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Major League Soccer Seeks New Fans

Now in its fourth season as a major league soccer team, Club Deportivo Chivas USA measures its success in ways that go beyond wins against opposing teams. Chivas USA wants to be the first sports team to make enough of an impression that young people take up the game and, not incidentally, become fans and come out to games at The Home Depot Center. Team president and CEO Shawn Hunter calls making that impression the moment of truth. “We want to get [young people] passionate about soccer and get excited about our brand as well,” said Hunter, who took over as head of the team late in 2007. He previously was president at AEG Sports, owner of the L.A. Galaxy, the region’s other soccer team. To create those moments, Chivas partnered with the Los Angeles Mayor’s office in the Kick it in the Park program. Chivas coaches will conduct clinics on training skills and soccer strategy at sites throughout the city once a week for the next 40 weeks. Thirteen of the clinics will take place in the San Fernando Valley. For a nominal $5 fee, children receive a soccer ball, a t-shirt and a ticket to a Chivas game. The clinics are expected to draw between 25,000 and 30,000 participants between the ages of five and 15 years old. Plans for Kick it in the Park were in the works prior to Hunter joining the team in September. Once he settled in as president, the program took off as a way to grow the presence of Chivas in the community. Young people, after all, are the future of the franchise, Hunter said. “We are the only team pulling off a program of this size and scope,” Hunter added. Chivas has reached out to the youth market in many ways in an aggressive soccer market, said Paul Clifton, general manager with soccer team Real SoCal based in Calabasas. And Chivas played a pre-season game last year in Granada Hills against Real Salt Lake, the first ever major league soccer game in the Valley, Clifton said. That game, which drew about 5,000 fans, showed that Chivas wanted to do more to attract interest in soccer, Clifton said, adding, “They are trying to do more than just selling tickets.” Chivas USA joined Major League Soccer as an expansion team in 2005 and shares The Home Depot Center in Carson with the L.A. Galaxy, one of the original teams when the league formed in 1996. That first year the league pulled in an average of 17,400 spectators. Attendance then dipped in subsequent seasons, hitting a low of 13,000 in 2000 before seeing a gradual increase. Last season averaged an attendance 16,700 spectators. At The Home Depot Center last season, Chivas averaged crowds of 14,000 fans and managed three sellouts. Chivas shares ownership with Club Deportivo Guadalajara, one of the most popular teams in Mexico. While the teams share logos and uniforms they diverge on the backgrounds of their players. Guadalajara is famous for its all-Mexican roster while Chivas plays up its diversity. With players hailing from the U.S., Brazil, Jamaica and Armenia, Chivas is more reflective of the nationalities making up the Los Angeles metropolitan region than any other major sports franchise, Hunter said. That soccer or football as it is called outside of the U.S. is a major international sport. and that many of those nationalities are represented in Southern California, means a natural market exists for fans and young players. Through the Kick it in the Park program Chivas can tap into the market. Through its youth development system, the team wants to take amateur players and grow them into potential future stars at the major league level. The Chivas under-18 team and under-16 team includes five players from the Valley. “For every kid playing hockey there are 22 playing soccer,” Hunter said. The youth programs take care of what happens on the playing field. For Hunter and the front office staff running the business operations there is no off-season. Ticket sales bring in the most revenue; sponsorships and broadcasting rights come next. The team takes what Hunter called a “less is more” approach in working with corporate sponsors limiting the number of brands and getting the most from the partnership. Disneyland, HSBC and Pepsi are among the major corporations sponsoring the team. The sponsors like associating with a team that goes into the community to reach out to the young fans, Hunter said.

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