While I don’t want to rush into calling the CCL a failure, when has it ever produced the interest or excitement that the re-tooled Gold Cup has produced? The answer is, never. It just hasn’t.
What would I do? I would return it to a smaller single-tournament, single-site format, perhaps lasting a full week rather than just a weekend. I’d also think long and hard about putting the tournament at Red Bull Park every year. It would be a chance for CONCACAF to glom off the NY media spotlight for a week and might serve to give a tournament the feel of a bigger event.