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David Goldstein @dmgold24

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What: Both Gerard Piqué and Alex Rodriguez have been in the news lately for bold and successful business ventures.
Why it matters: These athletes are paving the way for other Latin and Hispanic athletes to recognize that they too can find financial success outside of their sport both during and after their playing days.

Kobe Bryant made headlines recently for his Oscar-winning documentary Dear Basketball, and he has since been lauded as the next great athlete to succeed in business ventures beyond their own sport. Kobe is following the trail blazed by fellow basketball stars Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in this regard, but it should be highlighted that two Hispanic and Latin superstars have been making entrepreneurial headlines of their own: Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) and Alex Rodríguez (@AROD).

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Piqué is showing that Hispanic athletes can also join the movement of athletes looking to become financial powerhouses.

Gerard Piqué: Soccer Star and Tennis Entrepreneur

Gerard Pique
Gerard Piqué: the world’s best defender and a leading entrepreneur (credit: TSM Plug)

Gerard Piqué is currently working on his master’s in business at Harvard University while also leading the charge to create the World Cup of Tennis, which will fill the hole that the Davis Cup leaves behind. Piqué is also a leader, writer, and ambassador of The Players’ Tribune Global (@PlayersTribune) initiative and has multiple other investments and business ventures. Apart from these impressive initiatives, he’s taking FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) on the path towards winning an impressive double of LaLiga and Copa del Rey championships. The usual path for athletes’ financial success off the field has usually been to develop their brand and social media appeal as much as possible and then lock up endorsement deals that net them revenue for appearing in commercials. Though Piqué strikes these types of partnerships as well, he is bucking convention by seeking unique opportunities in the market to grow different businesses. This type of entrepreneurship is more associated with someone who has been trained in finance all their life, but Piqué is showing that Hispanic athletes can also join the movement of athletes looking to become financial powerhouses.

Rodríguez has piggybacked off of his successful investment firm A-Rod Corp to create space for himself on a channel that usually shows coverage of the New York Stock Exchange.

Alex Rodríguez: A New Type of Television Personality

Alex Rodríguez has become a business mogul and has turned his financial prowess into his own CNBC show (credit: John Anderson, The Austin Chronicle)

Another figure making the most of his business instincts and intellect is Alex Rodriguez. He not only has garnered rave reviews as a host on MLB on Fox, but he is also the star and host of a new show on CNBC called Back in The Game. The premise of this show is that Rodríguez helps former athletes regain a hold on their finances. His MLB on Fox position, in which he offers truly insightful commentary and meshes well with his high-profile co-stars, is more in line with jobs typically associated with former athletes: broadcasting, coaching, etc. The CNBC show, though, is a new example for retired athletes, particularly those who are Latino, to follow. Rodríguez has piggybacked off of his successful investment firm A-ROD CORP (@_ARodCorp) to create space for himself on a channel that usually shows coverage of the New York Stock Exchange. Rodríguez has used the money he earned from his mega-contract with the Yankees not only to invest in fruitful ventures, but he is showing athletes, regardless of background, that they can take an active, responsible role in their financial success.

When a Latin or Hispanic athlete joins the ranks of the Billionaire Athletes Club, they will deserve much of the credit.

Inspiration for Other Latin and Hispanic Athletes

The biggest impact of athletes such as Piqué and Rodríguez will likely be seen years down the line. There will be a kid out there, though, in Barcelona, Miami, or elsewhere who will look at their examples and be inspired to not just work hard on their game, but also cultivate their mind and dream bigger than just ball. Motivation does not have to come from one type of source, but there is something to be said for being able to look up to someone out in the world who looks like you, sounds like you, and is breaking barriers that you did not know were possible. Whether it is through their own ventures or the inspiration the path they carved for others, when a Latin or Hispanic athlete joins the ranks of the Billionaire Athletes Club, they will deserve much of the credit.

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Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

What: We talked to Jason Howarth Panini America’s VP of Marketing about the 2018 World Cup sticker book and app.
Why it matters: Panini has a proud tradition in the Latin and Hispanic market and is taking an innovative approach to integrating physical and digital products. Howarth will be speaking at our upcoming Portada Los Angeles on May 10 (Loews Santa Monica Hotel).

For many across the United States and countries across the globe, the onset of FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) fever every four years occurs months before the tournament begins. The event that marks this excitement is the release of Panini’s World Cup sticker book. Since the book’s inception in 1970, completing the book with each player’s sticker has become an obsession, with friends spending hours working on deals to help fill out their collection. The release of the 2018 edition is just one reason why there is buzz around Panini, as their trading card business, both physical and digital, has seen dramatic growth as of late. We had the opportunity to speak with Jason Howarth, VP, Marketing at Panini America (@sportsmktgguy) about the company’s most recent developments and where it is looking to go in the future.

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The Excitement Surrounding the Sticker Collection is Multi-Generational

Portada: What does your market in the United States typically look like demographically? Are there specific strategies in this 2018 World Cup Sticker cycle to engage with the Hispanic community?

NBA legend Kobe Bryant showing off his Leo Messi Panini World Cup sticker (courtesy: Panini America)

Jason Howarth: “The FIFA World Cup sticker collection and the World Cup come every four years, so there’s this anticipation for it. That exists in the US marketplace and all over the world. The demographics might be different based on each country. One of the other things that we have in the US marketplace, where we’re very fortunate, is we have a diverse population that follows multiple teams in multiple countries as opposed to maybe another country that might not qualify for the World Cup, and their interest might be somewhat diminished…

There’s been an evolution. 2014 was really eye-opening. You have the Colombian president getting out of his motorcade in the middle of an election to be part of a Panini (@PaniniAmerica) swap day. That’s how ingrained in the culture it is. That’s an awesome product to have, and we’re fortunate to have had that product since 1970. The audience is really diverse. You’ve got kids that collect it; in the US marketplace, it’s a multi-generational collection. There are grandparents who collect this album every time it comes out, and they do it with their grandkids. They do it because they did it when they were kids. There’s that excitement and that energy around it.”

Portada: Given the rise of social media and influencer-marketing, have you developed any new strategies during the last two World Cup cycles to market to the younger demographic?

J.H.: “Even in just the last four years, our conversation and how we plan on executing is very different and very dynamic. There are some tried and true things: there is nothing that is ever going to trump getting the product into the hands of consumers, so sampling is tried and true.

There are some really strong influencers that love soccer, that love the Panini sticker album, so there’s a natural fit there. It doesn’t feel like it’s forced; it feels authentic.

The role that digital plays, though, in terms of how you drive excitement, energy, and integration, was a thing that wasn’t even as prevalent to us four years ago. It’s extremely important to us… Whether that’s campaigns via Facebook, Instagram, or other executions so to speak, integrations with partners, those are all driving great content. We’re so fortunate that we’ve got an 80-page album with 681 stickers that are all great pieces of content representing 32 countries and legends from past World Cups. There’s such a huge platform for us when you look at it from a social perspective. We just did our first online unboxing video for FIFA World Cup stickers and put that on YouTube, put it on our blog, and that was the first reveal of the product in the US marketplace. We didn’t do that in 2014. Those opportunities and incorporating social to help promote and highlight our content and our product is really compelling to us.

Certainly, if you look at the impact of influencers and the popularity that those guys have, there are some really strong influencers that love soccer, that love the Panini sticker album, so there’s a natural fit there. It doesn’t feel like it’s forced; it feels authentic. I feel like that’s definitely something that you’ll see here as we move into the World Cup.”

The Relationship with Players Allows for Organic Engagement

Portada: We noticed that you had a VIP lounge at the NBA All-Star game. Is trying to get your product in marquee events becoming more part of your overall marketing strategy? Are you realizing that in today’s day and age, athletes from different sports are able to market athletic events at a higher level?

