By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
Exemplary, legally solid and irrefutable, the financial sanctions imposed by the Federal Economic Competition Commission (Cofece) on Mexican soccer clubs for having imposed a salary cap (also hunger) on women who play professionally in the Liga MX could end up exploding in the Cofece’s face and eventually lead to the disappearance of the country’s fledgling women’s soccer tournaments, as well as the practice of the sport by Mexican women at a professional level.
The legality of the measure is not up for discussion regarding the classic concept of competition, but by establishing an equal maximum salary for all players on all teams, the MX League closed out opportunities for professional development to all by canceling the real possibility of anyone to change clubs in search of better working conditions, a right of any professional in any paid activity.
In Mexico’s professional women’s soccer, a manipulated market was created since, by agreement, all teams pay the same to the employed players. This standardization of salaries will discourage free mobility of the players between teams. And that is improper and inadmissible.
The Liga MX Femenil is a business — and a market — still under construction. The female players’ income from box office, sponsorships and television are still not very relevant compared to those generated by the men’s soccer teams of the same league.
Moreover, by virtue of the fact that the employer, the league, is exactly the same as that of men’s soccer, women’s professional soccer, which is still overshadowed by men’s teams, could end up dissolved by the 177 million-peso sanction that, in theory, was intended to correct an injustice imposed by employers and equipment owners against female players.
Without justifying the actions of the owners, there is an element of the soccer business that was clearly not taken sufficiently into consideration by the regulatory authorities. It is indisputable that competition between companies, in this case teams, must be open so that each one seeks to improve through the hiring of the most talented players available in order to offer the best product and achieve success.
That theory, applied to a market, in which the competitors are sports teams and the product is between victory and the show offered to attendees who pay for tickets, buy shirts and tune in to games on television, simply does not work the same as in other markets.
In sports leagues, which are a business, letting the market — that is, money — define, without restrictions, the winning team (and therefore the one with the most fans, followers, box office and television income) is equivalent to dissolving sports competition and entertainment. In professional sports, the team that can pay the most money has the best players, and in the end that team ends up dominating the league and obtaining the highest income from sponsorships, box office and television.
All this happens to the detriment of the sporting event, which generates income for all teams, but which concentrates the largest income on more successful teams in terms of competitiveness. Rich, succ3essful teams continue to flourish, and poorer, less winning teams drop by the wayside.
That is how the poorly regulated professional sport industry works. This is the case not only in Mexico but around the globe, in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The Spanish Professional Soccer League is owned by two wealthy teams: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Every 10 or 15 years, a team other than these two manages to win a championship. Of course, the success of Madrilenians and Catalans is due to the fact that they have the most money and hire the best players.
In England, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, owned by a Russian billionaire, dominate one of the best-organized leagues in the world.
In Italy, Juventus de Turin of the Agnelli family and Milan, owned by Silvio Berlusconi until 2017, shared titles and control of the soccer football for 30 years.
In contrast to the Cofece’s arbitrary resolution against Liga MX clubs, the United States’ National Football League (NFL) employs a different type of salary cap. In the NFL, the cap is per team and each defines how it distributes the same amount of money among its roster of players, all of whom can migrate to another team if they so choose.
Under this system, and thanks to an equitable distribution of television rights among the various teams, the NFL has achieved full competition among its members, along with full stadiums and the highest television audiences in the world for a national league. The NFL has been so successful that, today, football is the most popular and most popular sport in the United States, even more popular than baseball, the so-called American National Pastime.
The NFL has even gone global, holding regular season games in Mexico. England and Germany each year. Needless to say, the vast majority of its players are, if not millionaires, then at least rich, with a salary cap and freedom of contract.
The Cofece resolution was intended to right a wrong against Mexico’s women soccer players, but, in the end, it could cause far more harm than good. The Cofece resolution was poorly evaluated and spontaneous. In terms of competition, a sanction should correct a distortion, not put a market at risk.
Rather than defuse a bomb of gender inequity, the Cofece dtonated one that could have long-term repercussions for the entire sports industry in Mexico.
The fickle soccer team owners, who for decades have enjoyed almost limitless power and wealth, could decide to abolish women’s professional soccer altogether.
It all boils down to bottom-line costs. Just as no one should have their freedom to work restricted, no one, not even in these times, can be forced to keep a business that reports losses open.
And with a 170 million-peso sanction, professional women’s football will indeed report losses.
The salaries of women professional soccer players must be fair, and, as the business of women’s league continues to grow, female players’ salaries should be closer to those of professional male players. Eventually, women soccer players’ salaries could match those of their male counterparts, just like in tennis, where the prizes for women today are the same amount as those for men.
The way to achieve equal pay between men and women in professional soccer in Mexico is definitely not to give pretexts to the likes of Emilio Azcárraga and Ricardo Salinas, the owners of the Mexican teams and television, to cancel the professional women’s league.
ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”