Chiapas has never been relegated, but life’s a grind for Mexico’s small clubs

For many Mexicans, the southern half of the country is a no-go zone. The southern states offer hot temperatures and stunning beaches but lack much outside of the resort towns. Take away those tourist destinations, and much of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Campeche and Quintana Roo is rural wasteland.

A similar description could be applied to the area’s soccer clubs. At various times throughout the history of Mexico’s first division, small towns from this area have fielded clubs that win promotion despite shoestring budgets. In time, though, that success fades into mediocrity, obscurity, and then oblivion.

The short history of Chiapas’ first division club reflects much of the same, and it’s not a pretty story of survival. But given their limitations, perhaps the key for these smaller clubs is, in fact, survival, rather than glory? For teams like Chiapas, mere subsistence in Liga MX may be worth our applause.

Consider that Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital and largest city in Chiapas, only has a population of just over half a million people. Mexico City, meanwhile, boasts 8.8 million, Puebla has about 5.5 million residents, and smaller cities like Monterrey have about 1.1 million. For a sports team, a small population means less relative revenue potential. You could maybe hope folks from outside the city come into town for games or to support the club, but that’s still only 3.4 million. And half that population lives in extreme poverty. Yet in 2002, Jaguares de Chiapas was formed.

Wait, you say, that’s pretty new. How long did it take them to reach the top flight? That’s the weird part. Chiapas team has never tasted the Liga de Ascenso or lower. Why? How? Mexico’s franchise system, that’s how. Chiapas’ Wikipedia page (that vaunted source) describes the club’s birth as “founded” and even uses quotation marks. The club’s official website casts a more flattering light: In 2001, Irapuato won promotion but immediately relocated to the city of Veracruz. A year later, Veracruz won promotion and suddenly a modest city (population of about half a mil) had three top-flight teams. One clearly had to go. A group of rich businessman in Chiapas seized the chance. They remodeled the Victor Manual Reyna stadium and bought one of the Veracruz franchises (Irapuato) to fill it.

Thus, the Jaguares de Chiapas were adopted, not born. They’ve never won a title, but did finish top of the league in the 2004 Clausura, akin to the freakish Kansas City Royals’ recent World Series run. Aside from that season, the Jaguares pretty much bounced around from ninth to 16th place, relatively safe from relegation but only sporadically making the playoffs. Thus, it was no surprise that rumors about the sale of the team (and its lucrative Liga MX place) and relocation constantly filled the air. However, in 2013, the nightmare came true: Jaguares were sold and relocated to Querétaro.

Was this the end? Ha. Nope. Just a shuffling of asses on seats after a game of musical chairs. Once again, the state of Veracruz got screwed over — to Chiapas’ delight. Eight days after the sale of Jaguares to Querétaro, San Luis’s recently-promoted team was sold to Chiapas and renamed Chiapas FC. The only difference was a slightly more ferocious, and handsome, jaguar logo on the crest.

Chiapas_Jaguar.svg

To their fans’ delight, Chiapas made the playoffs last year. It beat Atlas at the weekend and sits comfortably in fourth place. However, don’t expect a title run. The sliver of a window when small market clubs like León and Club Tijuana could win it all seems to have closed. Still, for fans of small clubs in Liga MX, just surviving the ravages of the franchise system is enough. Each year passed is a blessing.

WHERE TO WATCH