What is a ‘Chivas’ anyway?

I found this Los Angeles Times article (now gone) about Chivas USA’s fight for relevance (and a personality) to be thought provoking.    This isn’t just a challenge for Chivas USA, as most MLS teams fight for relevance in their home market, just as MLS does within the greater sports market.    But since the LA Times went there, let’s talk Chivas USA.

There was this crazy idea when Chivas USA started that it would attempt to follow its Mexican sister club (mother club?) in only playing Mexican players.   In fact, that ‘crazy’ idea might just have been exactly what was wanted by their mercurial owner, Jorge Vergara.

The problem, however, was that MLS rules more-or-less prohibit such a team or at best make it extremely difficult to pull off.  The team quickly moved to focus on Latino players instead of a purely Mexican focus.

And then they took the field.  And they stunk.

The mission was aborted and the (mostly American) MLS journeymen arrived.   (And the pro-Latino, pro-Mexican direction was widely ridiculed, as “not possible here.”)

Here’s the thing though. . what if they didn’t stink that first year?  What if the caliber of MLS wasn’t to direly underestimated?  What if they actually played well?

Here’s a thought… they should have stuck to their guns while fixing the on-field product.   What’s wrong with having the only Mexican owned MLS team, sister of the most popular Mexican soccer team, be all Mexican (including Mexican-American), all Latino or at least all Spanish speaking.  What you would have is a personality, a real connection to sister club Club Deportivo Guadalajara, and something worth talking about.

Some people wouldn’t like this.   Fine.  Frankly, lots of people are still asking what a “Chivas” is… of course, others still ask “What is a United?” when hearing of D.C. United.  So let’s discount that one.

People would have claimed, this isn’t good for US Soccer.   But, if the players included that “-American” after “Mexican” (or whatever their Latino nationality was) that would largely be without merit.    The USA can use all the help it can find to uncovering good, hidden, Latin talent.

What’s good for US Soccer is to have people care.  Getting fans loving or hating the teams in a league that still needs to generate passion outside of a hardcore following is one way to do that.

A Spanish-language, Latino player oriented Chivas USA would have made people talk, argue and hopefully care.  When people complained, Vergara should have told them “Bite me” – in Spanish.

You know, I hear there are some Mexican-American fans in L.A.   Maybe then they would have felt like they had a connection to the team.

And for those that don’t want to get on board?  I here there’s another team in town with some English guy playing for them.  Go root for them.

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Soccer Marketing, El Pitufo and Other “Small Things”

I’ve finally captured and decided to share a few of the random thoughts that have been bouncing around my head during one of my multi-hour soccer watching blocks in the last couple days.

Perhaps I need to write a letter to Fox Soccer Channel.  Those unnaturally frequent Enzyte “natural male enhancement” ads I’ve been subject to on FSC that feature a newly happy (and apparently newly ‘impressive’) guy named Bob have me on edge.  I see them so much that I’m starting to become self conscious.    Are they talking to me?   Am I secretly light in my Umbros?   Of course, then the Maxoderm ad comes on to force the issue home, but at least nobody named Bob shows up.  Although it is even freakier, since some guy winks at you (me?) in the middle of the ad.  Ugh, I feel dirty.  Perhaps I’m just watching too much soccer . . .

Speaking of things that are potentially too small, I recall seeing that Anthony de Avila made a comeback at age 46.   The diminutive ex-MetroStars striker, known as El Pitufo, has a significant resume including over 200 goals for America de Cali and having the 6thhighest goal count ever in Copa Libertadores.   You don’t recall him from MLS?  Well, an odd combination of the MetroStars ability to take the air out of any player’s sails, an odd drug-cartel-related thank you, and the fact that El Pitufo was never likely to replace Beckham in an underwear ad all conspired against him.

While it pains me to admit it . . . this is a cool URL, cool page, cool graphic.   http://wewintrophies.com/   Well done by D.C. United.   Of course, I wonder if this is hanging on Seattle’s locker room wall yet.

Lastly, I was reading this article in FootieBusiness and when it was asked “Of course, putting them on the website is likely preaching to the choir.  Is the team advertising these offers in the Dallas area?” about a combo-ticket/meal offering, it reminded me of something that will undoubtedly be worthy of a deeper review at some point.   I am getting bombarded by New England Revolution online advertisements.  Many sites I visit online are telling me to go buy Revolution tickets.

The good news?  Google Ads appears to be able to target customers that are interested in the right topics.   The bad news?  You are targeting someone already browsing soccer sites/blogs and who almost undeniable knows about the Revolution and upcoming games.   Talk about preaching to the choir . . . while it seems there is a huge gap in local awareness and interest the Revs are apparently paying to target the obviously engaged and already interested.

