SBJ/June 24-30, 2013/In Depth

Passion for national teams provides obstacles – and opportunities – for Dynamo

When Maria Duran began her job with the Houston Dynamo two weeks before the team’s first season, her expectation was that the people at games would look a lot like those she saw on the streets and in the supermarkets.

“My personal expectation, because I’m from Houston, was that I’d see maybe 80 percent Hispanics inside the stadium,” said Duran, who heads multicultural grassroots marketing for the team and also manages Dynamo Charities. “And that hasn’t necessarily been the reality here. Depending on the game, yes, it happens. But for the most part that is not what we see.”

Selling Mexico’s national game in a market that is 36 percent Hispanic, and where almost 80 percent of those Hispanics are Mexican, seemed like the sports marketing equivalent of a penalty kick; an easy conversion.

Turns out it’s not so easy.

While Houston is home to 1.6 million Mexicans, many of whom are devout soccer fans, their allegiance to clubs in Mexico often dates back for generations. They are Mexican, but they are also Chivas, or Pachuca, or Cruz Azul. To support another club would be treasonous, or if not treasonous, simply pointless. Living in the U.S. does not mean severing interest in those teams. Games from Liga Mx are readily available across Spanish-language television.

The Dynamo’s pitch to the Mexican-American community found little traction.

“A lot of the first generation [immigrants from Mexico] are the hardest ones to reach,” Duran said. “Ultimately, it comes down to having a conversation with them. We can be at an event and have our signs up and everything else, but they’re not necessarily open to the idea of coming out and supporting because they’re so loyal to their club.”

The Dynamo estimates that about 35 percent of its fans are Hispanic, which is representative of the Houston market.
The team found out quickly that getting Hispanics to buy into U.S. soccer wouldn’t be an easy score.
Photo by: Houston Dynamo
About 70 percent of those are first-generation immigrants, Duran said. However, unlike the broader Houston market, Hispanic Dynamo supporters are more likely to be from Central America, especially Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.

“It’s easier for us to reach Central Americans because they don’t have access to soccer like the Mexicans do,” Duran said. “They’re able to adopt the Dynamo much more easily.”

While dwarfed by the population from Mexico, those pockets are large enough to be worth tapping into, Duran said. Recent census data shows metro Houston has 151,320 Salvadorans, 56,860 Hondurans and 41,816 Guatemalans.

“The great thing about Houston is that it’s very diverse,” Duran said. “So while you have a very large Mexican population, you also have a very large Central American population. We try to find ways to tie in the events that we’re promoting to those communities. It’s really very one-on-one, grassroots.”

The Dynamo have made significant in-roads into that Honduran community of late, in large part thanks to last year’s signing of Honduran midfielder Boniek Garcia, who played for the most popular club in Honduras and has earned 83 national team appearances. With Garcia as a drawing card and ambassador, the Dynamo has converted many Houston Hondurans into fans.

“We’re constantly building relationships,” Duran said. “One thing I’ve found, with the Latino community it’s even more important to be present on a steady basis. So we always try to be there at their different events and try to build relationships with community leaders.”

While several prominent Mexican players have crossed over to play in MLS, none have played for Houston. The Dynamo benefits from an important Mexican connection, though. Soccer United Marketing handles both MLS and the Mexican national team. When Mexico plays in Houston, as it has 13 times in the last 10 years, the Dynamo is involved in the promotion, building out ticket offers that include a Dynamo game and marketing the MLS club at the event.

“There is no shortage of support here for the Mexican national team,” said Jon Schuller, senior director of marketing for the Dynamo. “That’s a great opportunity to get in front of that community and remind them that we’re here.”

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