Chivas USA Low Attendance Problem
By Simon Allen
Chivas USA's home opener against the Columbus Crew sent shockwaves of fake outrage all over the Internet. Not because of the 3-0 loss but because of the abysmal home attendance. The “official” number was around seven thousand but inside the stadium it looked like a fraction over four.
Cue writers from all around America sounding off with two-bit advice about moving the franchise to San Diego or Las Vegas or Timbuktu to grab more of the Hispanic audience. Or the even more reactionary “get rid of them...they're an embarrassment to the league” soundbites from podcasters, ex-players turned commentators and amateur pundits.
Yes. Watching Chivas USA is painful enough but it's never a good advertisement when the stadium is empty. But surprisingly I saw orange seats at the home opener in Houston as well and I'm not hearing any outrage over that.
Moving Chivas USA out of Los Angeles is simply a laughable concept. LA is the second biggest sports market in America. Which business man in their right mind would ever leave Los Angeles and go to the next available market to set up shop all over again? On top of that, Chivas came into MLS at a cut rate price of $10 million. Chump change if you think about it and folks want them to go to San Diego which barely hits the top ten mark of sports markets in the US.
Barring some off the wall decision from MLS itself, Chivas USA are in Los Angeles for a while. To quote Neil Diamond “LA is fine...and the rents are low...” The bigwigs at Chivas are in (one of) the best markets in America, playing villain team to the face of American soccer- LA Galaxy, they don't have to worry about any stadium issues other than paying their rent on time, their payroll is covered, they play against some of the best players in America week in and week out and MLS has extended out their hand to help in any way they can to raise their attendance...and folks are telling them they should move.
I'm sure somewhere in Mexico there are Chivas head honchos laughing heartily, hahahaha...wait! Jajajajaja. And yes! I quoted Neil Diamond! Also, fans of NY 2 should be behind Chivas USA. MLS commissioner Don Garber should be (and is) behind Chivas USA. A successful two franchise City will only be beneficial for attracting investors when the NY 2 comes about. Folks will look to how well LA soccer is doing and if it's not doing well then there could be reluctance in investing in the second New York team. Regardless of anything else, creating fans is a hard thing. It's even more difficult when the fans are thinking that the franchise won't be around next season. Squash any talks about relocation and fans will feel more comfortable about coming into the stadium to give you their loyalty.
Rebranding is another term bandied about the Internet when the words Chivas and USA are written about. And with rebranding comes the idiotic notion that calling the second LA team the Los Angeles Aztecs will some how miraculously change every Hispanic soccer fan's mind about watching the team that was once Chivas USA play.
Aztecs was trademarked by the new NASL last March so there's probably no chance of that name ever coming back to top flight football in America. Thank goodness because which business man wants to align his product with a failed team in a failed American soccer league that no one really remembers? Maybe calling the team The Aztecs and having them sponsored by Pontiac could reaffirm just how lame this rebranding idea really is. Chivas is the biggest soccer brand in America.
It's tough for die-hard fans to understand that. When I first came to LA, the first team I watched was Chivas. It was the only Mexican team I saw around. Ask any hardcore fan and they will tell you the storied history of the club. They will talk about legends like Chava Reyes and future legends like Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez. Folks who scream “rebrand” want to give all that up to bring back the club who's only recognisable figure (at least to the younger generation of soccer fans) is Elton John. I dare you to ask an 19-year-old about George Best! They won't know! Now... Lion King- they're all over that!
Chivas USA do need a tweak on the brand though. Chivas Los Angeles. One way of selling tickets is to calm peoples nerves about all this useless talk relocation. Coming out and renaming the club Chivas Los Angeles essentially will put a stamp of where you are. Chivas is in LA! Buy your tickets now, buy your tickets 10 years from now. No fan wants to give their heart and soul to a club only to have it move to another city five years later. Put those fans at ease and they will come back week in and week out.
Now there are things that Chivas USA needs to do to get bums in seats. One of them is to cater to the Soccer fan not just the Hispanic soccer fan. How has catering to the Mexican community and ignoring or down right insulting the rest of the community in LA been working so far? It's not a secret anymore, most Chivas Guadalajara fans in LA couldn't care less about Chivas USA. Fans of other Mexican teams wouldn't be seen dead at Home Depot Center supporting their rivals. So who the heck are you catering to at this point? Who's left?
The Chivas fans that would watch Chivas in any form whatsoever and the fans that like to see two or three academy players who may one day return to the mothership to become stars. It's not rocket science! The Galaxy learned their lessons early on. When Mauricio Cienfuegos was the star, Salvadorean flags were all over the stadium and the fans came out to see him. Hong Myung Bo- tons of South Korean fans. There were Brazilian nights at the Galaxy to celebrate the players from Brazil which attracted fans. But once those players left so did the fans. The revolving door of fans spins harder and faster when you cater to a specific audience.
Time to cater to the soccer fan which will involve diversity on the pitch and more importantly a team that actually wins matches. Nothing keeps people away from the stadium like a crap team playing crap football. There were three players that I thought would really kick start Chivas USA this season. I mentioned that these players would be key in getting people into the stadium to watch. First player was Miguel Sabah. He is Chivas to the core and one of the best players in Liga Mexico. Sabah is well known around MLS and a quality striker that can score goals against other American squads. He's played for Cruz Azul and Morelia which might help get some of those fans into the stadium (but don't count on that too much!) and was a Mexican National team player.
Second player I mentioned was Rafael Marquez. A Designated Player. No player in MLS history has filled more fans with more rage and hatred than Marquez. An absolute villain! His name is almost always followed by a list of incidents that involve fouling, fighting and the stadium booing. One thing that MLS doesn't have is that nasty player that almost everyone hates. The player you want to go watch just in case he does something villainous. Coupled with his history on the Mexican national team and the fact that he's actually a damn good defender, Marquez would have played a pivotal role in filling up the stadium. The third player that would get bums in seats would be Mike Magee. Magee would be the talisman player that Chivas never had.
