The U.S.A. men's national soccer team faces off against Mexico Tuesday in a World Cup qualifying match. If Mexico loses in Columbus, Ohio, their chances of making it to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be severely hampered.
And an "L" for Mexico may mean a loss for America's economy as well. The U.S.A. vs. Mexico match airs on ESPN at 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday. The World Cup begins in June 2014 in Brazil.
“You could expect lower TV ratings, maybe reduced merchandise sales and even bars and restaurants all over the country that would be showing the Mexico game may see a decline in business," said David Carter, the executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute.
In addition to reduced sales of team jerseys, soccer balls and other merchandise, there may be a lot fewer people watching the games – even those leading up to the international tournament. ESPN reports that a World Cup qualifying match between Mexico and the U.S. earlier this year yielded the most viewers ever for a qualifier or international friendly shown on the sports TV network.
The almost 2.5 million viewers who watched the game in March came from all over the country, including cities in Texas, Washington, California and Ohio. Mexico's absence from the World Cup could hit ESPN and Univision hard.
According to data from the 2010 census, there are more than 308 million people in the U.S. and more than 31 million are of Mexican origin. This population far outweighs any other Latino group in the country — and Mexican soccer fans in the U.S. have been known to drown out fans of America's team.
At a U.S.A. vs. Mexico game in Pasadena in 2011, the U.S. soccer team was bombarded by jeers and boos by the crowd. The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke reported that, of the 93,420 people at the stadium, about 80,000 appeared to be fans of Mexico.
"Mexico soccer fans have long since proven to be perhaps the greatest fans of any sports team that plays in this country, selling out venues from here to Texas to New Jersey, dwarfing something like Red Sox Nation, equaling any two SEC football fan bases combined," Plaschke wrote.
And soccer in the U.S. has only recently begun to take hold. Carter said that it was only 10 to 15 years ago that Americans began to rally behind soccer teams and show interest in tournaments.
Now, the U.S. team is in second place in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and a win against Mexico and a loss or a tie by Panama would guarantee them a spot in the World Cup in Brazil.
A loss by Mexico could drop them to fifth place. Only the top three teams are guaranteed an invitation in the World Cup. If Mexico doesn't make it, it may still be able to win a spot into the tournament, but the chances would be slim.
Sports Illustrated magazine called the U.S.-Mexico rivalry "the best international sports rivalry in North America," and said Mexico making it to the World Cup would be beneficial to everyone. But Mexico enters Tuesday's crucial qualifier in the midst of a rough patch: SI reports that not only did the team's coach, Jose Manuel de la Torre, get fired recently, the Mexico squad also just lost a World Cup qualifier at home for the second time ever.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the total Latino population in the U.S. was 308 million, but that is the country's total population. The story has been updated with the correct information.