Gringo Report: Aspiring Mexican team lets fans be coach

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Want some control over the affairs of your favorite MLS team? Who doesn’t?

Murciélagos FC are giving their fans a lot more than most.

The team from the 65,000-population town of Guamúchil in the western state of Sinaloa has been pioneering a system known as “DT Electrónico,” or electronic coach, where fans vote on key decisions during and before the game.

It all stemmed from the 2002 World Cup, when brothers Miguel and Elias Favela were pulling their own hair out over the decisions Javier Aguirre was making during the Round of 16 game against the United States.

“We were at home watching and with 30 minutes left, it occurs to him to put on [Alberto García] Aspe, that couldn’t run, as well el Matador [Luis Hernández],” explained Elías Favela, now the Murciélagos president, in an interview with Récord. “It was then it came to us that we the people should decide.”

The facts about that particular game may not be spot on, but the seed was sowed and the system of “people power,” which Murciélagaos FC implemented in 2010, has served the club well since, lending evidence that it is no gimmick.

The club was promoted last season from the Liga Premier and will this season be fighting for another jump up. It’s now one step from the second tier of Mexican football, the Ascenso MX. That would bring the chance to play the big clubs in the Copa MX.

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But the real statistic to highlight is that at home, with the DT Electrónico system in use, Murciélagos were undefeated in both the regular season and the playoffs in last year’s promotion push.

This season, American audiences will be able to participate, with the team’s home games being shown on the Univision Deportes Network.

The system is actually very simple and set up so that wild (and certainly joke) decisions can’t come to pass.

You have to sign in to the club’s website using Facebook or Twitter and vote when the club decides that a change needs to be made. For example, if the team is losing 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, the option of a substitution will likely come up. Fans then start voting if a change is required. If a majority decides that it should take place, another option comes up to vote for one of two possible players. The one who receives most votes will take his place on the field.

Before the game, fans can choose the starting lineup and the team formation.  

“For me, it’s a very good idea because we owe our place to the public,” Heriberto “Anelka” Beltram, a member of Mexico’s 2005 U-17 World Cup winning squad, told the Murciélagos website this week. “It’s a way of rejuvenating football because the participation of the people is very important.”

The players know what they are getting themselves into before they join the club, but even so, it must be strange to be left on the bench knowing that a body of fans, not an individual, has voted for that action.

On the other hand, players certainly know exactly where they stand with the paying public.

READ: Yanks aim for the top of the table in Mexico

Either way, it is different hearing players give interviews in which they talk of the fans in revered tones, knowing their near future and next appearance is dependent on them.

“I’m happy because the fans voted for me to appear and debut for the team,” Bernardo “Venado” López explained this week, also on the club’s website. “I hope people liked what I was able to do.”

Miguel Favela studied in England and has established international contacts for the club, including big name sponsors and the deal with Univision north of the border. An Asian network has also expressed interest.   

It was not, however, always easy to convince people.

“No one listened to us,” he said in an interview last year. “We wanted to give supporters a say.”

The club also aims to give young talent a chance to shine, according to Favela, something that no doubt attracted Eric Wynalda to his roll of president of international operations.

The big success story in that regard has been 23-year-old Othoniel Arce, who moved on from Murciélagos to first-division club Monterrey. He is currently playing at Club León.

While Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid and other MLS coaches needn’t worry about their jobs just yet, another good season from Murcielagos and the system might well pick up some adherents in a few other clubs.

Murciélagos’ next interactive game is on Friday, Feb. 1 against Universidad de Colima and will be on Univision Deportes Network (9 pm ET).