Based on the wild success of its European counterpart, CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) has the potential to become a great tournament. Unfortunately, CONCACAF keeps screwing it up.
First off, let me start with why I believe CCL can be great. The rivalry fostered between the U.S. and Mexico in international play easily translates to the club level, and as Major League Soccer budgets continue to expand, the already shrinking gap between MLS and LigaMX will fade away. That’ll make for some epic battles between powerful clubs — imagine an LA Galaxy vs Club Tijuana final inciting passions along the Mexican-American border.
Also, teams like Olimpia (Honduras) or CD FAS and CD Aguila (El Salvador) have serious stateside followings in the U.S. thanks to massive numbers of Caribbean and Central American immigrants. When clubs like that start playing meaningful games against MLS teams in markets such as Houston and Washington, D.C. we can expect raucous crowds.
I believe that is all somewhere in the future – provided CONCACAF stops sabotaging its own tournament. Below are some suggestions:
At last week’s Houston Dynamo – Arabe Unido match in Houston, the network I work for wanted to go live from BBVA Compass Stadium over an hour before kickoff. But, per CONCACAF rules, we weren’t allowed to do so. That meant no local television promotion for a game that was never going to sell out.
CONCACAF also tried charging radio stations a rights fee to broadcast the match. Instead of incurring the added cost, stations simply chose not to broadcast. Not cooperating with local media makes it harder for us to promote the tournament going forward.
At any MLS match there are plenty of things to do beyond the game itself. Kids can hang with mascots; play small-sided games at halftime, etc. In Houston, there’s a whole street sectioned off with pregame activities for children and adults alike. But when CCL comes to town, that all disappears. CONCACAF prefers to run their own show, and what you end up with is a dead-zone outside the stadium and concourses with virtually no activity to engage fans.
I’m not going to claim that MLS has the best refs in the world, because we see officials miss calls on a weekly basis. But making the wrong call, however egregious, is very different than being incapable of keeping a game moving and under control. Anybody who watched the Dynamo – Arabe Unido match witnessed a contest filled with reckless challenges and void of flow. After not issuing a yellow card in the first half, Costa Rican referee Hugo Cruz handed out seven cautions in a thirty-minute stretch after the break. Cruz failed to keep the game moving and keep players safe — his two primary responsibilities. To call the match ugly is, rather sadly, an understatement.
This is some inside stuff. Some fans may not feel the immediate pinch of CONCACAF’s harsh media rules, but I think these points are important to promoting the tournament and helping the more casual American fan understand CCL’s relevance.