Triumphant Mexico soccer team becoming a major brand in the U.S.

LOS ANGELES Tue Jun 28, 2011 3:37am EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mexico's national soccer team not only retained their continental Gold Cup crown but in the past three weeks have also made their mark as one of the most successful sports brands in North America.

In their six games at different venues across the United States, Mexico attracted an average attendance of 71,500 fans including the 93,000 who turned out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday.

Stadiums built for NFL teams have been packed with Spanish-speaking families singing and chanting and dressed in green jerseys.

The result has been a passionate 'home field' advantage for Mexico against all opponents -- even the United States in Los Angeles.

"It's an unbelievable feeling, we have some many Mexican fans in the United States and we have to say thanks for all the support we get," said Manchester United striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, fast becoming a global name in the sport.

The team is also generating the kind of attention that would be the envy of most of the top American sports teams.

The Mexicans have produced television audiences that have pushed Spanish-language network Univision to the top of the U.S. ratings for peak-time on Saturday night for the past two weeks, beating all the leading England-language channels.

The final, which Mexico won 4-2, attracted an average audience of 8 million throughout the broadcast -- in Spanish.

To put into context, game seven of the NHL's Stanley Cup, averaged 8.5 million in the States on NBC and the final round of the U.S. Open golf drew 9 million on the same channel -- both in English.

Not surprisingly the Mexican team have attracted some top-level sponsors, eager to gain from association with a true Hispanic success story in the States.

"The team are now one of the top sports brands in the States and companies have stepped up and seen the value of that," said Michael Hitchcock of Texas-based Playbook Management International, who specialize in soccer business in North America

"They are selling out stadiums, selling jerseys, selling sodas, selling beers -- anyway you look at it they are a money-making machine because the fans are so passionate."

Among those sponsoring the team are 'All American' brands normally more associated with traditional U.S. sports -- among them Coca Cola and Home Depot.

Anheuser Busch's 'Bud Light' beer has been pushing their association with the Mexicans through various mediums.

In L.A., visitors to the international airport have been greeted with a giant billboard promoting the beer's sponsorship of the team.

Insurance company All State have pushed their link-up with 'El Tri' heavily on television during the Gold Cup and have also interacted directly with fans through their 'Futbol Fiesta' initiative outside stadiums.

"We've expanded our presence and support of soccer overall because it is such a popular sport that is growing sport in the States," says All State's Caitlin Morse.

"We've had a lot of success with the Mexican national team -- being able to interact with fans, we have found the team a great way to communicate to a Hispanic audience."

All State, like Budweiser, also sponsor the U.S. national team, indicating that brands may well choose to have a foot in both camps of North America's biggest soccer rivalry.

Mexico's commercial success is also helping U.S. soccer in another way - the U.S. deals, including the organization of five games a year in the States, are handled by Soccer United Marketing (SUM) which is the marketing wing of Major League Soccer -- the club championship in the U.S. and Canada.

SUM has been marketing Mexico in the States since their link up with the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) began in 2003.

"To be able to align a brand with that passion point has been something that has been extremely valuable to some industry-leading brands," said SUM's vice-president of global sponsorship David Wright.

"The growth will mirror somewhat you see in this country - the demographic shift and the evolution and growth of the Hispanic market place.

"We don't need to educate (potential) partners - they know what this team means and the results show it."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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