FIVE TIMES SINCE 2001 the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team has beaten Mexico in a competitive match by the score of 2--0. After the match in September 2013, in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. fans made sure to rub the score in. Yet plenty of those chanting "¡Dos a cero!" that night weren't Anglos but second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans—bilingual, bicultural and, having just watched the country of their birth get the better of the land of their heritage, wholly pro-American. At least for the moment.
It's a striking example of why sports marketers now focus on the overlap between young fans and Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans, who are the largest Hispanic subgroup in the U.S. With the number of Latino Millennials booming, corporate Venn-diagram masters find in that audience the most saccharine of sweet spots. As a result, says Simon Wardle, chief strategy officer for the sports and entertainment marketing firm Octagon Worldwide, "We might be approaching that perfect storm where soccer [in the U.S.] does emerge as the next big thing."
Latino Millennials helped boost TV ratings for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which were up from '10 by 64% on Univision and 39% on ESPN. And Stateside audiences for English Premier League coverage on Telemundo and on NBC and its Spanish-language network NBC Universo more than doubled from the '12--13 season to '14--15. The flow of Hispanic and Latino stars to English soccer—Angel Di María, Ander Herrera, Diego Costa, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sánchez all made the move to Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal this season—helps explain why Premier League broadcasts are attracting more Latino Millennials, especially to Saturday-morning appointment viewing on NBC. "You play your game Friday night, wake up and watch with parents who played the sport themselves," says Wardle. "Family appointment viewing is what created the NFL juggernaut, and once you establish that, good things happen."
Soccer is already the second-most-popular participatory sport among 16-to-24-year-olds in the U.S., regardless of ethnicity. Meanwhile, Millennials make up the largest generational cohort in the country; one in five is Latino, and in that group almost a third are Mexican-Americans who follow or play the game. And they are strikingly integrated: According to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center, second-generation Latinos are nearly twice as likely as their parents to say they speak English very or pretty well and to identify themselves as "typically American."
June 29, 2015
About a dozen years ago Univision began to refer to the U.S. Men's National Team as El Equipo de Todos (Everybody's Team). That formulation has helped turn Jurgen Klinsmann's men into an alternative for émigrés from all over Latin America: a second side deserving of the U.S.-based Latino fan's support after, or alongside, the team of one's ancestral homeland.
Anglos, especially older ones, might frown on such fungible loyalties. After he won a silver medal in the 1,500 meters at the London Olympics, U.S. runner Leo Manzano, the son of undocumented immigrants, was vilified in social media and by some columnists for tweeting that he was "representing two countries[,] USA and Mexico," and for carrying both flags during his victory lap. But Manzano's reaction was classically second-generation Latino, says Sonia Sroka, executive vice president in charge of multicultural marketing at the public relations firm Edelman. In Sroka's opinion, Manzano "lifted that Mexican flag because he had learned hard work and sacrifice from his parents. He had done something for them that they could never do in their own lives."
That complexity was captured by a series of McDonald's commercials called "House Divided," which aired around last summer's FIFA World Cup. A young Mexican-American man swings by his parents' house with his buddies, ready to cheer for the U.S. Men's National Team. Papi and his friends, decked out in green and white in support of El Tri, eye Junior and his posse warily and exile them to the garage. But everyone is under the same roof, and by the spot's end all are accommodated to both the origin and terminus of the family journey. Each cultural signifier is there: passion, family, tradition and, especially, loyalty.
Among Latino Millennials, that last word is key. "They see themselves as truly bicultural," says Bobby Jones, vice president of Octagon Access, which specializes in marketing to Millennial and multicultural audiences. "Whereas with previous generations there was a hard line—one culture or the other—Millennials are able to fluidly navigate [between the two]. There's a boldness and freedom in that, but at the same time, pride in that however they root, it's genuine."
AVERAGE U.S. VIEWERSHIP FOR FIFA WORLD CUP COVERAGE (IN MILLIONS)
SOURCE: SPORTSBUSINESS DAILY