San Antonio Embraces Hockey, Latino Culture

What: The American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage held the first two of five Hispanic-themed nights in which they become Los Chimuelos de San Antonio.
Why it matters: Connecting with the large Latino population in San Antonio is essential for a team whose sport isn't traditionally connected with this base.

In reality, hockey and Latino culture have a long way to go, and may be the NHL’s (@NHL) biggest challenge in growing in North America. Select teams like the Las Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights ) have found ways to embrace and thrive with the Latino community, but even in large areas like New York, with three NHL teams, the growth in the Latino community is not robust.

But leave it to a minor league team with a large Latino population to find a way to cut through the clutter.

The AHL’s (@TheAHLSan Antonio Rampage (@sarampageused the Día de los Muertos celebration to turn into Los Chimuelos de San Antonio for their games on Oct. 26 against the San Jose Barracuda and last Friday, Nov. 23 vs. the Texas Stars at the AT&T Center. Pronounced chee-mueh-lohs, the nickname is Spanish for a toothless man and a nod to the many hockey players who flash incomplete smiles. The team will take on the name and theme for three additional games this year, each falling on the last Friday of the months of December, January and March.

That’s who we are, so it’s vital that we represent who our city is and the cultural values that we represent.

For the inaugural Chimuelos contest, the arena began with a celebration that included a mariachi band, folklorico dancers, face painters, photo-ops and even a Día de los Muertos altar where fans were able to bring photos in memory of their loved ones. In each of the Chimuelos contests, players wear special jerseys and the goalies’ masks are painted as sugar skulls.

The team's social media gets into the act as well, keeping the Chimuelos theme in team updates and game recaps. Feedback from fans has been tremendous—some even preferring the name over "Rampage."

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Outside of the arena, there are food trucks from Mexican and Latin American culture but perhaps most notably, at the first game, renowned Mexican-American chef and San Antonian Johnny Hernandez served signature tacos and quesadillas from his restaurant La Gloria inside the arena. There is even a line of Chimuelos-themed merchandise available in the team store and online.

“It was a lot of brainstorming, combined with focus groups and bringing in a lot people, internally and externally, from the Hispanic and Latino community in San Antonio,” said Team Business Operations Ryan Snider.

“Nearly 64% of the population here identifies itself as Hispanic so from a business standpoint it’s obviously important, but really it’s about connecting culturally with our city,” says Snider. “That’s who we are, so it’s vital that we represent who our city is and the cultural values that we represent.

Great effort by the AHL club; NHL take notice.

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Jerry Milani @gbpackjerry

Jerry Milani is a freelance writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 25 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and now is the PR manager for Wizard World, which runs pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America. Milani is also the play-by-play announcer for Caldwell University football and basketball broadcasts. He is a proud graduate of Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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