There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Javier Hernández Balcázar aka Chicharito. For the past decade, the Mexican star has arguably been the top target for teams in MLS. Rumors of his potential arrival gathered steam a few weeks ago with the announcement of his signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy as a Designated Player hitting the wire on January 21st.
Make no mistake, Chicharito’s arrival in MLS is big news
There have been other high-profile designated players in MLS of course. David Beckham was fantastic. His unmatched star power introduced every soccer fan on the planet to the LA Galaxy and exposed MLS to mainstream audiences in a way only he could deliver. There will never be another David Beckham or Beckham impact in MLS.
Then there was Zlatan – Mr. YouTube highlight. A larger-than-life personality who provided some incredible on-field moments of brilliance followed by equally amazing off-field sound bites.
Thierry Henry, David Villa, Wayne Rooney, and Kaka were all global superstars. Sebastian Giovinco, Robbie Keane, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Vela delivered world class performances.
However, none of these players offer the same kind of marketing clout as Chicharito. Perhaps the closest comparison is the imitable Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Designated Player I had the good fortune to sign for the Chicago Fire in 2007.
Importance of the right Designated Player
I remember at the time our objectives for a DP were very clear. We wanted a high-impact player whose star power status could significantly move the dial across the three R’s of the business.
- Results: can this player help us win on the field?
- Revenue: can he have a direct impact on boosting the core revenue streams; tickets, sponsorships, TV rights, merchandise?
- Relevance: is he relatable to our local community and has the ability to strengthen the club’s awareness and local connection?
I can tell you for a fact Blanco did all these things and more.
It’s no small detail that the foundation for the Chicharito / Blanco comparison lies in their Mexican identity – the largest and most important ethnic audience in the U.S. While this may appear as a simplistic perspective, the reality is often not that complicated. If you are a professional soccer team in Chicago or Los Angeles maximizing your appeal within the Mexican community is simply smart business. Even beyond the big cities, the importance and influence of the Hispanic audience throughout American soccer cannot be understated. It’s part of the sports DNA. Relevance with the Hispanic fan base matters.
On the announcement of Chicharito to the Galaxy, soccer writer Jeff Carlisle commented, “it’s a signing that seems almost too perfect.” He may be right and here’s why:
- He’s still relatively young at age 31 – despite retirement comments
- He’s a goal scorer
- He’s largely beloved by the Mexican fan base – not just in LA, but everywhere
- He’s speaks English fluently
- He’s good-looking with a likable smile, personality
- He’s active in social media: 14M + followers across Instagram and Twitter
- His presence in LA will stoke the flames of the already exciting Galaxy / LAFC rivalry
All these things make him uniquely valuable to MLS and also to corporate brands. Whether it be through his persona as a Galaxy player, a Mexican National Team star, or as a stand-alone personality, there will be various avenues for brands to lean into this equity. How the Chicharito brand is ultimately managed and commercially exploited – in a good way – is something we will be paying close attention to as the season progresses.
Should you might still be questioning his marketing prowess, early reports from the Galaxy indicate the Club has sold twice as many season tickets since the announcement as they did during the comparable time-frame after the Zlatan announcement.
It’s still early days, but it’s time to pay attention to the new sheriff in town.
Couple of @LAGalaxy updates: Since news of the impending signing of @CH14_ broke 2 weeks ago, the team has sold more than 750 new season-ticket packages to go with a record 85% renewal rate for current season-ticket holders. They have also sold 2,500 single-game tickets. (1/2)
— Kevin Baxter (@kbaxter11) January 27, 2020
Additional perspective on Chicharito
Growing up I went to exactly five sporting events. Not because I didn’t ask my parents or because my family didn’t like watching sports, but rather because our income didn’t allow us to spend much money on anything beyond the necessities. This is an experience I have learned to be quite common from talking to people with similar backgrounds. Being in this situation meant that every time there was a sporting event of interest, the likelihood of our attendance was minimal at best. The only things that brought out my family to sporting events was the celebration of our Mexican culture.
The signing of Chicharito undoubtedly impacts MLS through the Mexican-American community. The face of a generation of Mexican players is now in the league and more accessible than ever. For families in a position like mine, Chicharito is a reason to watch and follow MLS, both on TV and in person. For some, his presence may very well be the difference between going to an MLS game or eating out at a restaurant, but culturally, that’s not an uncommon decision to wrestle over when El Tri is involved!