Insights from the Americas: Global Football Tectonics
The 2026 World Cup will bring a number of firsts to international football as the tournament expands to 48 teams, three countries serve as hosts, and all six FIFA confederations are guaranteed berths. North America will also make history with Mexico hosting a record third Men’s World Cup and Canada hosting its first.
As the tectonic plates begin to shift towards this region of the world, how do top domestic leagues in the Americas compare with the European elites? How have those leagues fared over the last decade? And what might we expect out of certain leagues between now and 2026?
We can understand the gradual “tectonic plate” shifting in global football by defining a clear point of reference and observing trends through two macro lenses – quality and efficiency.
The World Super League establishes the first lens. It continually assesses club quality around the globe on the same scale, allowing us to evaluate domestic league trends. Our Efficiency Scores provide the second lens, contrasting quality of clubs with where they “should be” given their financial investments made over time.
Point of Reference: England
The Premier League’s recent dominance in Europe makes it a promising reference point.
As broadcasting revenues and outside investment flourished, clubs have used extra resources to increase quality. Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham are current leaders in this pack, creating innovative environments that enable world-class recruitment, coaching, and development.
Despite the performance quality increase of England’s top division, the Premier League remains financially inefficient on account of the £1.6bn its clubs have spent on wages this last season.
Yet on aggregate, the league has been getting smarter and more efficient. If clubs in the richest and strongest league are still pushing towards efficiency, then that sets the tone for what the future of football will look like – and should serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Best of the Rest: Brazil
Brazil’s Série A stands alone as the best league in the world, outside of the “Big Five” of England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France.
Not only does the league have requisite quality to be sixth in the world, Série A has also remained the most resilient to the fast-growing quality in Europe. The league continues to improve despite overseas superclubs plucking up young players from Brazil’s hotbed of footballing talent.
But what makes Brazil’s first division stand out, relative to its Latin American neighbors, is its ability to significantly increase league-wide efficiency. Over the last half-decade, Série A has become 4x as efficient while maintaining its top level of quality. Brazil’s strongest clubs have been driving this trend – with four of the top five continuously improving in both quality and efficiency over the last three seasons.
The league’s ability to create and maintain efficiency has helped it bear the brunt of the relative performance slip we see across the rest of the Americas. And it will be a driving factor for heightened global interest in Brazil for years to come.
High Potential: Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile, and the USA
A wide range of leagues falls into this second classification, as each league possesses a subset of clubs and players demonstrating real potential to play at elite levels.
Club performance volatility, however, has left these leagues struggling to keep up with the consistent improvement of elite leagues. A number of factors are at play for driving this volatility, particularly the massive spectrum of talent in league player pools. Professional talent on one end of the spectrum demonstrates significant potential and transfers to Big Five leagues – see: Paulo Dybala, Miguel Almirón, and Tyler Adams – while talent on the other end remains somewhat anonymous to the world.
Interestingly, except Mexico and the United States, all these leagues are efficient – meaning that relative to global norms, the performance quality of players on the pitch outweighs wage bills. And Uruguay’s Primera División has particularly shined by quickly becoming the most efficient league in Latin America.
While currently inefficient, Liga MX exhibits tendencies similar to the Premier League, operating on a trajectory suggesting that its performance may soon outweigh its clubs’ spend. This encouraging trend and the upcoming arrival of the 2026 World Cup signals a promising footballing market for owners to invest in and for foreign clubs to recruit from.
MLS bookends this group as the other inefficient league. It is the sole league to be significantly declining in financial efficiency over the past half-decade, in large part due to its investment in expensive, international superstars. A helpful reminder of the unique challenges and costs associated with building up a robust, popular sport that is relatively “new” in a country with an established sporting culture.
Developmental: Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Canada, etc.
Our third grouping consists of professional leagues in small countries within Central America and the Caribbean, as well as now a newly founded league in Canada. These leagues are known to have a significant performance gap from the majority of High Potential leagues.
Players who show real promise in these leagues are eventually recruited up to the High Potential leagues. Yet recruitment from this talent pool typically requires those players to further develop in order to make a significant impact on bigger stages.
As the sport continues to globalize, we expect high quality and efficient football to have the most future potential. Clubs around the world will increasingly seek out talent from efficient leagues to provide a greater return on their squad investment. Unexpected performances by highly efficient clubs will captivate fans.
Leagues and clubs that are already efficient can press their current financial advantage and look to maximize inwards investments. A focus on modernization – professional infrastructure, proven new technologies, innovative environments, etc. – will help ensure those environments are making the most of their on-the-field product.
Leagues and clubs with positive efficiency trajectories can feel good about their odds of a promising footballing future. Particularly in markets like Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico, executives can operate with an expectation that both their global popularity and returns on player transfers will increase.
The landscape in the US is fuzzy at best, as the league’s heavy and controlled investment has resulted in a lack of on-field development. However short-term stagnation may lead to long-term prosperity. The league is far from mature and the market is far from saturated, as the country works through its first generation of fans.
From now through 2026, we expect to see continued structural growth, investment, and fan engagement in football within the Americas – particularly in countries with efficient performance trajectories and in the World Cup’s three hosting nations.
21st Club has opened its first international office in San Francisco this summer.
Continuing to deliver on our global mission to change the conversation in football, the office primarily serves our growing client base in North and South America.
If you’d like to find out more about our San Francisco office, please get in touch here.
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