J.H.: “The level of relationship that we have with players is probably very different than a lot of other partners. For us, on the trading card side of our business  —in the US marketplace, that’s what drives Panini America— we have deals with a lot of these players to sign trading cards for us… There’s nothing more authentic than a guy holding his own card or his teammate’s card.

Former US Men’s National Team star Cobi Jones proudly holding up his old Panini sticker (courtesy: Panini America)

Even when we activate at the NBA All-Star Game, for example, there’s a mix between partners there and players getting the opportunity to decompress and understand who we are as a brand beyond just sitting there signing cards for us all the time. I remember we did an event in 2014 with Cobi Jones (@cobijones), and we pulled out some of his previous World Cup stickers. He got the biggest kick out of it and was making fun of himself from the previous World Cups thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe that that was me!” It’s so authentic to these players that there’s a natural feeling to it

Soccer is a global sport, but it’s not the only sport that exists in the US marketplace: there’s football players, basketball players, baseball players, NASCAR drivers. A good portion of them have an affinity for the game of soccer and are excited by the tournament. If there’s an opportunity to utilize those guys to create an organic, authentic feel to be engaged with our product, we’re going to do it.”

Hispanics and Young People: Essential Audiences of Panini

Portada: Do you try to tailor content specifically to the Latin and Hispanic market in any way? Are you trying to find particular athletes who will resonate with that demographic? Do you try to do promotions in Spanish? Or, is it just part of a greater overall strategy?

J.H.: “It’s part of a greater overall strategy, though we do place emphasis on the Hispanic market when it comes to World Cup. The partners that we’ll be leveraging in this World Cup are definitely Hispanic-centric. It’s an important market for us. We’ve got a multi-lingual product: our FIFA World Cup sticker collection is featured in six languages. Thankfully for us, the product is also very visual in terms of the players, so that makes our lives easier in terms of pushing the product and promoting the product… It’s a multi-generational collection for those who grew up with it. For the Anglo-American who has just started to follow soccer since the 1994 World Cup, that’s a process that’s growing.”

 There are grandparents who collect this album every time it comes out, and they do it with their grandkids. They do it because they did it when they were kids.

Portada: Another huge part of your business is the digital trading card game. For someone who may be completely foreign to it, why is it appealing to the younger demographic? How does it differ from trading cards, and why is it doing so well?

J.H.: “Some of it is that it replicates the physical experience to a certain extent. We’ve always said at Panini that we want to cater to however the collector wants to collect, whether that’s collecting digital trading cards on their phone; whether that’s collecting the physical product itself… We want to create that experience no matter how they collect, and that’s how digital trading cards came into play for us.

Win digital trading cards against competitors across the globe in Panini’s FIFA World Cup app’s PackBattle (courtesy: Panini America)

It delivers another element of stickiness within the app. When you’re a kid and playing with your trading cards, you’re viewing them as a piece of entertainment, not just a commodity that you could sell on the secondary market. In the scenario where we’ve got our NFL Blitz app and our NBA Dunk app, and we actually just launched our FIFA World Cup trading app… You can trade around the globe with fans all over the place that have the same interest in the sport that you do.

We have a thing in our NFL Blitz app, in our Dunk app, and in our FIFA app called PackBattle. There’s a little bit of a strategy involved there in terms of using statistics or power performance numbers of the player. The winner gets to keep the card…. It’s a best out of five, and it’s awesome. It’s an easy, quick, fun game. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve played the Pack Battle over this past weekend on FIFA: it’s ridiculous. It’s always, ‘One more. Just one more.’

I think the other thing that’s really cool, as we’re on the subject of the FIFA World Cup app… on the back of that sticker back there’s a code, and you download the app, and you can go to paninipromocode.com, and you can enter in that code, and you get a special, free digital pack to start collecting the digital piece of it.”

Portada: Is there a unique opportunity for you as a business to track consumer data in the digital game through the app? Is that one of your focuses?

J.H.: “Our focus more than anything is just making sure that we’re always where the collector is and where they want to collect. Obviously, there are interactions that we can have with the consumer from a one-to-one perspective that we don’t always get in the physical space… whether it’s rewarding them with special packs or coins in the app, it’s really compelling.”

Portada: Has the Latin American market responded to the digital trading card game that differs from other demographics? Are they just as crazy about it as the hard copy game?

J.H.: “I think it’s still too early to tell on the FIFA World Cup app, because we launched it less than a week ago. Collectors are collectors are collectors… It’s truly a global app for us because of the affinity for the product and how our physical collection is distributed in over 100 countries. There’s going to be quite an audience there as compared to some that are more targeted to certain regions and certain markets.”

Portada: Beyond the obvious answer, sales, what are your key performance indicators for the World Cup and for your company overall? Are there new goals such as growth in certain markets or social media views that are new KPI’s for the upcoming World Cup?

J.H.: “Driving the number of packets that are in the market from a global perspective is huge. In the US market, we’ve continued to see this growth and progression for the FIFA World Cup sticker collection every four years and the excitement for the growth of soccer… There are lots of kids walking around in Messi jerseys, Ronaldo jerseys, and Neymar jerseys in the US that probably wouldn’t support any of those teams if it weren’t for those players. So, as that continues to evolve and grow, that’s a KPI for the US marketplace: seeing how far that growth comes in the US marketplace compared to 2014.

US Men’s National Team star has a unique sponsorship with Panini (courtesy: Panini America)

We also have some things that are a disadvantage. Does the US team [not qualifying for the World Cup] have an impact on us this year? To be honest, none of us really know that. We don’t anticipate that it will. We wish that they were there because that would help amplify and generate another level of excitement in the US marketplace. Christian Pulisic (@cpulisic_10) is one of our exclusive athletes. He’s the first soccer player we’ve signed as an exclusive athlete. He’s a great kid and an amazing, energetic player. If he was on the World Cup stage this year, what would that do for him and US Soccer? We’ll have to wait and see on that.”

Keeping an Eye on the Future

Portada: Where do you think the trading card business will be in 5-10 years? Are there technological changes such as Voice, AR, VR, or thing that you may know of that will be the biggest driver of change coming up? Or, are there other factors that will change the business moving forward?

Neymar’s Panini digital trading card (courtesy: Panini America)

J.H.: “I think physical is huge. It’s not going to go away five years from now, ten years from now. We continue to see phenomenal growth on the physical side of the business, especially with our core products. We’re in the second year with the NFL and the NFLPA as an exclusive trading card partner. We’ve had great growth this past year… The NBA marketplace in the trading card space from a physical perspective has grown exponentially since we became an exclusive partner there. Our first year was 2009, and that’s grown from a global perspective. All of those things are really exciting to us.

I mentioned before, how do we make it so we continue to create a tradition of collecting and being where consumers want to collect, whether that’s physical or digital. I can’t go into too much detail about where I can see technological changes going, but I can tell you that there will be. I don’t think that it replaces one way of collecting over another. If anything else, maybe it creates a new level or a new generation of collectors and consumers because it’s a different way to collect. We’re on a great little ride here right now in terms of the excitement in the marketplace for trading cards, both physical and digital… Any opportunity we have to incorporate new tech and new experience, we’re going to try to make it work.”

Portada: Are there any other points you would like to cover?

J.H.: “As you mentioned, the heritage and tradition with the physical collection is huge. The new exciting component that we’re bringing to it this year is marriage between the physical and digital, where you’re getting the sticker in your hand and then you’re actually getting a free digital pack when you download the Panini FIFA World Cup app. That’s probably the single biggest difference from where we’ve come from 1970 to 2018, and we’re really excited to see how that plays out.”