Too bad…

Kicking the Traveling US Circus in the Shins

There is an interesting proposal over at The Shin Guardian about having the US National Soccer team pick a particular city as its “home base” for an extended period, market it heavily and build a true home-field advantage.   In many ways, it is a compelling argument that I recommend you check out . . . but I think there is one area that may have been missed.

The blog mentions Having the USMNT come to your town may generate some buzz, but is not a great strategy, especially if it is to the detriment of the support of the team on the field.”  But the “buzz” I think is being addressed there is that of having a soccer game somewhere that’s out of the norm (like testing a new potential MLS market), but there’s another kind of buzz that I think is important.   It’s the buzz that an international match brings with it for the fan in attendance.   For me, it is unlike the atmosphere available in MLS games (with perhaps a few exceptions led by Seattle or Toronto) and is energizing for a first-time or long-time fan alike.   There is something altogether different about rooting for the US and feeling that country v. country tension that is created which plants a unique seed of interest in the sport.

So while I think there’s merit in what’s being proposed . . . I think international matches bring a better chance of capturing a new fan and growing the sport in a new market than any professional exhibition.  I wonder how many MLS fans started as US fans some years ago?

WSJ on Soccer in America

Most people – well, most blog-reading soccer fans – have seen the Wall Street Journal article called “Are Americans Becoming Soccer Fans?” since it has been pretty well shared by now.  There were a number of points raised that caught my attention.   Some were border-line insightful, others confusing but most were just plain annoying.

This article highlighted that we struggle in the US to keep different (potential) fan bases in mind when discussing how to move forward.   There are those who are:

A) MLS Fans

B) Soccer players who are not fans

C) Those who are not (never were) fans or players

D) Soccer fans that are indifferent (or worse) to MLS.

We could break each of those groups down further (might be an interesting exercise), but both within the WSJ article and in general we don’t distinguish between the non-MLS-fans enough when making generalizations about what is “needed.”

Either way . . . here are my thoughts.

Quote:  “When it comes to sports, one of the stubbornest examples of American exceptionalism is the use of the word ‘soccer.’”

Bob says:  Can we please just let this go already?  Let me know when reigning World Cup champions Italy apologizes for calling it ‘calcio’ . . .  Besides, the word “soccer” comes from the UK anyway, so ‘exceptionalism’ is a bit hard to argue.

Quote:   “. . . game’s third most important international trophy, the Confederations Cup.” 

Bob says:  Really? Maybe FIFA has that in official documents somewhere?  Gross over-simplification does little to impress a reasonably educated soccer fan base.  Outside of the World Cup there’s an argument about the ranking of other international competitions.   European Championship?   Copa America?  Africans Cup of Nations?   Youth (U-20) World Cups?  Olympics?   Add international club competitions in and it gets even more confusing . . . I’d say UEFA Champions League is more “important” than many international (Federation) cups.  

Quote: “To be a soccer fan in most of the world is to abandon simplicity and yield to a global alphabet soup of federations, associations, leagues, competitions and cups.”

Bob says:  For non-soccer fans this is indeed a hurdle.   Doubtful that it is a hurdle for soccer fans that haven’t warmed to MLS . . .

Quote:   “You must have a league that is credible,” Mr. Blatter, of FIFA, said of the U.S., which doesn’t even hold its season when the rest of the world does. “You have good players, but you must keep them here.”

Bob says:  Isn’t our league credible now?  Who owns the definition of credible Mr. Blatter?   If your sentence started “You have a credible league, now . . .”  — wouldn’t that have made it so?    The development of stars would be helpful – but where we are today, can you be a star unless you’ve earned your stripes in Europe?   Alternatively . . . the Dutch, Brazilian and Argentine leagues (just to name a few) all lose their best players to other countries as a normal course of business.  Are they not credible leagues?   And, for the nonsensical refrain that the US “doesn’t even hold its season when the rest of the world does” . . . wow, that’s our silver bullet?   More January games in Chicago and New England?  Compete for attention during the heart of the NFL season?  Hardly.

Quote:  “In many ways, the greatest danger for America’s domestic soccer league is the changing nature of the world. The global sports-television market now allows avid fans in the U.S. to ignore MLS and instead follow the world’s best teams from afar.”

Bob says: This is a big challenge for winning over those who are soccer fans, but not MLS fans.  (I didn’t call them Eurosnobs, but I could.)   Maybe back when half the country was going crazy and French Fries were becoming Freedom Fries, we should have changed MLS to the Soccer Freedom League or something . . . perhaps people would have been guilted into loving the American product.   Anyway . . . in reality, many MLS fans like the soccer of the best European and Latin leagues, so this should be something we can figure out . . . if the quality of MLS continues to improve.

