A soccer game Saturday between defending Liga MX champion Atlas and Querétaro was marred by a violent confrontation between rival fan bases that left a reported 26 people injured, three in serious condition. Ugly video footage on social media platforms showed fans being beaten, kicked, and stripped naked at Estadio Corregidora in Queretaro. The game was stopped with Atlas ahead 1-0 after fans stormed onto the field.
The league suspended all men’s and women’s matches scheduled for Sunday. “Liga MX will undertake an in-depth revision of our security protocols,” Mikel Arriola, Liga MX president, said in a video on Twitter. “We strongly condemn what happened tonight and our commitment is to act so that there is no impunity in the face of these unfortunate events.” FIFA called the incident “unacceptable and intolerable” in a statement released Sunday.
Saturday’s confrontation was not an isolated incident. Matches between Chivas and Atlas in 2014 and 2015 were marred by fan violence that led to several policemen being hospitalized. A 2019 game between Atletico San Luis and Queretaro was suspended with five minutes left as fights in the stands poured onto the field. In 2011, a game was halted at Territorio Santos Modelo stadium in Torreon as fans and police clashed and shots were fired.
Of course, violence at soccer matches has plagued the sport for decades. Hooliganism in the U.K. eventually led to English clubs being banned from all European competitions for several years in the late 1980s. The U.K. cracked down on the violence at stadiums, and the launch of the Premier League in 1992 eventually triggered soaring team valuations, backed by massive global sponsorship and media deals for the sport’s top league.
Liga MX is the most-watched soccer league in the U.S. by a wide margin, outpacing MLS and the Premier League. Americans have invested heavily in European soccer clubs over the past decade, but it was not until last year that U.S. investors looked south. An investment group, led by Sam Porter and Al Tylis, who own stakes in DC United and Swansea City, purchased half of Liga MX club Necaxa in a deal that valued the team in the low-nine figures. Necaxa just added a trio of new investors at a valuation of more than $200 million.
The risk profile of investing in Mexican soccer is elevated by a lack of financial transparency and a history of corruption, which has curtailed foreign investment. The problems have led to lower team valuations, despite superior on-field play and viewership, relative to MLS. Arriola, who was appointed president in late 2020, wants to change that.
He has pushed for increased cooperation with MLS and a more collective approach to media rights and sponsorships. The Leagues Cup has operated since 2019 with four teams from each league, but the tournament will expand to include all clubs from MLS and Liga MX in 2023 under a one-month summer tournament. Matches will all take place in either the U.S. and Canada, with revenue divided between the leagues and its teams.
Hosting games in the U.S. and Canada makes financial sense as matchday revenue can often be five times higher at an MLS game, versus one for Liga MX, based on higher ticket and concession prices. MLS has invested heavily in its infrastructure with 11 new stadiums opening over the last decade, versus only two for Liga MX. Most Liga MX stadiums will require millions of dollars in upgrades ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Mexico, Canada and the U.S.
The hefty investment in stadiums and franchise fees by MLS owners makes a full merger with Liga MX unlikely. The video images from Saturday will only add to those odds.