Panini’s unique approach to promoting physical and digital products harmoniously is a strategy that should be taken note of across industries. Howarth is right that there are some products that will always carry value in the physical space, but in today’s more technologically-centric world, there are creative ways to still tailor these products towards younger demographics that spend a tremendous amount of time on mobile devices. This foresight on behalf of Panini should allow the company to have success with its 2018 FIFA World Cup initiatives, but this mindset will also allow the tradition of young and old to collect together to continue for future generations in the Latin market and beyond.

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What: We talked to Las Vegas Lights FC owner Brett Lashbrook about his new USL team.
Why it matters: Lashbrook has a bold vision for owning a team in a city with a strong Latin presence.

Brett Lashbrook, Owner & CEO of Las Vegas Lights FC (credit: Las Vegas Lights FC via USL)

In February, we had the opportunity to speak with several executives from Las Vegas Lights FC (@lvlightsfc@lvlightsfc_es), the newest team in the United States 2nd division of professional soccer, USL (@USL). For this follow-up interview, we had the opportunity to speak with the man behind this ambitious project: Brett Lashbrook. Brett has worked in the soccer world for over twenty years at both the league and team levels, and he believes that his grasp on the conscience of soccer in this country and his appreciation for Latino passion for the game will guide his club to a fruitful first season. The team opened up its inaugural USL campaign with a 3-2 road victory this weekend, and it will have its first regular season home game at Cashman Field this Saturday against budding rival Reno 1868 FC. The interview below shows that Lashbrook’s ambitions extend far beyond the playing field, and their success will hinge in large part on the club’s ability to tap into the Latin and Hispanic market.

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I believe when I say I want our games to be a slice of Mexico City, a slice of Buenos Aires, a slice of Madrid, and I mean that… what’s our special sauce? Let the fans speak, let them sing, dance, cheer, bring smoke, bring drums, bring tables, bring trumpets: let them be the show.

Portada: Why a USL team? Why a USL team in Las Vegas?

Brett Lashbrook (Owner & CEO) : “One, the financial hurdles to launch a Major League Soccer team… starts at a half billion dollar investment: it’s a testament to the growth of the game that that’s the financial parameters of starting an MLS team…

Las Vegas (@CityOfLasvegas) is not only the second largest market in the world without a professional soccer team; we have a… 10,000 seat stadium in downtown Las Vegas that’s near bars, restaurants, casinos, nightlife, and music. It’s the ideal scenario. If you look at Google Maps at Cashman Field, it is the only baseball stadium in the world that is a square. It’s a perfect square! I don’t know what they were thinking, but it’s absolutely perfect for soccer.

A young family supporting their new local soccer team, Las Vegas Lights FC (credit: LVSportsBiz.com)

We know what the real Las Vegas is. We don’t go out to the Strip every night and drink US $15 beers. That’s not what we are. This has to be one hundred percent a local play. This is not for tourists. Now,I think that we can do a lot of things sports-related with some other events, but the core is “for locals, by locals, of locals.” Then, when you look at Las Vegas, what are we?… I now have the guts to say publicly, “You’re right. A 0-0 game can be exciting, but it’s usually not.” People want to see goals. People want to see attacking soccer. People want to see go, go, go. When you think of Las Vegas, you think of that flash, glitz, and sizzle…

I want to be clear: this is not a Hispanic play: we think there’s a market opportunity. There’s not enough Mexican influence in American soccer… there aren’t Mexican coaches at the professional level. None in USL, one in MLS. You just start to think this doesn’t make sense. We have this huge, diverse player population, but we’re not seeing it in the coaching, and we’re not always seeing that in the stands.

I believe when I say I want our games to be a slice of Mexico City, a slice of Buenos Aires, a slice of Madrid, and I mean that. We don’t have a better jumbo Tron… We don’t have a US $500 million arena. So, what’s our special sauce? Let the fans speak, let them sing, dance, cheer, bring smoke, bring drums, bring tables, bring trumpets: let them be the show. All that I’ll say is that you have to do it in an authentic manner: letting the people speak, letting the people express themselves, letting the true traditions from the grassroots-and-up level create something really cool.”

Portada: As you said, you want it to be organic, and you want to expand upon some of the trends and patterns in viewing experiences that have been going on in grassroots soccer. Have you spent yourself a good amount of time going to youth soccer games around Las Vegas and other semi-professional or college games and seeing what the environment is like there as a basis for what you think it could be like for Lights FC?

B.L.: “The short answer is yes, but I was seeing the exact same things when I was CEO in Orlando or when I was special advisor to the commissioner of Major League Soccer in these communities. We are a soccer nation; it’s not like ten years ago… One of the biggest surprises of this project is how little I’ve had to explain to people what we’re doing. This sport has taken off so much… it’s almost a decade now that MLS is outdrawing on a per-game basis the NBA and the NHL. It’s been the number one participation sport for 30 years, the old cliché. Those kids now have families, they now run businesses… they’ve grown up with the sport.

 I’m incredibly bullish about the opportunity for soccer’s growth America, and I think USL is perfectly positioned to do that. It’s not all about money, but it’s a half a billion dollars to get into the billionaires’ game in MLS, and you have to go find land… that’s hard. Go ask the people in Cincinnati, Sacramento, in Miami, that’s hard. It’s really hard! That’s why 7 of the last 11 expansion teams have come from the 2nd division: it’s an opportunity to prove what we know is already there.”
I really think that we can build this year-round platform by using soccer as a driver for tourists as well, which fits right in with the core of what Las Vegas is.

Portada: Cashman Field is really well located, and you’re obviously making the playing surface top-notch, but how are you addressing some concerns by the previous Minor League baseball tenant?

An electric atmosphere at Cashman Field: (credit: Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal)

B.L.: “We think this is a wonderful hidden gem. It is a 10,000-seat stadium with a club level, all the locker rooms, all the storage, it is a comprehensive stadium. Is it old? Yeah, but I think soccer can breathe new life into it… On that grass, we have to continue to switch between soccer and baseball because we’re sharing for one year with baseball, and that’s a real cost. You could just go play the game in the outfield… but it’s not a good, authentic fan experience. At our cost, you only get one chance to make a first impression.”

Portada: At some point, do you have plans to host other events there and generate revenue through those means?

B.L.: “One hundred percent. We are in Las Vegas… Lights FC is a hyper local project. But, now that we have a 10,000-seat stadium, that is expandable up to 50,000 seats… we think we can create a lot of really cool new events. The one we are most focused on now is Major League Soccer Spring Training. My goal is to start with three teams this year, which immediately starts to grow… so that every night in downtown Las Vegas in the month of February there’s another Major League Soccer game going on… The other ones where I think there’s a real opportunity… is in the summer: getting the Mexican club teams to come here during their preseason in the month of July.

All these European teams, all these EPL teams, for instance, want to come to America. This is the last frontier, they’re going to brand themselves… Look at some of those second and lower tier teams in the Premier League or LaLiga, etc.; look at the markets that they’re playing in, because they want to come to the United States so bad…

At the base of this cake we have these 20 USL games and this community asset, etc., but now it’s February, and we’ve got Major League Soccer teams. In July, we’ve got international teams from Mexico. December and January, we’ve got German teams. I really think that we can build this year-round platform by using soccer as a driver for tourists as well, which fits right in with the core of what Las Vegas is.”

[Chelís] had that great quote at his press conference, “I want players that smell like Las Vegas.” He gets it. I have been incredibly pleased with Chelís, and I think he’s the perfect leader for this project.

