October 10, 2018 / 1:13 PM / 13 days ago

Soccer - 2026 World Cup could lead to combined north American league: Liga MX chief

LONDON (Reuters) - A combined north American soccer league between Canada, Mexico and the United States could be the main legacy of the 2026 World Cup hosted by those nations, the president of the Mexican top-flight division Enrique Bonilla said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Enrique Bonilla, President of the Mexican first division, smiles during a news conference after attending the World Leagues Forum in Mexico City,Mexico May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero Picture Supplied by Action Images/File Photo

The ‘United 2026’ bid beat Morocco in the vote at FIFA’s Congress in June to host the first 48-team World Cup.

Although the majority of venues are proposed to be in the U.S., it is Mexican teams who have dominated on the continent, winning all 10 editions of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Liga MX also remains the most watched soccer league in the U.S. and attracts average crowds of more than 26,500.

However, revenues for global TV rights and sponsorship across north America pale in comparison to the top leagues of Europe. Bonilla believes that is something that could be changed with a new combined continental top-flight division.

“It’s a possibility, a North American league. We have to determine how and see the pros and cons but I think that’s a way to grow and to compete again,” Bonilla told reporters at the Leaders summit at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium.

“If we can make a World Cup then we can make a north American league or a north American cup. The main idea is that we have to grow together to compete. If not, there is only going to be the rich guys in Europe and the rest of the world.”

“We think this opportunity with the World Cup in 2026 opens the door for us to make a lot of things different and better,” he added.

CAMPEONES CUP

Earlier this year, the MLS in the U.S. and Liga MX launched a partnership which included the introduction of the Campeones Cup, a match between the winners of each respective leagues.

The inaugural edition was played at the end of last month at Toronto FC who lost 3-1 to Mexico’s Tigres UANL.

Plans have also been discussed to play an All-Star game between the two leagues.

Despite plenty of leading clubs from Europe boosting their profile with transatlantic pre-season tours, Bonilla said that distances and a lack of resources made trips in the other direction more challenging for Mexican clubs.

“We need to get out of our region... We have to go out more. The problem that we have is distance. Coming to Europe is quite difficult for our teams in getting there, and going down to South America is a long way also,” he said.

“So, it’s quite difficult and what we have to do is we have to join forces with the MLS to get stronger together and then we can think of competing with Europe.

“Then we can have a strong market that can give us the resources to compete with the big financial market that is Europe.”

The 2018-19 Liga MX regular season, the Apertura, is about to enter its closing stages. Defending champions Santos Laguna are third behind Club America on goal difference, with both teams trailing leaders Cruz Azul by two points.

Reporting by Christian Radnedge; Editing by Ken Ferris

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