Know your oligarch, Club América: The family behind Mexico’s most successful club

Every country has its share of poor and wage-slaves, it middle class and business owners, its millionaires and ba-zillionaires. Of course, the most interesting caste is the higher one. The folks who earn seven-figures from sitting in leather chairs often control and manipulate the things we hold most dear, from the Koch brothers’ hold on politics in the U.S. to, on a smaller scale, the Kraft family’s grip on New England sports franchises. Mexico is no different. Behind most major clubs, you’ll find a company, then a rich family.

Today, we will look at the billionaires behind the team you hate: the Azcárragas, owners of reigning champion Club América.

América was founded in 1916 by college students, but the key year for all Americanistas is 1959, when Emilio Azcárraga Milmo bought the club. At the time, Emilio ran the media company then known as Telesistema Mexicano, which is now Televisa. In 1997, Julia Preston of the New York Times published a nice glimpse at the tycoon’s life. In the business world, Emilio was known as El Tigre because of a white stripe in his hair and his aggression in negotiations. At the time of his death, he was worth $2 billion dollars. He was rich, he was demanding, and he loved Club America.

Azcárraga’s ownership led to the Aguilas’ growth and foster the club’s golden era in the 1980s. He famously quipped that “this, gentlemen, will be a business,” and, with rival Chivas focusing on Mexico’s elite, he began investing in South American stars. Much has also been written about the “symbiotic relationship” between Televisa’s telecommunications in Mexico over the last three decades and the PRI political party’s stranglehold on Mexican democracy.

Azcárraga passed away in 1997, but his family and Televisa (the head of which is his son, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, above), continue to own and invest in América. They also continue to influence Mexican politics. When current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto ran for office as a PRI candidate, the Guardian published a story that alleged Televisa slanted coverage to favor his campaign. However, after getting elected, a wing of the national government investigated the claims and found no criminal wrongdoing. Due to Mexico’s defamation laws, the Guardian was forced to issue a statement clearly spelling out that they did not mean to imply Televisa violated any criminal laws.

United States embassy cables unearthed from Wikileaks show that the U.S. government clearly thought that Pena Nieto paid Televisa under the table for slanted media coverage.

Meanwhile, the club affects media coverage by being very good. It has won Liga MX a record 12 times, most recently in the 2014 Apertura.

Thus we have América, a club loaded with talent and mega-rich, but one that doesn’t need to use the sales of stars to balance the books. Other sources pay the bills. And América fans can thank the Azcárraga family for that.