Portada:  There’s a lot of excitement around Chelís. As you said, at least at first, your priority is putting on a highly entertaining product with the style matching the city. Sure, you want results, but entertainment comes first. How did those conversations go with Chelís when you were hiring him, and do you think he’ll have a different kind of leash in terms of what managers usually have in terms of results?

Las Vegas Lights FC Manager Chelís yells alongside fans after being ejected (credit: Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal)

B.L.: “The first answer has a great story. I met Chelís late in the process. I had gone through a lot of interviews, and I was telling people what I was trying to do. You could tell within 30 seconds with some of these guys: ‘Nope. No way. Not going to do it. That’s not the way it’s played. I like goals too, but you’ve got to have five defenders.’ You just knew they weren’t going to be the right fit for Las Vegas.

My first interview with Chelís was late in the process and was via Skype call… He said, “You know, this is very risky. Spectacular soccer is not easy to play. To be spectacular is very risky.” I told him I understand but we’re committed to doing this, to finding a leader who can do this. He leaps towards the Skype camera and says, ‘I love you. I’ve been waiting for you my whole life. Let’s do it.’

The only thing from the soccer thing that I said I’d get involved in is that I said I wanted to be the first professional team in American history to guarantee at all times, every year, at least one local kid. It’s not a charity case: there are 2.2 million people here… I told Chelís I needed one. Chelís said, ‘Why only one? Can I have two? Three? I love this!’ And then he had that great quote at his press conference, ‘I want players that smell like Las Vegas.’ He gets it. I have been incredibly pleased with Chelís, and I think he’s the perfect leader for this project.”

Portada: You said that the club’s mission is to break the traditional American sports model. You’ve mentioned some already, but are there are other ways that you think your club is doing things drastically different than most American teams?

B.L.: “We let the fans pick our name. We let the fans help design our logo. We are going to unveil the most fashion forward jersey you have ever seen. There’s everything about Chelís: smoking on the sidelines and being who he is. It’s having this Las Vegas swagger about us and not being afraid of where we’re from.

We’re going to be the first professional sports team in the United States to fully embrace sports gambling… It is regulated by great institutions here in Nevada, and we would never do anything to jeopardize the integrity of the game, but the reality is that people enjoy betting on sports… and we are going to be the first team that actually steps forward and says we have a betting partner… All these other teams can’t do it: we’re going to fully embrace it…

No other team has guaranteed a local player a roster spot. I was just speaking to the Latin Chamber of Commerce (@lvlcc). I told them about Chelís, and they said, “Oh, that’s nice.”  When you talk about Julian Portugal (@portujulian) from North Las Vegas who went to UNLV, and he’s on the team, I get a round of applause! The reaction to the local player has been better than I ever expected.”

I think it’s intangible. In one year, when people talk about Las Vegas sports, do they think of us the same as the Golden Knights and the Raiders? We want to become part of this community from Day One.

Portada: We asked this question to your fellow executives as well: what would have to happen to call Las Vegas Lights FC a success in Year One?

Las Vegas Lights FC scores against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (credit: Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal)

B.L.: “That’s a good question. I think it’s an intangible. In one year, when people talk about Las Vegas sports, do they think of us the same as the Golden Knights and the Raiders? We want to become part of this community from Day One. We think we have the sport to do it. We think we have the price point to do it. We think we have the stadium to do it. We think we have the market demographics from being young and diverse. That’s what I’ll be measuring. It manifests itself in many different ways. Some of that is butts in seats, but, also, it’s just that feel. Do we see this momentum building? Do we know we’re tapping into this Las Vegas pride?  When you have those intangibles, good things are going to happen.

People ask me a lot of times, ‘What’s the future? What’s the next big thing in soccer’” I don’t know the answer to any of that, but I do know that all roads start with a successful 2018 season at the USL level… We need to come out of the gate and prove what we already know: we are a soccer city… We can do this, we deserve this, and as long we continue to feel that in the community, we’ll have success in Year One.”

Portada: Is there anything else you would like to add?

B.L.: “The only other thing that I would add is soccer is fun. Las Vegas is fun. We’re the entertainment capital of the world… I say this with a smile on my face: our jersey has to be fun. We are not afraid, we are not embarrassed, and we will not shy away from being from Las Vegas. We love Las Vegas, this is a town we call home, and we embrace Las Vegas fully.”

Brett Lashbrook could be the new face of soccer ownership in America: young, extremely energetic, opportunistic, creative, and keenly aware of under-appreciated areas in the US marketplace. It will be interesting to see whether or not he and his club will be strategic and patient enough to properly execute on enough of their plans to carve out a lasting space for themselves in the Las Vegas and national landscapes. There is a general sense in US soccer, though, that it is time to take the next step in the evolution of the game here in this country; Brett’s fearless, unabashed commitment to providing a fan-friendly experience that is infused with Las Vegas’s identity could be a wake-up call for how soccer ownership and marketing should be viewed moving forward. Lashbrook and Las Vegas Lights FC is a story worth following throughout 2018 and beyond.

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Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

What: The NASL (North American Soccer League), US Soccer’s third division, has canceled the 2018 season.
Why it matters: The league has several teams with strong Latin fan bases that are now in jeopardy but could also transition to more MLS and USL support.

NASL’s Future Hanging in the Balance as Matches Get Cancelled

NASL players in action (credit: NASL – Indy Eleven)

The NASL (@NASL) has cancelled all of its matches for the 2018 season, meaning that unless its current lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (@ussoccer) suddenly swings in the league’s favor, its future is very much in question. This decision traces back to USSF’s refusal to grant the NASL Division 2 status, namely because it does not have enough teams and does not span enough the country. Now that a U.S. federal court has rejected the NASL’s appeal for an injunction, the NASL will shift its legal focus to prosecuting individual members of the USSF board while trying to create a plan to salvage the 2019 season. Though MLS (@MLS) and USL (@USL) are still growing, this development signifies a fissure in the US soccer landscape.

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Now, MLS Miami would be wise to take advantage of the NASL’s issues and learn from Miami FC in order to start their initial campaign on the right foot.

NASL’s Unique Latin Connection

Pelé lining up for the New York Cosmos (credit: The Football Times)

Though the NASL is not the US’s premier soccer competition, and the nation’s other leagues have significant Latin following, the league does have a unique place in relation to the LatinAmerican market. Last year’s champions, the San Francisco Deltas, have folded, meaning that there is now a void in one of California’s most important cities. Joining the National Premier Soccer League (@NPSLSoccer), the unofficial 4th division of US Soccer, are Miami FC (@The MiamiFC), who made a surprising run to the quarterfinals in the US Open Cup, and The New York Cosmos (@NYCosmos), who gained world renown when Pelé played for the team’s previous iteration in the 1970s. Lastly, Puerto Rico FC, whose owner is Oklahoma City Thunder star Carmelo Anthony, was already in peril after their stadium was damaged by Hurricane Maria. Now that the NASL is closing, one of US Soccer’s most exciting Latino-focused projects may be coming to a sudden close.

The city does not yet have a team in one of the US’s major professional sports leagues, and this clean slate could pave the way for an ambitious investment team to see opportunity in Puerto Rico down the road.

MLS Considerations

David Beckham, owner of Fútbol Miami MLS (credit: El Sol)

As David Beckham’s Fútbol Miami MLS (@futbolmiamimls)  group prepares for its new expansion team, it will have to figure out a way to go beyond appealing to just the young executive South Beach crowd and tap into the Latin American market that Miami FC has engaged with well over the past few seasons. If not, Beckham’s stadium could end up looking as empty as the Miami Marlins’s baseball park, or, even worse, his team could suffer a similar early end to the Miami Fusion. Miami FC’s own high profile owners and manager (Ricardo Silva, Paolo Maldini, and Alessandro Nesta) would have presented some real competition for Beckham’s group had it remained in a top league, as the club has built a real identity around the city’s Latin culture. Examples include allowing flares in the stands and a Spanish Twitter feed (@TheMiamiFC_es). Now, Fútbol Miami MLS would be wise to take advantage of the NASL’s issues and learn from Miami FC in order to start their initial campaign on the right foot.