Quote:  “We’ve seen what happens and the excitement it generates when the national team plays deep into an international tournament,” Mr. Garber said. “What we need is one of our clubs to do the same thing against the best foreign clubs, and we’re probably a little ways off from that.”

Bob says:  This is perhaps the line that interests me most, since Mr. Garber knows that structurally this is nearly impossible.   The league is DESIGNED for parity.   That means, for one team to be good enough to win consistently against the best foreign competition, they all need to be good enough.   That is a long way off.    Heck, if our teams had the resources (roster size, salary cap) to compete with in-season Mexican and Central American teams on a regular basis in meaningful competitions, that would be a start . . . and would catch the attention of a latent soccer-loving-MLS-indifferent audience.  (Latinosnobs?)

Selling Soccer and Stalled Italian Journeys

Not so fast Ricardo . . .

It seems I may have jumped the gun on Ricardo Clark’s impending transfer to Livorno.   No Short Corners is reporting that he has the offer but it isn’t a done deal.   If you haven’t my read my “Forza America” yet, please do so with this liberal dditions of “ifs” . . .

Supporter’s Club (Brought To You By Soccer Soap Box)

OK, I’m not about to be sponsoring any supporter’s clubs . . . but the idea promoted here that companies could be bypassing sports sponsorships to instead directly align to/sponsor major fan groups is very interesting.    Those groups are influential and cut out the middle-men when wanting to directly reach your end customers.   There are significant risks of course, since such fan groups will undoubtedly be interested in the funding and perks, but will have little tolerance of the rules that might be tied to them.  Of course, no sport seems to have more vocal and organized fan groups than soccer.  The article refers to one of the primary US National Team supporter groups the “American Outlaws” and their ever growing presence on the US Soccer scene.

Selling (MLS) Stuff

Sponsoring fan groups is all well and good . . . but I doubt the official soccer merchandising will ever slow.   This New York Times blog (thanks to the very interesting FootieBusiness) talks about merchandising efforts by the league, including the mini-takeover of the “World’s Largest Toy Store” in NYC.   A few notes of interest . . . the top three teams in terms of sponsorship Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, Toronto F.C. – Seattle and Toronto off of their amazing local fan support, and L.A. clearly because of Beckham.    The Red Bulls are 6th in merchandising, but have generally been terrible on the field . . . a statement to the potential that remains out of reach in that market.

While MLS makes it clear that they have trouble accurately tracking player-specific merchandise, it comes as no surprise that David Beckham, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Landon Donovan, Freddie Ljungberg, and Juan Pablo Angel would lead the way.   That most of them are “Designated Players” is not a coincidence . . . and makes the ideas recently posted over at the Daily Soccer Fix to increase the rule’s use all the more critical.

Beckham Drama and MLS Reboots

While I’m still recovering from that Mexican kick to the groin at the Gold Cup final, here are a few brief thoughts.

How to reboot an MLS club?

The Seattle crowds make me jealous.   There I said it.  I work with people from Seattle every day, some of them know this, some not.    I’m no longer ashamed…

My jealously doesn’t matter, I can begrudgingly admit that.   What does matter is that the atmosphere and size of that crowd is by far the exception, not the rule.   If game day atmosphere is as much of a draw as the game is . . . this is a big issue for most MLS clubs.

The problem is that fans have already heard the proverbial pin drop at places like Gillette Stadium or Giants Stadium . . . and don’t have to fight lines at the men’s room when watching from their comfy and free-to-visit recliner . . . so they are not motivated to give it another try.    At least the RedBulls have a new stadium providing a manufactured reason to “reboot” and relaunch their team . . . again.

What can the other teams like the Revs do?    (Hint, it’s probably not the addition of Rev Girls.)   Something to revisit in future blogs for sure.

More Beckham Drama, Works for me . . .

Frankly, I love it.   The more drama, the better.

I mean really, without this what else are we going to talk about?  Or better yet, what else are the non-blog-authoring/reading potential fans going to talk about?   This just in . . . three rookies living together in a failing attempt to make LA rent argue over the Ramen noodle package again.   Movie at 11 . . .

The most recent conflicting reports though could spin anyone around.  MLS banned the fan who jumped on the field during LA’s home game against visiting AC Milan and then caved and rescinded the ban.  Why?  He didn’t know the policies for fans entering the field of play.    Hmmm, yeah, that’s a huge mystery for everyone – I know I personally thought that since Beckham came we were all invited for afternoon tea in the center circle during half time.

Meanwhile, Becks complains that a fan who was giving him a hard time in Kansas City shouldn’t be wearing an England jersey.   As if England fans weren’t giving him a rough ride – can we say hanged in effigy? – after his World Cup ejection against Argentina.

Hilarious . . .