If I were in Chivas I would offer Magee DP money. His move would tell soccer fans that Chivas USA wasn't about just getting Hispanic players but about getting quality players. Unlike the throw away Galaxy players who moved to the other HDC locker room in the past, Magee would be an instant success on the pitch. The face of the team looking to open the doors to Home Depot Center to anyone who wanted to watch some good football. Imagine the ad campaigns with these three players and then imagine the possibilities on the pitch. It would be up to the ticket agents to do the rest!
Another move I would make to fill up the stadium would be to get out of Home Depot Center. Not the stadium but the offices. Move your desks out of there now! I would rather have my behind the scenes team be in a bunch of trailers or a rented building downtown than share offices with LA Galaxy. McDonald's and Burger King don't share office space so why do Galaxy and Chivas?
It's imaginable that the folks running the show at Chivas walk by pristine offices and cabinets filled with trophies and think that it's actually Chivas' office and cabinets full of trophies. The stark reality is that none of that is real. Why share an office with a franchise you're in direct competition with? It would seem very satisfying for a Chivas employee coming into an environment like the HDC offices and hanging out with a bunch of successful Galaxy employees.
I'm sure at one point they can squint their eyes when looking at the trophies and photos on the wall and every “Galaxy” turns into “Chivas USA.” Chivas USA fans should ask themselves why both LA teams are so friendly with each other when they should be at each others throats (on a professional level that is!) Other than handing LA the rent cheque and some match day stadium issues, PR types, day to day business types and anyone else not related to the building itself have no business talking to each other.
This season (as of this writing) Chivas USA will only broadcast its matches in Spanish Language broadcasts. A little further up the city, The Los Angeles Dodgers (with it's very broad audience) became the first Major League Baseball team to embrace the Korean population and are trying to broadcast live in three languages. English, Spanish and Korean. So Chivas essentially has alienated the non-Spanish speaker who wants to support soccer in LA. Those fans will gladly pay a bit more to watch the Galaxy or worse - not even bother with soccer. Ironically, back in 2007, a cable TV research article found that the number of Hispanic males who prefer watching soccer as a Spanish language broadcast was about 54% and by years end it had dropped to 50%.
The same research pointed out that the number would drop every quarter after that. Half the Hispanic soccer fans can't be bothered when it comes to which language the presenter is speaking when they're watching soccer. Chivas USA need to embrace the non Spanish speaking fan while respecting the culture of Chivas. Placing two English speaking commentators in front of the camera or behind a mic isn't enough. The folks talking about Chivas USA in English have to resonate positively with the Hispanic community while not alienating the non-Hispanic community. They have to be international, local and American. Presenters have to be knowledgeable of the various communities in Los Angeles and be an example to everyone in those communities (You have my phone number Chivas!) The diversity at Chivas USA should be expanded and celebrated. The tent should be big and welcoming.
Advertising is being done wrong at Chivas USA. Believe me when I tell you this, no ones writing career is being elevated when they write about Chivas USA. I'm the LA Galaxy writer for Football.com and I'm pretty sure that not too many people will read this article. (Prove me wrong and comment below.) Chivas USA has to flood every available media outlet with articles and interviews.
The PR Dept should grant interview upon interview with anyone that might write something positive or at all interesting about the team. Chances are that if a writer wants to say something about Chivas USA it's bad so grant interviews with players to every outlet imaginable and change the image of the franchise. Actively engage everyone in the business with whats going on at the club and actually initiate interviews with publications. If Auto Trader Magazine wants an interview with Dan Kennedy - grant it! If Jaam-va-Jaan Journal, Asbarez News and The Korean Christian Press want to talk to Juan Agudelo - okay it! Then go after big newspapers and online publications and ask them “Why aren't you writing about Chivas USA?” and then make the team available to them.
Also, every liquor store, mom and pop cafe, independent restaurant and everything else you can imagine should have a Chivas USA poster or personally signed autograph or Chivas Neon sign displayed in their establishment. From LA to San Diego soccer fans should be surrounded by Chivas USA reminders whenever they walk into a business establishment. While folks are having a beer at their local watering hole - there should be a Chivas USA neon behind the bar. When you walk into a carniceria to pick up some carne asada - there should be a Chivas USA poster hanging behind the counter. When kids buy an ice cream from the ice cream vendor – there should be a Chivas USA sticker on the ice cream van and a “Chocolate Chivaswirl” dripping from every kids hand. Not Chivas...Chivas USA!
That's where the team comes in. Back in the old NASL, the actual players went door to door selling tickets to the upcoming match. The guys in red and white have to be out there selling the brand. It's evident that Chivas USA's ticketing department has done a poor job selling tickets. Not entirely their fault, it's time to bring out the big guns! It's hard to say no to the actual guys who are sweating on the pitch when they ask you to buy tickets to the next match. Extreme? Yes! But if you see Chivas USA players out there week in and week out in malls, new car show rooms and other events actively selling season tickets then you know the franchise means business. Chivas USA has done a good job trying to be part of the community. Just go to the website and see what they do. But Chivas USA is not part of my community.
I have never heard or seen any signs of Chivas USA in Glendale or Burbank. I haven't seen any stickers on lamp posts or kids with Chivas USA jerseys on in La Canada or Santa Monica and believe me I can spot those things from a mile away. It's time for Chivas USA to step it up. Open the club to more people from every walk of life. It's time shut up the now annual blogs saying get rid of Chivas USA or how Chivas USA is a failure. It's time to play some attractive soccer. I don't want to write this article again next season!