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Soccer Marketing 101 – Turning Around the Chivas USA Brand

Tray tables on Volaris' flights… very innovative.

Like about half of the Major League Soccer clubs this season Chivas USA launched a new kit. We're not sure of the rhyme or reason to the rotation, but each team is set on some sort of timetable from adidas and this year we've seen new shirts (although nothing mind-blowing given the “house league” look that all adidas shirts seems to have) from Columbus, Los Angeles, New England, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, and a handful of third shirts as well.

While Chivas USA's new look is not a massive departure from their shirts last season, their launch of them was certainly the most unique of all in the league.

Last week, Chivas announced a new sponsorship with airline Volaris which operates flights between Mexico and several southwestern U.S. cities and also debuted their new shirts ON a flight from Guadalajara to Los Angeles.

Players like Juan Pablo Angel and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy walked down the aisle (now that sounds odd) along with Chivas USA girls while passengers on the flight were gifted their own jerseys to wear off the flight.

Chivas USA gets a lot of flack for their marketing approaches (given the whole idea of the team sounds and has looked gimmicky) and compared to the success of their Home Depot Center roommates, the Galaxy, they light-years behind, but this move at least shows some dramatic re-thinking of how to approach their whole brand.

Many if not most of the passengers on this launch flight from Guadalajara (and future passengers) were probably already fans of the sister club in Mexico and if they weren't previously aware of USA's branch, now they are. Honestly, they may even have thought they were getting Chivas shirts from Mexico. Either way the sponsorship and the marketing here is a major push to more closely link the success of the Mexico brand with that of the American brand.

We may be getting ahead of where Chivas USA is, but if they're going to be successfully, and this ship has to get turned around quickly, they've got to get these Chivas (Mexico) fans on aboard quickly. Since 2004 they've flailed about in Southern California. In part, Chivas USA thought that the link between the two and the fandom for your average Mexican-American would come automatically, naturally. The other part of the failure being that in marketing to Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the United States it was real poor to assume that everyone was a Chivas fan. You're never going to get a America, Puma, Pachuca, or Cruz Azul fan anywhere near a Chivas USA game and there are loads of them, too, in LA and elsewhere.

But they're here now, made their bed in tying the team to the Chivas name, and the USA side now has to telegraph their marketing more directly.

It's taking the USA brand to Mexico and basically saying “Hey, this is the American branch of CD Chivas. When you're in the U.S. and in Los Angeles, come support this side like you would in Guadalajara and Mexico.”

It sounds obvious, but Chivas USA's market is much, much bigger than the Los Angeles-area and to pretend that they're going to be able to compete on a fan-by-fan basis in this marketing with the Galaxy is absurb. Ask the Clippers how that works against the Lakers in that town (although they're doing much better this season). When put up against a more successful and flashy club with a deeper history then you're going to get creamed.

Chivas USA has got to make each CD Chivas (Mex.) fan in the LA-area and the whole United States a fan of their side. If I were a fan of Chivas' Mexico branch I'd sure as hell want to support this side if I knew there were more than just a name connection between the two.

The two Chivas need to play a friendly against each other every season. The relationship should really be more like a senior side to an academy team. Even though that seems insulting to the “Major League” label attached to Chivas USA it's a reality that it is the only club in the U.S. with this sort of unique arrangement.

Young Mexican players needing serious minutes should get a run out in the USA side. There's a lot of serious ticket draw to see up-and-coming players make their professional debuts.

Certainly none of this is new and, at some level, been done, but it's the regularity and the promotion of it all that needs to be turned up to “11” on the dial.

Last year's shirt sponsorship deal with Mexican beer Corona (no matter what you think of its taste) and was a huge step in the right direction to continue to connect the two Chivas brands and the Volaris deal is another positive trend.

The Chivas USA idea is still salvageable (and perhaps a move to soccer-mad San Diego might get them out of the Galaxy shadow) and last week's announcement shows that the right moves are finally being made.

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Tags: Major League Soccer, Soccer Marketing 101

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