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Puerto Rico FC (credit: Empire of Soccer)

The other interesting development to keep an eye on will be whether an MLS or USL team ever reaches Puerto Rico. Now that the city has had the taste of having a professional soccer club, if the club does have to start from scratch, Anthony and his ownership group may realize that enough of a market is there to warrant creating a team in one of US soccer’s more stable leagues. The city does not yet have a team in one of the US’s major professional sports leagues, and this clean slate could pave the way for an ambitious investment team to see opportunity in Puerto Rico down the road.

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What: Latino US Olympians such as Alex Ferreira and Jonathan Garcia have not had their backgrounds highlighted in media coverage of the games.
Why it matters: A major opportunity is being missed to market to the Hispanic market with these athletes during the Winter Olympic Games.

Little Promotion of USA’s Latino Olympians

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USA speed skater Jonathan Garcia (credit: Houston Style Magazine)

Though the Team USA roster for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games does not have many Latino faces, there are a handful of athletes competing for Red, White, and Blue who have Hispanic roots. These athletes include speed skater Jonathan Garcia (@jagarcia23), bobsledder Carlo Valdes (CarloValdes_USA), and freestyle skier Alex Ferreira, whose father Marcelo played for Argentina’s historic soccer club River Plate. Carlo Valdes has been interviewed about his Latino heritage and even got a shout-out from Mario Lopez wishing him good luck at the Games. Ferreira and Garcia, though, have had little to no coverage on their unique backgrounds, and all three of them could certainly be celebrated further for thriving in sports for which Latin Americans are less well-known. Other Latino athletes such as Puerto Rico’s Charles Flaherty have gotten attention throughout the country, but those representing the USA are, in fact, underrepresented.

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It is hard to imagine that many of the 69,800 followers of this account would not turn on their television to watch Ferreira, Garcia, or Valdes… and this type of oversight has been unfortunately typical throughout the Winter Olympics.

A Missed Opportunity for Olympics Engagement

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NBC Universo should have more focus on the Olympics (credit: Billboard.com)

Seeing as how the Winter Olympics have historically suffered poor engagement from the Latino community, brands are missing a tremendous chance to promote athletes who could become heroes in the eyes of at least 18% of the United States population. NBC, who holds the US television broadcasting rights for the Games, could have easily boosted its ratings within this demographic by having athletes such as Valdes, Ferreira, and Garcia invite fans to watch the Olympics in advertisements leading up to the competition. At the time of this article, the Olympics are being shown on NBC, while NBC Universo’s website does not mention the Games at all, and the only posts that the NBC Universo Instagram account has on the Olympics are to announce their start date. It is hard to imagine that many of the 69,800 followers of this account would not turn on their television to watch Ferreira, Garcia, or Valdes if their events were advertised on this feed, and this type of oversight has been unfortunately typical throughout the Winter Olympics.

it is time for brands to realize that promoting the likes of Garcia, Valdes, and Ferreira should be common practice every time the Winter Olympics comes around.

Sponsors Can Step Up as Well

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U.S. Olympian Skier Alex Ferreira (credit: Anna Stonehouse The Aspen Times)

On the other hand, brands sponsoring these athletes should also be utilizing them for marketing opportunities to a far greater extent. For example, Alex Ferreira is sponsored by Rock Star Energy, but the company does not have an Instagram post featuring him since the X Games almost a month ago. Another one of his listed sponsors, Waiakea water, does not have a post about him on their feed either. In interviews, Ferreira is an energetic, engaging character, and he is incredibly entertaining to watch as he flies through the air, twisting and turning down the half-pipe: he is the type of athlete that should be easy to market. As of now, his sponsors are missing out on easy dollars, for promoting him to any extent would be wise, but accentuating his Latino background would excite a portion of the United States market that is waiting for people like them to represent the USA in these Games. This latter point is true for sponsors of all Latinos competing in the games: these athletes are the ticket to engaging with a so far under-engaged demographic, and it is time for brands to realize that promoting the likes of Garcia, Valdes, and Ferreira should be common practice every time the Winter Olympics comes around.

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What: We talked to executives at Las Vegas Lights FC about their new USL team.
Why it matters: The Club is taking a unique approach to engage with its Latin and Hispanic local market.

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Las Vegas Lights FC Players, Including Freddy Adu, Reveal Jerseys (credit: Patrick Connolly Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Las Vegas Lights FC (@lvlightsfc) is joining USL (@USL), the United States’ 2nd division, as an expansion team in one of the country’s most attractive markets, and the club is keenly focused on utilizing its city’s vibrant, Latin-infused identity to win on the field. More importantly to them, though, they seek to tap into all that makes Las Vegas (@CityOfLasvegas) unique, including its strongly Mexican demographics, to create a fantastic experience around the game that the club hopes will quickly make Lights FC the heart and soul of downtown Las Vegas. This goal is apparent in almost every move the club has made so far. This includes, most recently, their reveal of black game jerseys streaked with the neon colors for which the city is known. Below is an exclusive interview with some of the club’s executives about their daring strategies to capture market share in the team’s first year.

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Half our staff is Hispanic. Our Head Coach is a top Hispanic coach, and more than 2/3 of our players are Hispanic. It’s an overwhelming fact that the Hispanic market has been underused.

Portada: What were the initial seeds for the idea to have a USL club in Las Vegas? Why Las Vegas?

Steve Pastorino (Vice President, Corporate Partnerships, @StevePastorino): “Why Las Vegas? We see somewhere in the order of 2.3 million full-time year-round residents in Las Vegas. The city has gone from, call it, 15% Hispanic twenty years ago to somewhere in the 35% range in terms of Hispanic population.  Also, there is a growing technology millennial set here in Las Vegas. That is triggered by companies like Zappos (@Zappos). Then there’s the incredible rich youth soccer community. We can play twelve months a year in Las Vegas, one of the foremost destinations in the West for big-time club youth soccer tournaments. Lastly, there’s a ten thousand seat downtown stadium that is sitting empty three hundred days a year… After one year of a shared venue with a minor league baseball team, we will be the primary tenant.”

Portada: It seems like a unique challenge to try to become an attraction in a major tourist city. How do you go about promoting your team as both a tourist attraction and a local team that lives and breathes the spirit of your city?

S.P.: “We’re not trying to compete against Celine Dion, Cirque Du Soleil and Caesar’s Palace, and all the things the Strip offers. We are devoting 100% of our energy to being a team for Las Vegas, for year-round residents. That’s what we go to bed thinking about. Now, we’re not naïve: soccer’s a global game… This is a huge international tourist base. We think they’re going to find us. But for now, we cannot compete with the dollars that the major casinos and major shows throw at tourism. We’re focused on the Southern Nevada soccer community. We’re actually realizing that with our regional rivalries… we’ll see more visiting team fans coming than certainly the early days of MLS when the closest team was a thousand miles away. The soccer fans will find us.

We are devoting 100% of our energy to being a team for Las Vegas.

