Nobody dares to say it, but everybody’s thinking about it.
If Mexico doesn’t qualify for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, the economic consequences will be huge for both small and big businesses this side of the border, where passion for El Tri (which stands for the three colors of the green, white and red Mexican flag) runs high.
“Mexico’s national team enjoys such levels of support here that many people consider it the most important soccer team in the United States,” said Marisabel Muñoz, spokeswoman for Soccer Marketing United (SUM), the commercial arm of Major League Soccer (MLS), which owns the rights to promote El Tri in the U.S.
But beyond big business, there is a palpable nervousness on the streets about Mexico’s poor results so far in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Yes, of course there is worry,” said Frank Arnez, owner of the store Mexico City Sport Corporation in Jackson Heights, Queens. “Mexican people spend money on their team, but now the sales of Mexico’s shirts have stopped completely. I have merchandise here that is not going out, and what worries me the most are the orders I have already made because I expected Mexico to do well.”
When the Mexican team unveiled its black shirt before South Africa’s World Cup in 2010, German sportswear corporation Adidas reported sales of 1.2 million shirts around the world. Now, Arnez is stuck with boxes of these shirts gathering dust in his store.
“I went to Mexico last week, and I noted that people were concerned over there,” said Arnez. “I talked to other merchants, and we were all wondering what we could do to help Mexico qualify for the World Cup because, if it doesn’t, all of our businesses are going to fail.”
He is one of the many merchants who will be glued to the TV on October 11 to watch Mexico’s decisive match against Panama. If they win, they will still have to compete against New Zealand for a slot in Brazil 2014.
According to experts, significant losses are expected for the team’s sponsors, but small businesses will probably be hit the worst, said Courtney M. Brunious, associate director for the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute.
“Obviously, vendors of clothing and other articles related to the team will be affected, but [the elimination] could also impact other businesses,” Brunious said.
Also expressing concern are businesses that sell tour packages that bring fans to Brazil.
“If Mexico doesn’t qualify, it will be difficult for us to get clients interested in going to the World Cup,” said Julio Fernández, online sales manager at Tom Tours. “Interest has been growing for the past several World Cups, and Mexico has a big following.”
It is estimated that some 15,000 Mexicans traveled to South Africa to watch their team at the World Cup four years ago. For next year’s edition, tours cost between $4,000 and $8,000, said Fernández.
“It’s an expensive event,” he added. “The price depends on the number of games, air transportation, housing and other expenses.”
Big businesses are also on edge over Friday’s match. The brand “Mexico’s National Team” has attracted as many as 16 commercial sponsors for the five games El Tri plays every year in the U.S., attracting an average of 50,000 fans per game, according to SUM.
“This phenomenon will keep growing as long as the Hispanic population in the U.S. increases, as has been the trend,” said Brunious, of USC. “There is a strong national pride in this community, and you can see that in the stadiums. This is very attractive for marketers.”
According to Adam R. Jacobson, a specialist in Hispanic media markets, those sponsors should be worried about the losses that a World Cup without Mexico would represent. “The enormity of broadcasting costs will have significant repercussions if Mexico is absent, because advertising campaigns revolve around El Tri,” he said.
So far, sponsors have not expressed concern about the team’s potential elimination.
“We are following the national team very closely and we don’t see its brand losing value,” said Nick Carey, vice president of sponsorships at Wells Fargo, in a written statement. The company began sponsoring Mexico’s team right after its win against Côte d’Ivoire last August at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
In the end, even if Mexico doesn’t make it to the World Cup, its sponsors are confident that it will continue to attract consumers in U.S. stadiums.
“The brand of Mexico’s national team is very strong here, so we need to wait and see what happens. We don’t like to talk about hypothetical questions,” said Muñoz, of SUM. “What matters most is that the Mexican fans always stand by their team.”