The United States Men’s National Team is not the only men’s national soccer team to play in the United States this summer as they prepare for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which begins on November 21.
The Mexican national team is also touring the States as part of their Mex Tour, now in its 18th edition. The tour, which includes friendlies against Guatemala, Nigeria, Uruguay, Ecuador and Paraguay, among others El Tri to Orlando, Arlington, Texas, Glendale, Arizona, Chicago and Atlanta.
“The Mexican fans in the US are so passionate because they don’t see us play in person as much as the fans in Mexico do,” said Rodolfo Pizarro, midfielder for Mexico national team and CF Monterrey. “It’s important for us to play there.”
Begun in 2002, the Mex Tour is organized by Soccer United Marketing (SUM), which oversees the commercialization, marketing, promotion and operational execution for the Mexico national team in the US market. SUM, the marketing arm of Major League Soccer, and the United States Soccer Federation will not be renewing their 20-year commercial rights partnership when the current deal expires in late 2022.
Featuring 95 games played on American soil over two decades, the annual summer tour features El Tri a chance to connect with a growing Hispanic population as football’s popularity continues to rise as well. The US is home to the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world – next to Mexico – and it is estimated that by 2050 one in three people in the US will speak Spanish, including bilingual English speakers.
The Mexico national team averaged about 63,000 fans per game during their 2018 US tour ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup El Tri lost to Brazil in the round of 16.
A November 2021 poll by research and analytics firm Ampere Analysis found that 49% of U.S. sports fans like soccer, compared to 37% who like hockey. Nearly 18 million Americans played soccer in 2020, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. More importantly, according to SFIA, 1.2 million U.S. children ages 13 to 17 played soccer regularly in 2020, compared to 243,000 who played ice hockey.
Not only has the accessibility to soccer in the US grown exponentially, whether it’s watching European leagues and competitions via networks and OTT services like Peacock, Paramount+ or ESPN+, but as the sport has grown in popularity, so have more academies and play opportunities emerged. Major League Soccer, which has seen its own expansion, launched MLS NEXT in 2020 to succeed the US Soccer Development Academy to advance the youth-to-pro pipeline.
European clubs and leagues including LaLiga, FC Bayern Munich and Liverpool FC have a local presence in America to advance their methodology while keeping a close eye on emerging talent.
“Football is growing strongly in the US,” says Pizarro, who stars in Bud Light’s new campaign, “Breed in Texas.” “Maybe 10 years ago, kids wanted to grow up to play in the NFL or NBA, but now they want to play football more. There are many academies and opportunities for this. I think maybe in a few years football can be a top 3 sport.”
With the Mex Tour and the start of the Concacaf Nations League to look forward to this summer, all eyes will be on this fall when the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar. Mexico were drawn into Group C alongside Copa America winners Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Poland.
Mexico have progressed from the group stages to the round of 16 in each of the last seven World Cups since 1994.
“These are complicated games, but I think this World Cup will be something very special for the Mexicans and for the team,” said Pizarro, who has scored five goals in 35 international matches. “I think maybe we can make history at this World Cup. I hope that we will finish first in this group. If we play as a team and do the things we know, I think we can do it.”