The Big 12 playing games in Mexico is a good idea. And a bad idea.
It just depends on how you define success.
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Last month, I talked to the Big 12’s Chief Marketing Officer, Tyrel Kirkham. We chatted about how the conference is committed to thinking outside the box, reaching out to new audiences, and expanding beyond just the league’s geographic footprint or historical fanbases. That might mean partnering with streetwear companies and staging concerts at tournaments. It might mean hosting events in New York or LA. It might mean rethinking what the traditional broadcast looks like.
And, according to the Houston Chronicle and Sports Illustrated, it also may mean playing multiple games in Mexico.
The details aren’t finalized yet, but the gist of the plan centers around the Big 12 playing college football games in Monterrey and college basketball games in Mexico City, and then potentially expanding the partnership to other sports. The league also wants this to be a multi-year relationship, rather than a one-off trip.
That’s a bold plan, and one with a value proposition that’s very different from hosting press conferences in LA or summer basketball clinics in Rucker Park.
What are some of the potential advantages to this plan?
Assuming the schools are able to schedule trips to Mexico with sufficient travel, rest, and recovery time, playing any games internationally represents a huge learning opportunity and a unique experience for the athletes. Remember, most college football and basketball players don’t get to study abroad, so events like this can really enrich the athlete’s life experiences. Mexico City has amazing museums, natural history, music, and food. Going to visit would be cool!
I think the Big 12 should be pretty confident in their ability to sell tickets too. American college football and basketball aren’t particularly popular in Mexico, but American football and NBA basketball are. The NFL estimates there are over 46 million NFL fans in the country, and both NFL and NBA games have been available on TV for years. Mexico is also one of the few countries with its own deep college football tradition. Big 12 brands might be unfamiliar, but the core product won’t be.
Plus, a few Big 12 teams have potential ties to Mexico. Texas Tech, Houston and UCF are in counties that are over 30% Latino, and have student bodies that are at least 20% Latino. Those aren’t all Mexican-Americans, of course, but it is probably reasonable to believe that many of those families share some connection to Mexico.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the sponsoring institution of BYU, has more members in Mexico than any other country outside the United States. If BYU football plays a game in Monterrey, I’m pretty confident they’re gonna sell a lot of tickets, between a bunch of gringos wanting to revisit their mission stomping grounds and thousands of Mexican Latter-Day Saints going to the game.
Finally, these international trips are often very popular carrots to dangle to big-time boosters. I’m sure these events would be very popular junkets for Big 12 corporate partners or potential university benefactors.
Okay…what are some of the disadvantages?
Playing games or holding events in places like New York or LA is one thing. After all, those markets produce elite college athletes, export college students, and shape media coverage throughout the entire country.
That’s…less true of Mexico. According to NCAA data, Mexico produced just 253 D-I athletes last year across all sports….and just nine college football and men’s basketball players (the highest number of athletes were in golf, tennis and swimming). And while Mexico did send nearly 15,000 students to the US to study…that number doesn’t even crack the top eight. It just isn’t a very big market.
Plus, while it’s pretty easy to watch NFL games in most Mexican cities, that hasn’t historically been the case for college sports broadcasts. Any attempt to build long-term relationships, brand equity, and fanhood in Mexico would need to be accompanied by plans to make the actual broadcasts (and game information) more accessible, which isn’t as easy. Remember, there’s no Big 12 TV network like the other major conferences have, and not everybody is regularly producing content or information in Spanish.
There are also financial and logistical questions to answer. How do you make up lost gameday revenue for teams that “lose” a home game to Mexico? How can you make sure athletes get enough time to safely acclimate and see historical sites, without missing too much class or messing with the rest of their schedules? What happens to athletes who can’t secure passports? What happens once the ‘novelty’ of playing in Mexico dies down, and the event has to stand on its own two feet?
These aren’t unsurmountable questions by any means, but they also carry opportunity costs. Every minute Big 12 or campus-level staffers are working on Mexico issues are minutes they’re not spending on fundraising, instruction, corporate sales, etc. Is this worth the time sacrifice?
Essentially, if this is executed well, these games will provide deeply meaningful experiences to athletes. That’s worth celebrating! They might help provide an important cultural exchange for Big 12 schools that don’t have many Mexican students or community members…and very long-term, the trips may help cultivate new fans in Mexico. If that’s how the Big 12 will measure success, then sure, this seems like a great idea.
If the ultimate goal is to make money in the short term, recruit athletes, recruit students or develop a meaningful competitive advantage via ties to Mexico…then I’d worry about fit. But hey, we don’t know all the details yet.
I’ll be interested to learn more details, and how the league defines success. Hopefully, it all works out for the best.
Here’s what else we wrote this week:
Hey, remember when I went to South Carolina last week? I wrote a newsletter about my trip to Clemson to see their amazing softball team…a team that didn’t even exist five years ago. How does a program start a team that gets that good, that fast?
Zero G5 or FCS players were picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, and only two were picked in the second round. That’s a big drop from recent history. Is this a statistical outlier, or part of a new trend?
Last Friday, I went to Big Ten HQ to go to new commissioner Tony Petitti’s press conference. Here’s what I learned about him, future Big Ten expansion, and why he was hired.
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