Adding “Sabor Latino” To MLS Marketing

In the last post, I sifted through an interesting interview with MLS EVP Dan Courtemanche (Part One and Part Two) and worked through some of the marketing-oriented commentary.   However, while I called out a mention of the league’s continuing interest in the Hispanic audience, I didn’t delve into the topic.

So here are a few tidbits from the interview and elsewhere along with a reasonably crazy and unrealistic idea to go with them.

The interview offers hints that the SuperLiga competition’s days may be over, though that decision hasn’t been made public at this point.  The SuperLiga was (or is?) an odd competition in many ways – a marketing invention between MLS and its Mexican counterpart. 

There are other regional competitions that MLS and Mexican league clubs play each other in, namely CONCACAF Champions League that had much more tangible international relevance and for SuperLiga the Mexican clubs were only in their pre-season, so MLS victories were somewhat tainted (and with non-matching calendars, that may always be a challenge with any regional competition.)

All that negativity aside, the games were entertaining and typically had a better level of intensity than nearly any regular season MLS game. That aside, for a New England Revolution fan, it offered what MLS could not… a trophy.

If the competition is to disappear, it is one less vehicle available to attract Hispanic (and in particular Mexican) fan appreciation and support.   While it can be argued how much resonance the SuperLiga competition had with your average Mexican soccer fan, it did at least offer some news coverage and attention in that target market.

One positive of a potential demise to SuperLiga is certainly the hope that the fixture congestion that haunts most MLS seasons will be somewhat alleviated.  However, if that isn’t priority number one, perhaps we will see MLS more seriously consider accepting the open invite from CONMEBOL to participate in the Copa Libertadores.

Presuming MLS clubs can hold their own in South America, which would take some assistance from the schedule and the now slightly larger rosters, the competition would improve our teams and add some credibility to the level of play in MLS.  Also, South American clubs, like Argentina’s storied Boca Juniors, are at least feigning interest in MLS, so building on that interest might provide some significant value for the league.  

Long and expensive flights, calendar issues and myriad other logistical and cost concerns might prevent this from becoming a reality.    While still an unlikely possibility at best right now, it sure is a fun prospect to think about as the league matures.

Closer to home, there are some positive steps in MLS to add logical connections to Mexican brands, demonstrated by the addition of Corona Extra as a new major sponsor of Chivas USA and Bimbo Bakeries USA (a subsidiary of the huge Grupo Bimbo) as sponsor of the Philadelphia Union.  Admittedly, Corona is the more well-known brand for most Americans, and while having “Bimbo” emblazoned on the chest of a soccer player might drive more confused smirks than anything else, the Union join four major regional clubs that are already sponsored by Grupo Bimbo: Mexico’s America, Chivas de Guadalajara and Monterrey and Costa Rica’s Deportiva Saprissa.   That’s not bad company, and the logo will look rather familiar to those teams’ US based fans, perhaps lending a sense of credibility in their eyes.

Still, there may be no better way to attract a certain demographic fan base than to have players on the field that they relate to.   If this is considered a marketing “must have” (the “Product P” in the “Four Ps” of Marketing) perhaps the new CMO needs to convince the MLS brass that players from certain countries that offer a “needed marketing demographic pull” could have a reduced hit on a team’s salary cap.

If research shows that, across the board, Mexican fans are the greatest untapped potential Hispanic audience in every MLS city, the league could suggest that moving forward any Mexican player (however they choose to define this, National Team capped?) salary only hits the salary cap at 80% of its total.

The league could also pick any geographic region to suit the local population.  This discussion started about the Hispanic population, so perhaps it is Salvadoran in D.C., Colombian in NYC and Brazilian in New England.  (Of course, I have done no research whatsoever on this, so that’s just fodder for discussion.)   There would likely have to be changes in the salary reduction that somehow reflects the varying ability to find players that would fit in MLS from a skill and expense perspective and could vary by team.

Of course, outside of the goal to attract Hispanic fans, this could be taken further… say Polish players in Chicago?  And if the league can play with the percentage discount based on what it decides is a likely return in terms of marketing.

Clubs deciding that they don’t want their choices limited can continue business as usual, but I’m sure there are a few hidden gems in every country that MLS could conceivably see marketing, and presumptively on-field, value in.

Maybe this is too centrally managed for even a single entity MLS, but it sure would be interesting – even if a short-lived strategy to ensure we are not overlooking the vast talent pool that could attract Hispanic fans to MLS. 

I would just like to think of it as a coupon program to go shopping south of the border, and add some “sabor latino” to our soup.   Speaking of which, maybe Goya should be our next target sponsor.