Last week, we took a look at some of the reasons why we love the CONCACAF Champions League. We now shift our focus to how we can improve the wild tournament and make it more prominent amongst fans.
Every spring, a sleeping giant rises in the soccer world. When you see the wild highlights, questionable playing fields, errant fireworks, and angry tweets from Club America fans, it can mean only one thing: the CONCACAF Champions League.
The tournament featuring the best North America has to offer has gained more attention in the last few years, with American and Canadian clubs taking massive shots at the dominance of Mexican clubs during the tournament’s run. This has made for entertaining and fast paced matches — but with all this success, it makes us ask the question: Why is the CONCACAF Champions League coverage and production level still so low?
The answers could be varied, as casual football fans in North America would probably prefer to watch the UEFA Champions League or Copa Libertadores if their club wasn’t in it. And even if their club was, many who qualified for the tournament wouldn’t take it seriously, instead shifting their prorities to the opening games of the MLS season and domestic performance.
With teams like LAFC and Toronto FC making incredible runs to the finals and giving Mexican powerhouses Tigres and Chivas all they could handle, they have shown that it is anyone’s game, and supporters are realizing this as well. But it is safe to say that despite the newfound fan engagement, the networks are lacking the coverage necessary to reach the heights that the other continental tournaments have. Wrong logos, spotty connections, and lackluster analysis are just some of the issues surrounding CCL coverage.
Fortunately, there are many ways the perception around the CCL can be changed and elevated to the level of the other continental tournaments.
Create an Official Anthem
This would be a minor addition in the grand scheme of things, but creating an anthem to play before league matches would be a great addition for little cost. It would signify the importance of the games before a ball is even kicked, and separate it from any domestic league or tournament.
And it can’t be like the ultra-macho MLS or Fox Sports themes, which both sound more like the opening to WWE Monday Night Raw. We’re talking the majestic and elegant sounds that the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores both bring in theirs, which have become beloved by fans across the world. A few harmonic music notes have the power to amplify the feelings of drama and importance that are felt before, during, and after matches.
Keep the Signature CONCACAF Insanity
If there’s one thing that separates CONCACAF matches from any of the other confederations in the world, it’s the ability to have things go from normal to pure chaos in an instant. You want an electric match to climax with a player getting absolutely clobbered by a tackle, leading to a massive brawl, only for the guy to get a yellow card? You got it.
You want a goalkeeper scoring a last chance goal in the dying minutes of the match? You got it.
Sure, these kinds of events could happen anywhere, but somehow when yuppie MLS sides are forced to go play in the lawless stadiums of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, we get pure magic, which is why the term “Getting CONCACAF’d” has entered the footballing lexicon. And when the away fans come to support their teams at American and Canadian stadiums, let’s just say they like to bring a little bit extra from home. Obviously the executives of the leagues don’t want sparkling new stadiums to be torched because of an opposing fanbase’s flare show gone wrong, but it wouldn’t hurt for them to lean into this, instead of turning fan support away.
Emphasize the Stakes
It’s important to note why the CONCACAF Champions League deserves to be on the level of its South American and European counterparts. The champions of Europe, South America, North America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania all qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup, where they play each other to determine the champions of the world.
Needless to say, it would be a huge accomplishment for your club to get into this, regardless of the super team juggernauts they would end up facing in it. However, many fans still do not know the implications that winning the CONCACAF Champions League would have, and especially for MLS.
I myself wondered during the MLS is Back Tournament why a spot in the CCL was worth my team LAFC playing for in the Orlando bubble. But after I found out what being in it and winning it could mean for the team and MLS as a whole, and then seeing my team make a fantastic run to the CCL finals as a result of winning the Supporters Shield in 2019, it became easy to understand why it was worth it.
Seeing LAFC and Bayern Munich play for the Club World Cup title sounds like something I would play on FIFA 21, but if LAFC had been in Tigres’ place in Qatar this February, and beaten Ulsan Hyundai and Palmieras as they did, then that would’ve been the case. But like many teams before, LAFC got CONCACAF’d when Eduard Atuesta’s suspension did not get appealed, and they came just short of becoming the first non-Mexican team to win it all in the current format.
Yet another MLS CCL heartbreak was a bitter pill for the American fans to swallow, but with all of the MLS teams in this year’s tournament still with a genuine shot at glory (except for Atlanta, but everyone saw that coming), everyone should understand what winning this could mean.
Market to MLS Teams and Fanbases
As previously mentioned, a spot in CONCACAF Champions League is something that fans of every MLS team should root for, and this isn’t limited to just the bigger clubs. This is a huge opportunity for teams like Minnesota United and Nashville SC, both of which are great organizations with tons of promise, but are usually not given as much attention as the big market MLS clubs. If they qualified for the Champions League (Minnesota has been close a couple of times), it would be a major milestone for the franchises, and would force the American soccer landscape to look out for them.
One major example of this is the Philadelphia Union, who for the majority of their existence have been a completely harmless team, missing the playoffs every year until 2019. But after winning the Supporters’ Shield and qualifying for the Champions League, they have put everyone on notice, and have suddenly put their previous woes in the rearview mirror.
Any team looking to get out of mediocrity or return to relevance should make it a goal to qualify, whether it be through league performance, U.S. Open Cup, or otherwise. And if you support one of the flashy, title-winning teams of MLS, what better way to separate yourself from the rest of the league than to do what no other team has done, and win the Champions League?
Winning the MLS Cup is cool, but some clubs have already won it before, so doing it again for them is just another trophy to go in the case, right next to the others. But if they went all-in on a CCL title run, they could establish themselves as the MLS’ top dogs, and claim the title that has eluded everyone else since the conception of the current version of CONCACAF Champions League.
Investing in Caribbean Football
This may be out of left field, as CONCACAF has repeatedly shown the majority of its attention to developing in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But if the federation wants a competitive playing field in all of the regions by 2023, they should make sure to stabilize the domestic leagues in the Caribbean. The area itself is a hotbed of talent, specifically with Jamaica, which has produced stars like Leon Bailey and Kemar Lawrence.
However, the leagues there are very rudimentary, with little up-to-date information available about the teams and their matches. It’s hard to tell how many professional leagues are in the Caribbean as of now, especially with COVID-19 canceling most if not all of the scheduled games. In the 2023 format of the CCL, 10 slots are available for Caribbean clubs, with eight of those being from the professional leagues, so if this is the structure CONCACAF wants to move forward with, there should be a renewed focus on the development of the Caribbean game.
Use the Complicated 2023 Format to the Networks’ Advantage
After the new format for the CCL going forward was announced, it definitely gave fans a lot to process about what it means for the future of North American competitions. Regionalized groups, knockout round play-in matches, 50 teams (!) and a single leg final are just some of the highlights of a new format that looks unlike anything previously seen in global football. However, it still uniquely fits North America.
There are still a lot of questions around how it will look, but the qualification process is already something that the networks broadcasting MLS and the Canadian Premier League can make a huge deal about when 2023 comes around. There will be multiple avenues to qualification, as league standings, Voyageurs Cup, U.S. Open Cup, and even the Leagues Cup will be used to determine the eight to 10 teams representing the U.S. and Canada. So for each of the matches involved in those tournaments (including MLS Playoffs), it would be a missed opportunity not to highlight how the participating teams could make it to the CCL. There’s still a long way to go for this to come into effect, but it is still something that the media and networks alike should take note of.