The Cotton Bowl is on the downswing of a storied history. To really survive, it needs its own sports team. How to do it? Simple. Dallas needs to lure an expansion franchise of Liga MX, Mexico’s top soccer league, to play in Fair Park. The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. Liga MX is wildly popular stateside. There are more Mexican league games broadcast on TV in North Texas than any other soccer league. Exhibition games at the Cotton Bowl between top Mexican teams typically draw 30,000 people. Kiosks in front of Hispanic grocery stores across the city are stuffed with jerseys of clubs like Toluca, Cruz Azul, Chivas, and Club America. Bringing a Mexican league team would be a publicity coup, hugely profitable, and it could transform Dallas overnight into one of the most exciting soccer cities in the world.
There would likely be opposition from both United States and Mexican soccer officials. The way around it? Major League Soccer co-founder and FC Dallas owner Clark Hunt needs to be the one to bring a Liga MX team to Dallas. Joint ownership of an MLS and Mexican team would ensure the two teams don’t compete for market share, but instead complement each other. The new team ownership would also have to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement with the other Liga MX teams, to cut other Mexican league owners in on the lucrative opportunity.
But would the move hurt the MLS or U.S. soccer? No, actually, it would be a boon to both the sport and Dallas. Here’s why.
1. A Ready-made Audience
When FC Dallas moved to Frisco, it left the huge, soccer-loving Hispanic population that lives closer to the city largely out of the equation. Javier Villalobos, whose company, Sports Marketing Monterrey, brings Mexican clubs to play games in North Texas, says Mexican league exhibition games in Frisco draw less than half the audience they draw at the Cotton Bowl. A Liga MX team in Dallas would serve an audience that isn’t interested in (or currently being courted by) the MLS.
2. Huge Popularity Equals Huge Money
Mexican league teams pay their players more than any other league in the Western Hemisphere outside of Brazil and boast huge TV contracts. Clubs like Chivas are valued at around $750 million, which dwarfs the most valuable MLS teams (Seattle’s Sounders are worth around $175 million). And because of the buying power of soccer fans north of the border, a Dallas team could expect to be one of, if not the most valuable Liga MX franchise.
3. Distance Isn’t an Issue
Baseball, basketball, and hockey have teams in Canada. The travel demands for some of the more far-flung Mexican league teams wouldn’t be unreasonable. After all, teams like Cancun’s C.F. Atlante currently have to travel around 2,000 miles for games in Tijuana. By comparison, they would have to travel around 1,000 miles to play in Dallas. And Monterrey is only around 100 miles farther from Dallas than it is from Mexico City.
4. The Birth of a Classic Rivalry
If you think the rivalries among FC Dallas, the Chicago Fire, and Houston Dynamo are exciting, think of the civic energy that would be created around a multigame exhibition playoff each year between Clark Hunt’s two local soccer teams. That kind of thing can’t be bad for the sport or the teams. In fact, it would go a long way in raising the profile and creating excitement around FC Dallas.
5. A Team Built on Local Soccer Stars
There’s a reason why stars on the United States Men’s National Team like Herculez Gomez and José Torres play in Mexico. They were plucked from American youth soccer by Mexican clubs, which are required by the league to fund top-notch youth player-development programs. Such a program in Dallas would help the growth of U.S. soccer. Also, a new team could have instant homegrown stars, like Omar Gonzalez and Marco Vidal.
6. The Cotton Bowl Is Perfect for Soccer
Even though it has received multiple upgrades, the Cotton Bowl still doesn’t boast bells and whistles like most American sports arenas. What the stadium does have, though, is the look and feel of a classic European or Latin American soccer venue. Villalobos says the Cotton Bowl is perfectly located, close to its fan base, and it is more profitable to operate as a soccer facility than bigger, more expensive venues such as Cowboys Stadium.