Brett Lashbrook

Ryan Greene (Director, Communications, @ryanmgreene): “Beyond that, Brett, our owner, has a mantra which is ‘By Las Vegas, For Las Vegas, Of Las Vegas.’ We had essentially an open tryout for the team. More than 500 players showed up. We signed five players with local roots to our preseason roster. As big of a tourist city as Las Vegas is, there are more than 2 million people who do live here and call it home. This is a market that has been hungry for high-level professional sports for years. Especially with the success happening on the hockey side. You’re seeing that people will turn up and support this Chelís.” (credit: Wikimedia Commons-Tania Rego)

Carlo Castilla (Director, Corporate Partnerships): “We have the most attack-minded soccer team you’ll probably ever see in your lifetime. The challenge was to find the right coach for that. The one that was up to the challenge was Chelís (@Elchelis), who turned out to be one of the most well-regarded coaches in all of North America. [He’s] somebody that many first division teams would love to have. It’s such an important piece not only for the Hispanic community but also for the way we’re going to play. That is going to reflect the outlandish, spectacular, and entertaining nature of this place. We’re trying to build a guarantee that if we don’t score goals, you’re going to walk away with a prize.”

Portada: That’s certainly a novel idea. Did you take inspiration from anywhere else for that promotion?

S.P.: “The need to entertain is paramount here. Brett was able to say, ‘Chelís, we can’t get relegated. Let’s come out and try to win games 5-4. If we lose 5-4, the fans had a great time, and we’re still in USL next year.’”

R.G.: “We’ll really position ourselves as something unique on the playing field. This comes in addition to everything else we’re doing with the brand.”

S.P.: “One concept is there’s a car in the main foyer when you walk into the stadium. So you basically sign up on the spot. You give us your name and email address. If we don’t score tonight, we’ll pick a name out of the hat… and someone is taking back home this car. We’ve got a collection opportunity for us, and it’s a talking point. But we haven’t found a car dealer to take us up on it yet! We want to take a potentially negative experience, ‘we didn’t score,’ and turn it into a ‘you can’t believe this prize’ for one fan or all fans.

We’re still looking for a company that has an outlandish idea for what the prize will be. The San Francisco Giants have a game that’s sponsored by Virgin Airways. Every single fan in attendance that day gets a companion voucher on Virgin anywhere they fly. It’s the first game that sells out every year. We’ve spoken to a couple of airlines about a companion fare to Mexico if we don’t score sponsored by a Mexican airline, but we haven’t sold it yet.”

Portada: It seems like you’ve tapped into a potential positive of promotion-relegation that other teams haven’t yet figured out. It allows you to put on the type of entertaining product that teams that are worried about dropping off are too scared to do.

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Chelís (credit: Benjamin Hager Las Vegas Review-Journal)

S.P.: “Brett saw that there’s an utter scarcity of Spanish-speaking coaches in MLS and USL. When the players on the field are so heavily Hispanic, our countries demographics are going so heavily Hispanic. Everyone has a vision of what we’d like in the game but Latin soccer is beautiful soccer… We wanted to present soccer with flair and also maybe capitalize on the fact that a Mexican or Mexican-American Head Coach might be able to bring us players. I don’t know that Brett honestly has ever talked about promotion-relegation. It’s such a crazy hot topic, and it’s not the business model of soccer in this country. There is, [though,] a certainty that your team is going to be in the same level, win or lose… That’s a much more reliable proposition.

Portada: You now have Chelís, who has had prior success, who matches up well with the demographic of your fan base. What’s it like trying to build the persona of a rock star head coach?

S.P.: “Chelís was getting stopped at McCarren Airport when he first landed here by Mexican and Mexican-American soccer fans who recognized him. Most USL coaches could walk into our office right now and I wouldn’t recognize them. I don’t think there are that many opportunities to have star power in USL. We’ve hung our hat on the name, on the logo, and on Chelís.

It’s been very much about letting the fans have a strong voice.

We appealed to the community to name the team. We then asked the fans to help design and inspire the logo. They wanted the bright lights and the neon history of this town incorporated. So it’s been very much about letting the fans have a strong voice.”

Portada: How do you think you can continue to give fans of Las Vegas Lights FC the type of access that is unique as compared to anywhere else?

las vegas lights fcS.P.: “We announced last week the Las Vegas Lights Kick It Back Program. We said any Southern Nevada nonprofit becomes a promo code. If your organization’s community code has been entered, we’re giving five dollars back off the ticket price. United Way might sell 10,000 tickets this way. Then we’re going to donate $50,000 in a check presentation on the field at the end of the year. That’s 33% of the ticket revenue of a $15 ticket that we’re giving back to the community. This is an example of how we can rethink community relations. How can we rethink group sales to be true to the fact that we really want to be a pillar in this community,

Our local pledge that we unveiled as part of this is that we’ll always at least one homegrown, local player on the roster, and anytime, any year as long as we’re here. We’re trying to support local vendors and businesses as much as possible. This will be part of our organization: that’s who we are.”

We are fully embracing sports betting, and want to create an in-stadium, in-seat, on-your-phone experience that has never been done in this country.

Portada: I read that your organization is bilingual at almost every level. Do you plan on marketing that in any way?

S.P.: “We’re trying to make sure that every department has Spanish speakers. There are a bunch of [bill]boards out there in Spanish. We’ve got the Spanish language section on the website. There’s still more to come. We launched our Twitter platform in both English (@lvlightsfc) and Spanish (@lvlightsfc_es). I just think it’s smart business. Our first broadcaster partner was ESPN Deportes (@ESPNDeportes) to carry all the games on the radio in Spanish. In a market like this, I think it’s good business, it’s the right thing to do. It’s where this country is and where it’s going.

C.C.: “I’ll tell you that I’ve never seen anybody as committed as Steven and Brett are to the Hispanic market. Half our staff is Hispanic, our Head Coach is a top Hispanic coach, and more than 2/3 of our players are Hispanic. It’s an overwhelming fact that the Hispanic market has been underused.

Portada: Why is the Zappos partnership such a good match for your brand that you’re trying to espouse within the area? How does the Zappos sponsorship take into account the Latin and Hispanic demographic?

S.P.: “Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos… moved his whole headquarters [downtown]. Since, there’s been a massive rejuvenation of downtown Las Vegas: new casinos built, new hotels, condos, retail, a whole restaurant district. Not the Strip, but downtown where locals have been going for years. Zappos represents for us a partner that is mutually invested in downtown… They have launched a Spanish version of the customer service section website only in the last year or two, so they do want to reach new audiences through soccer.

When we come to this agreement with Zappos… we agree on a financial number, incentives, proof of performance, and then we said, “Now we need a jersey… We’d rather give it to you than some guy in Portland who has designed 50 jerseys in the last year for 50 different clubs in 20 different countries.” We want to get out of the soccer design space and get into the apparel space with you guys.” It’s going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen on a soccer shirt.”

Our idea is that… it becomes known that Saturday night inside of Cashman is the true rainbow, cornucopia, melting pot that is the Las Vegas Valley.

Portada: I know you briefly mentioned Cashman Field and its history as a minor league baseball stadium, and I know you just broke ground on changing the turf to having it be natural and soccer-specific. How do you plan on ensuring that, not just on the field, the overall stadium customer experience is high as possible?

las vegas lights fcS.P.: “Zappos is sponsoring a two-hour pregame tailgate outside of the stadium… the stadium has 70 acres of land, it’s perfectly flat, there’s room to expand, there’s batting cages that will become obsolete soon: there’s a big, big footprint of potential. [It is] within a half-mile of… downtown, We think the fan experience will be great this year: it will sound like soccer, all kinds of music, different foods, the food trucks, beer gardens, etc.”

Portada: What is your stance on sports betting?

S.P.: “We are fully embracing sports betting, and want to create an in-stadium, in-seat, on-your-phone experience that has never been done in this country. That’s one area where we really want to break the mold: it’s perfectly legal here in Vegas. Many billions of dollars are wagered illegally on the Super Bowl. What will be bet on the Super Bowl… will be dwarfed globally by what’s bet on the World Cup, and we want to be right and center on that. [For example], here are the odds-on tomorrow morning’s Mexico-Germany game. Place your bets when you’re putting your five bucks on your hometown USL team as well.

