Chivas USA needs to connect with fans

first_imgChivas USA is one of the best teams in MLS, playing attractive and effective soccer in what is arguably the nation’s best soccer specific stadium. The young team boasts some of American soccer’s most notable rising stars, including goalkeeper Brad Guzan, U.S. international defender Jonathan Bornstein and Maykel Galindo, one of MLS’ top scorers. The franchise is a spinoff of Mexico’s most beloved club team, CD Guadalajara, with a massive potential fan base in a nation where Latinos represent the fastest-growing ethnic group. Yet despite ticket prices that start at just $14, Chivas USA elicits little passion beyond a small cadre of hard-core fans. Hunter, who has received an ownership interest in the club, is the newly hired president and CEO. He will attempt to succeed where predecessor Javier Leon failed and connect with Mexican-American and general soccer fans alike. “Good marketing transcends all languages and cultures,” Hunter said. “We’ve got to be people’s team of choice.” Hunter is no soccer neophyte. A member of the MLS board of directors, he helped formulate the designated player rule that brought the likes of Beckham and Blanco to MLS. He is also the chair of the MLS Business Development Committee, which forged initiatives to allow corporate sponsorship on team jerseys and the guaranteed airing of every MLS game on local television. But it’s his track record of selling tickets and marketing franchises that most attracts Chivas USA. During Hunter’s six years as president of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, Arizona became an unlikely hockey hotbed with the team selling 94 percent of its seats during its first four seasons. Before that he was with the Colorado Avalanche, a team that was among the NHL’s top 10 worldwide in apparel sales and sold 12,000 season tickets in fewer than six weeks. Hunter knows how to sell tickets, teams and sports. Now he must sell Chivas USA, a team few care about in a fringe sport fighting for visibility in a crowded marketplace. “We want to win and we want to sell tickets,” he said. “If we do that, everything else will fall into place.” He plans to double Chivas USA’s sales staff to about 20 account executives. He will aim for group sales – a grass roots strategy that has worked for AEG – to introduce church and community groups and AYSO teams to the franchise. And he will boost the club’s largely moribund advertising and marketing efforts to get Chivas USA on soccer fans’ radar screen. It is, he concedes, an uphill battle. Instead of extending a valuable brand, Chivas USA has managed to dilute it. An iconic trademark, invested with meaning and passion to millions, today means virtually nothing to almost everyone. In its first year, Chivas USA sought to replicate its mother club’s success – CD Guadalajara is beloved for its policy of playing only Mexicans – by importing Mexicans en masse. But Chivas USA failed to understand that second-rate Mexicans who couldn’t make it at home were unlikely to succeed in the increasingly competitive MLS. The result was a pitiful 4-22-6 record in its debut season that made the team the laughingstock of MLS. In 2006, Chivas USA reversed course, focused on better players rather than Mexican players and improved to 10-9-13 under respected coach Bob Bradley. This year, under new coach Preki, the team has achieved even greater on-field success. But the decision to cut costs and dump popular and expensive – if low-achieving – players such as Paco Palencia has contributed to the franchise’s failure to capture fans’ imagination. Hunter plans to loosen the purse strings and perhaps sign a big-name star as a designated player as soon as next season. Whether that’s a star familiar to its target audience that follows the Mexican league or someone like the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan – who could make a good team better – and speaks Spanish too, remains to be seen. No team is better positioned to exploit the nation’s changing demographics, in the sport most likely to benefit from the growth in the Latino population. But after marketing missteps to a demanding futbol-savvy audience, Chivas USA can ill afford more mistakes. “These are very knowledgeable fans,” Hunter said. “It’s time for us to go back out and convince them to give us a try again.” Or Chivas USA may not have another chance. local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The 3-year-old team averages crowds of roughly 12,000, the second lowest attendance in the league. Chivas USA has no recognizable names in an era when the cachet of star power on the level of a David Beckham or a Cuauhtemoc Blanco is becoming increasingly apparent. And Chivas USA games provoke little publicity, no buzz and few celebrity fans to distinguish it from intrastadium rivals the Galaxy. The Goats are the Clippers of MLS. Into this environment has stepped Shawn Hunter, 44, who for the last five years has directed the sports empire of Galaxy and Home Depot Center owner Anschutz Entertainment Group, overseeing its events and 11 teams worldwide. last_img read more