What: Chattanooga, Tenn., has made strong connections with its growing Hispanic community; the latest move is re-signing popular Spanish star Juan Hernandez Mendizabal for 2019.
Why it matters: The early commitment to Mendizabal helps CFC in its efforts to build community in the city which is projected to have increased its Hispanic population by 500% to 15% of the population by the end of the decade.
When one thinks of geographic growth in soccer with Latinos, Chattanooga, Tennessee may not be top of mind. However last week, Chattanooga Football Club (@ChattanoogaFC), which is a growing member of the NPSL (@NPSLSoccer), the National Premier Soccer League, announced that Juan Hernandez Mendizabal was the first player to commit for the club’s 2019 season, where they will compete with other elite clubs for the NPSL’s first-ever Founders Cup, we wanted to find out more.
Hernandez first played with Chattanooga FC in 2015, where he helped guide the team to the NPSL National Championship match against NY Cosmos (@NYCosmos), which set a NPSL attendance record (18,227). Hernandez, from Spain, also is a signal that the club, sees the value of the growing Latino/Hispanic marketplace, so we decided to find out more on the club’s plans. What we found was a growing engagement opportunity in a rising market that many professional leagues should be looking towards: understanding the marketplace and engaging authentically with multicultural fans at the grassroots.
We have been diligently working on building bridges into the Latino population from the very first day. These relationships are authentic and deep.
We asked Sheldon Grizzle, GM for Chattanooga FC to tell us more.
Portada: Most people would not think of Chattanooga as Hispanic-centric, what is the market like for soccer and Hispanic engagement there? How does a player with Hispanic roots help lift the clubs work?
Sheldon Grizzle: Chattanooga’s Spanish speaking population is one of the fastest growing in the country. It is projected they will make up 15% of the population by 2020, which is a 500% increase since 2000.
Chattanooga Football Club’s purpose from the beginning has been to build community in the city using the world’s game. This means that we do a lot of work in the community. For example, we have over 1,000 kids playing soccer and being mentored through our programs in the Chattanooga FC Foundation. Almost all of those kids are on free or reduced lunch programs and 35% of them are Latino.
We also run a futsal complex, Highland Park Commons, in one of our most diverse neighborhoods in the city. Between 60 and 70% of the people that come there on a weekly basis are Latino.
Having Spanish speaking players means that we can engage with these kids and parents on a more personal level.
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Portada: Are there programs the club will do to target Latino fans directly, either in the past or now going forward?
SG: Over the years, we have hosted many teams from Mexico for friendlies including Club America, Pachuca, Tigres, Monterrey, and FC Atlas. We’ve also brought in some youth national teams from Mexico and Colombia for exhibition games. This is something that we will continue to do moving forward.
The Chattanooga Football Club Foundation has three different areas of work that engage intentionally and deeply with the Latino community: Operation Get Active, Chattanooga Sports Ministries, and Highland Park Commons.
Portada: From a brand side, how do you think offering up a Latino spin to what is being done in Chattanooga can help bring in new partners? Are there companies you can target?
SG: We have been diligently working on building bridges into the Latino population from the very first day. These relationships are authentic and deep. Because of this, we have developed some great partnerships in the schools, with the nonprofit community, local and national foundations, and small business owners in the Mexican and Guatemalan communities.
A couple of examples: the US Soccer Foundation (@ussoccerfndn) contributed a grant to the Highland Park Commons so that the fields would have lighting. Those parks were built mainly as a tool to build bridges with the Latino community.
On the small business side, there’s a local family that owns close to a dozen carnicerias. Our relationship with this family has blossomed over the last few years so now they are one of our ticketing locations.
We will always remain interested in developing these types of relationships and partnerships.
Portada: Lastly, the relationship between Latinos and soccer is very deep. Are there teams, clubs etc you have looked at that you can try to emulate their best practices?
SG: We have been working very closely with Wolfsburg (@VfLWolfsburg_EN) from the Bundesliga in Germany for several years due to our mutual ties to Volkswagen (@Volkswagen). They have a world-class youth development system so we hope to learn from their best practices. As an example, they have sent coaches over to Chattanooga to help train some of our coaches. We have to do more of this so that we can continue to learn how to use soccer as a tool to improve the lives of Chattanoogans regardless of ethnicity.
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Cover Image: Juan Hernandez Mendizabal, via Chattanooga FC