We want to be on the soccer fans bucket list in the US: “You’ve got to go see a game in Vegas: it’s crazy out there! They’ve got that coach, they’ve got the betting, the price of the airline ticket, the hotel room is a steal.” We have a lot to deliver on, but Brett has outsized vision and ambition, and it’s right up my alley. There’s no stopping soccer in this country… We have this clean template to work with, and anything we ever wanted to do in sports, we get to apply it here in Vegas and try it out.”

Portada: Last question: what would a successful first year look like?

S.P.: “My flippant answer is we win 30 of our first 40 games and sell out every single game and put our sport in this town, but the hockey team’s already done that! For all of the success that the Golden Knights are having, their average ticket price has gone past $150 dollars right now, its fan base does not reflect the diversity of the market in any way you slice it. Our idea is that it becomes known that Saturday night inside of Cashman is the true rainbow, cornucopia, melting pot that is the Las Vegas Valley. People are singing, chanting, cheering not even realizing if it’s in English, or in Spanish.”

People are singing, chanting, cheering not even realizing if it’s in English or in Spanish.

Las Vegas Lights FC is clearly trying to innovate in almost every instance they can. All sports franchises try to increase customer experience outside of a team’s on-field success, but this new club is demonstrating a noticeable amount of dedication towards exploring new ways to do so. Though some of their ideas may not pan out, they exhibit enough ingenuity and understanding of the local market to inspire optimism that Las Vegas Lights FC will soon have a growing, passionate fan base. When it is all said and done, the bold, almost unheard-of initiatives the club is taking in all aspects of its business, from marketing to staffing, may end up being a national story.

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What: LaLiga has formed a new partnership to promote soccer development in Malaysia
Why it matters: This deal is mutually beneficial in that LaLiga can expand its reach while Malaysian football can learn from Spain’s success.

Malaysia Matches Up with LaLiga

LaLiga, the association in charge of Spanish soccer’s top division, has stuck a partnership with Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) to create a 50-year plan to grow the sport in this robust Asian nation. Over the three years of the deal, LaLiga will advise the FMLLP, Malaysia’s privatized footballing association, on various ways to create a healthy infrastructure in which football can flourish. For example, LaLiga will help Malaysian clubs get their finances in order, improve social outreach, expand marketing initiatives, and improve day-to-day operations such as security. As FMLLP chairman and Football Association of Malaysia president Tunku Ismail indicated after the signing ceremony, the goal is to put in place a plan that draws upon the experience of a top league like LaLiga and sets guidelines for Malaysian football for subsequent federation heads to follow. Utilizing a proven league as a consulting service seems like a logical step forward for this budding footballing nation, and it would not be surprising to see other countries collaborate in the same manner.

These initiatives show how LaLiga is off to a great start in terms of exploring new markets with growing soccer awareness and economic promise.

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LaLiga Looking Abroad

For LaLiga, this deal marks a further step in the league’s mission to expand its reach across the globe. Prior to the Malaysia deal, LaLiga struck a similar agreement with Japan’s J-League to exchange information and help each other grow. In addition to pooling together ideas on best practices, it is clear that another principal goal of LaLiga with these moves is to increase brand exposure in new markets. LaLiga president Javier Tebas recognized the value in working with local football officials to reach new markets when he lauded LaLiga’s new ability to understand the Malaysian market as a result of the partnership. Though LaLiga is attempting to tap into passion for soccer in East Asia, its sights are set far beyond just this part of the globe: the league has an office up and running in the United States and has expressed a clear goal of increasing its influence in India. These initiatives show how LaLiga is off to a great start in terms of exploring new markets with growing soccer awareness and economic promise.

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What: Neymar is joining forces with Digible to create the Neymar Experience app.
Why it matters: This move exemplifies how star athletes can be utilized by tech companies as influencers to gain traction in Hispanic and Latin markets.

Neymar Scores Himself a New App

PSG winger Neymar is one of the world’s biggest soccer superstars, and he has partnered with Digible to create a new app, Neymar Experience, to spread his brand and interact with his fans. One of the app’s primary focus is to help users learn to play and take care of themselves like Neymar with features such as skill challenges, video tutorials, and nutrition advice. Neymar, however, will leverage his massive social media appeal (87.5M Instagram followers, 60M Facebook followers) to increase fans’ ability to connect with him through the app. Namely, Neymar will review users’ attempts to complete the app’s challenges and will post submissions of his choosing to his various social media pages. With athletes such as Tom Brady and LeBron James having created their own apps, Neymar seems to be right on track in his quest to join the world’s most notable athletes in terms of global marketing capital.

Neymar Experience shows how technology companies are recognizing the possibilities for massive growth in Latin and Hispanic markets, and a key to unlock this potential is collaboration with influencers, particularly athletes.

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Digible’s Drive for the Latino and Hispanic Market

The partnership also signifies a strategic move for Digible, as it signals a move specifically aimed at engagement with Latin and Hispanic consumers. Neymar has captained Brazil’s national team, played for Spanish giants F.C. Barcelona, and has the attention of football followers across the globe, particularly in the Americas. The app is available in Spanish, Portuguese, and English so it can accommodate Neymar’s wide-ranging appeal, and the company believes that it will allow it to have tremendous engagement in the Americas. An example of this confidence was co-founder Fabio Freitas’s comment that he expects to increase the number of the company’s Brazilian users to surpass two million just shortly after the app is released for both Android and iOS. Neymar Experience shows how technology companies are recognizing the possibilities for massive growth in Latin and Hispanic markets, and a key to unlock this potential is collaboration with influencers, particularly athletes.

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What: Audi Field at Buzzard Point will open on July 14, and a stadium deal for an affiliated USL team could follow soon.
Why it matters: The organization is locating these stadiums strategically to increase engagement and spur investment in parts of the DMV area that still have untapped potential.

D.C. Has a New Soccer Home

D.C. United has announced that it will start playing matches at its US$300 million, 20,00 seat new home, Audi Field, on July 14. The Washington D.C. club, one of the original members of Major League Soccer, had been searching for the opportunity to construct a new stadium for over a decade, and that dream will be realized with a state-of-the-art, soccer-specific stadium located at Buzzard Point in the southwest part of the city. Major League Soccer seems to have adjusted D.C United’s match schedule to accommodate for the stadium’s construction, as the club will play only two home matches before Audi Field is ready for action. The opening of the stadium will conveniently, though not intentionally, occur within a few days of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game hosted at Nationals Park.

D.C. United, therefore seems to be leveraging its risk… by utilizing public funds and guaranteeing a substantial revenue stream over the long-term.

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A Shrewd Stadium Strategy

Audi reportedly will be paying $4 million per year for these rights for an estimated 13 years, meaning it is the second most lucrative stadium naming rights deal for an MLS club behind LAFC. Audi Field will be located just down the street from Nationals Park and reinforces the city’s efforts to develop this area through sport. The funding was in large provided by the city for a total of US$150 million, so its constituents will be banking on the team’s promise that it will spur growth and investment in the area. D.C. United, therefore seems to be leveraging its risk in building in a relatively underdeveloped area by utilizing public funds and guaranteeing a substantial revenue stream over the long-term.

This additional project shows that D.C. United wants to continue to expand its brand reach to new areas in the DMV area while also creating an infrastructure that will… lead to increased on-field success.

