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‘Rompe las Barreras’ Delivers for MLS, Southern New Hampshire University and Young Latinos

The program tying education, real-life experience and soccer can serve as a model for partnerships with tangible benefits to Latino students and brands, in this case, a university.


What: Southern New Hampshire University, a leader in online higher education, and MLS have instituted Rompe las Barreras, a job shadowing program for Hispanic high school students.
Why it matters: The program tying education, real-life experience and soccer can serve as a model for partnerships with tangible benefits to Latino students and brands, in this case, a university.

It’s always refreshing to see partnerships in sports that can deliver a unique ROI. Major League Soccer (@MLSand its Official Education Partner, Southern New Hampshire University (@SNHU), have come up with one that has some long-term implications with soccer fans, young Latinos and Latinas, and the issue of affordable and effective learning.

Rompe las Barreras is a job shadowing program offered to deserving Hispanic juniors and seniors in high school. It was in seven markets with eight clubs: New York Red Bulls, NYCFC, Philadelphia Union, D.C. United, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and LA Galaxy. Each Club either hosted or will soon be hosting, 10-16 students, to shadow club executives that work in their department of interest. The result is a hands-on, real-time benefit for the students that strengthens the ties of the clubs to the community well away from the pitch.

How has it worked? We asked Steve Thiel, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships for SNHU to walk us through.

Portada: From a marketing standpoint how and why did the program come about?

Steve Thiel: With Rompe Las Barreras (“Break through the Barriers”), we wanted to tap into the passion of the multicultural fan base of MLS and address some of these goals. Specifically, we felt that the excitement that Hispanic youth would have in visiting and being immersed in their local soccer team could be transformed into a day of learning, with students coming away from the experience with a more realistic sense of how education and effort can turn into fulfilling careers.

Portada: In terms of engagement what were the initial goals, and where have you gone at this point?

ST: First and foremost, this was the University’s first foray into Hispanic Heritage Month activities. We wanted to be respectful and find an authentic voice in this space, which ultimately sets the foundation for a long lasting commitment to this community. Second, we wanted to provide a seamless and enjoyable experience for the school administrators, students, and team front office staff. Finally, our goal was to tell stories across social and digital channels of these inspiring high schoolers who have already put themselves in positions to be successful in the future. We focused less on quantitative goals in this first year, but we’ll have some exciting benchmarks to utilize in the future.

Portada: What was the biggest surprise?

ST: The biggest surprise to us was how much the Clubs’ front office staff enjoyed these experiences. With how hard the sports industry is to break into, there is a shared understanding of once you’re in you should find ways to help others break through. We received exciting feedback from staff who were proud to have participated.

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Portada: You activated across a host of cities, can you give us some examples of the best stories that have come about?

ST: One story that comes to mind is of a Senior at Annandale High School named Kudss Bekele who attended the D.C. United shadowing day. Kudss had a particular interest in the culinary arts, which was called out in his teacher’s letter of recommendation to participate in the program. D.C. United introduced him to their Director of Food and Beverage at Audi Field and they had a 1-on-1 session talking about their shared love of food and careers that can apply. Annandale’s chaperone described it as “transformative” for the student, in that he had no idea that he could take his love for food and apply it to a game day experience. That’s what these experiences are meant to do.

In addition, we had the Presidents or General Managers from the Chicago Fire, D.C. United, FC Dallas, and New York City FC come and speak to the students unprompted by us. It was an amazing gesture by these folks and it’s exciting to us that these students had access to these important executives at such a young age.

Portada: Why young Latinos and Latinas? How do they fit into the plan with this for an online university?

ST: In 2017, the Hispanic student population was our fastest growing ethnicity in our online degree programs. While still a modest size group, we believe it’s our job as a University to make sure we have the foundation in place to support these students. That includes better recognition of our offerings to this audience, establishing online student groups that build community, further education for our student-facing staff of the unique opportunities and challenges these folks face, and continuing our commitment towards expanding access with partnerships and groups that are already working with this population.

The Portada Brand-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Portada: What’s the biggest challenge in executing the program? What was the longer term goal with these students who engaged?

ST: Since we currently only offer online degree programs in English, we have had to help our teams understand that this is a highly bilingual audience who’s used to seeing content in both languages. There are ways to effectively tell our story in English, while still speaking to the themes and values that this audience cares about. Our research indicates that Hispanic families value education as much as anyone, and we will continue to find ways in which we can better serve this population.

Portada: Is this a program that can/will/should be replicated in other sports, and if so how?

ST: It certainly could be. Our sports partnerships include Major League Soccer and some member Clubs (FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and the Philadelphia Union), the Boston Celtics, and our local teams in Manchester, NH (Fisher Cats and Monarchs). Our conversations have been focused on how we pursue more long-term programming that builds off of Rompe Las Barreras with our existing teams. But certainly, if other sports leagues or non-sports leagues wanted to do this program, we would be excited to have the conversation.

Portada: What is the long-term win for the program from a brand marketing standpoint? Where does it go from here?

ST: A win for us is feedback that we’re helping individuals, in this case Hispanic high schoolers, become more prepared, more confident, and have true equitable access to higher education. That drives everything we do. Secondly is that we’re sharing stories that are consistent in value with this audience.

Long term, we want to get better at preparing Hispanic youth and adults for higher education. This program isn’t the end goal, it’s a starting point on an exciting journey.

A well thought out, well-executed program with long-term deliverables for both parties. Well played by both.


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