New Stadium Deals Not Done Yet

In addition, D.C. United plans on building a soccer complex in nearby Loundon County, Virginia in part to host a team in the United States’s second division, USL. In this way, D.C. This project will also be funded in large part publicly by county-issued debt that must be paid off in approximately 20 years. This additional project shows that D.C. United wants to continue to expand its brand reach to new areas in the DMV area while also creating an infrastructure that will allow the organization to attract and develop talent that should lead to increased on-field success.

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What: New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls released their kits for the 2018 MLS season.
Why it matters: Several further MLS uniform reveals will soon follow, kicking off a flurry of jersey sales and a marketing boost for shirt sponsors.

‘Tis the Season for Uniform Releases

Two of Major League Soccer’s major market teams, the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls, each officially revealed a new shirt to be worn during matches for the 2018 season. These releases have received a great deal of critical acclaim all over the internet, with praise coming from Reddit, Twitter, and other online platforms.

Adidas has created for itself a huge opportunity to gain popularity throughout the United States… for it has cornered the market on growing number of eyes watching MLS and buying affiliated apparel.

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Adidas’s Alternate Approach

Because of Adidas’s $700 million deal through 2024 to be the maker of all MLS uniforms, individual MLS teams cannot negotiate on their own to generate revenue from companies seeking to design and produce their shirts as is done by team throughout the rest of the world. With this contract, Adidas has created for itself a huge opportunity to gain popularity throughout the United States if it can impress with the quality of its MLS uniforms, for it has cornered the market on growing number of eyes watching MLS and buying affiliated apparel.

Though Adidas also has major contracts with some of the world’s most popular clubs, such as Manchester United and Real Madrid, its contract with MLS marks an innovative approach to kit manufacturing more reminiscent of league-wide deals in other US professional sports. Given that Adidas was successful enough to extend its initial deal, other apparel companies may attempt to execute the same approach in leagues in other countries whose leagues are growing in popularity but lack super rich teams that would demand to negotiate apparel contracts on their own.

Now that these impressive first editions are out, expect a flurry of further jersey releases by other MLS clubs and a new influx of revenue for the various parties involved.

New Looks for Northeast Clubs

Though all MLS clubs’ uniforms are made by Adidas, their designs are unique to each team, as are their commercial sponsor. New England Revolution have continued with their vertical stripe theme, though they have sleekly moved the stripes off-center and stuck with alternate shades of blue instead reinforcing their white and red alternate colors. UnitedHealthcare continues to have the rights to the Revolution’s primary jersey sponsorship, which the insurance provider hopes to use as a marketing tool and a way to spread awareness about promoting well-being in New England’s local communities.

New York Red Bulls, on the other hand, have come out with a bold red top that takes inspiration from fan input. The Red Bull logo featured on the company’s energy drinks and other products will continue to be emblazoned on the club’s uniforms for the upcoming season. Now that these impressive first editions are out, expect a flurry of further jersey releases by other MLS clubs and a new influx of revenue for the various parties involved.

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What: Stuart Holden hosted a charity football match for Hurricane Harvey relief in Houston.
Why it matters: This event demonstrated how sponsors, athletes, and influencers can come together to make a difference.

Football Philanthropy

On Saturday night, United States soccer legends and celebrities alike joined together to play in a charity match titled “Kick In For Houston” to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Stuart Holden, who starred for the Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo before moving to the English Premier League, organized the event. Holden leveraged his connections from his playing days as well as his star power from his current broadcasting position at Fox Sports 1 to fill the field with notable personalities. The match and a halftime penalty shootout, highlighted by former Olympic skier Bode Miller’s top corner strike, combined to raise over $250,000.

…influencers of all kinds can be used to draw eyes to charitable ventures as well as other domains of sports marketing.

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Famous Personalities Hit the Pitch

The list of names in attendance was quite impressive. Former national team players included Landon Donovan and Mia Hamm, and veteran Clint Dempsey showed that he has more left in the tank with a tremendous bicycle kick goal. In addition, plenty of athletes from other sports participated in the event. Recently crowned World Series champion Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros snuck onto the field at the end of the game despite his team’s request to fully rest, but the game was too enjoyable to resist. Also in attendance were former NBA MVP Steve Nash and Chad Ochocinco, formerly a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. Notable as well was the presence social media sensation Jake Paul, who was voted the top YouTuber at the 2017 Teen Choice Awards, which shows how influencers of all kinds can be used to draw eyes to charitable ventures as well as other domains of sports marketing.

It was refreshing to see a media company support the philanthropic initiative of an employee.

Fox Sports Shows Support

Sponsors for the event included the Houston Dynamo, Esperos SOHO, and Adidas. Holden’s employer, FS1, showed a replay of the match on Sunday in order to bring further awareness to families still affected by Hurricane Harvey. It was refreshing to see a media company support the philanthropic initiative of an employee, especially one as genuinely invested in the Houston community as Holden.

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What: Saudi property developer Fawaz Alhokair is considering a bid to own A.C. Milan.
Why it matters: Arab investors continue to make forays into football ownership due to the brand power of top clubs, and it may be sooner rather than later that they look control South American teams as well.

Milan’s Main Man?

Saudi billionaire Fawaz Alhokair is reportedly planning to take control of A.C. Milan, one of Italy’s premiere football clubs valued at US$802 million, the 13th highest valuation in the world. This potential move would follow another recent attempt to salvage one of the world’s most well-known sporting organizations in the world.

One would think that Alhokair is approaching this opportunity with the mindset that has brought him success in his background as a property developer: buy a valuable yet run-down property, fix it up, and either use it to grow revenue long-term or flip it for a profit.

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This Season So Far: False Hope

Entering the 2017-2018 Serie A season, the great Italian football club A.C. Milan was surrounded by optimism. Chinese investor Li Yonghong bought the club from embattled former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, and almost €200 million was used on signings in the transfer window. Skip forward a few months, and the forecast looks much grimmer: Yonghong may default on a US$354 million loan from American hedge fund Elliott Management, and the club sits in an unacceptable 7th place. Failure to improve qualify for European competition and the massive revenue doing so would generate from television rights deals would add further insult to injury.

A Logical Fit For The Future

One would think that Alhokair is approaching this opportunity with the mindset that has brought him success in his background as a property developer: buy a valuable yet run-down property, fix it up, and either use it to grow revenue long-term or flip it for a profit. A.C. Milan still has plenty of advantages, including broadcasting revenues that approach $300 million annually and broad international appeal.

…if such a South American club starts slipping into financial difficulty, a magnate such as Alhokair may decide to pounce on a bargain reclamation project.

On the other hand, glaring issues include -50 million in operating income and the club’s shared occupancy of San Siro stadium with its rival Inter Milan. Alhokair could be an ideal fit to solve this latter issue for the club, and his group Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Group has stated that it is already working on a plan to construct a new, modern stadium that will have a greater capacity to generate revenue from luxury suites and fan engagement.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again

Though A.C. Milan employees and followers may be skeptical of a new foreign owner after Yonghong’s failure, Arab ownership has proven fruitful for clubs such as Manchester City and PSG. Though these clubs do not have the rich history of AC Milan, their approach to ownership would likely provide added long-term stability to the club and would be a step towards major European trophies once again being hoisted by Milan’s beloved “Rossoneri.”

A Glimpse of the Future in South America?

As valuable yet struggling football European properties continued to get snatched up by oil-rich ownership, one has to wonder when such investors will turn their eyes towards similar projects in South America. Though football does not generate the same level of revenue on this side of the Atlantic, it still represents an area ripe with the potential. Teams such as Boca Juniors and Corinthians have brands that carry tremendous weight in Latin culture, and if such a South American club starts slipping into financial difficulty, a magnate such as Alhokair may decide to pounce on a bargain reclamation project.

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