14 December 2005

Boris Flores: The DCenters Interview

This article is the first in a planned series of interviews with DC United Front Office managers about how DCU executes key aspects of its organizational activities.

When DC United indicated that they might make some of their Front Office staff available for interviews with The DCenters, the first name The DCenters asked about was Boris Flores. Mr. Flores is the Manager of Hispanic Relations for DC United. For non-Spanish speaking fans, such as myself, the operations of DC United in the Hispanic community appear to be hidden behind the language barrier. Soccer Digest once noted that DC United was exceptional in its efforts to market to a Hispanic audience, and any first-time visitor to RFK will notice that from bilingual PA announcements, banners taunting opponents in both English and Spanish, and from the songs bellowed by a diverse crowd, a Latino presence definitely has shaped the DC United fan experience.

Boris Flores spoke by phone with the DCenters for half an hour on how DC United has achieved some of its success in marketing to the Hispanic audience, the challenges involved in such a venture, and what DCU does differently from other organizations in MLS. He was very candid when we asked him questions, and some of his responses on what he can, and what he doesn't, take credit for are surprising. Here is some of what he told the DCenters.

On Himself, and the Job
Mr. Flores is 34, and has worked for DC United for five years. "I used to cover the team for El Tiempo Latino, which is now owned by the Washington Post. I joined DC United, and was a press officer for a time. " The DCenters was curious when his current position was created-- and what it entailed: "[The title was created] in September of 2002...It is hard to explain the job." He paused for a moment trying to find the right way to describe it. "I manage and oversee the marketing, advertising, communications, outreach and sales targeting Latino audiences. I also work with the PR Department."

This cross-departmental scope of his position is one manner in which DC United works differently from other MLS franchises. Neither FC Dallas nor San Jose have an individual listed filling a role similar to Boris. Teams like the MetroStars, Chicago, and Los Angeles do, but Boris believes that those individuals work "within a department. Just within the Marketing Group, or Communications." Boris works across groups, helping to ensure a consistent interaction between DC United and the Latino community.

Mr. Flores also oversees DC United's participation in a weekly Spanish television program, as well as its participation with Spanish radio. Listeners thrown by the abrupt switch of WHFS (99.1 FM) from its "alternative rock" format to "El Zol 99" may have noticed that DC United has advertised on the new radio station, whose ratings improved markedly with the format change (source for ratings: dcrtv.org).

MLS Outreach, but a Larger Scale
Don Garber reaffirmed this year that one of the three main markets for MLS was the Hispanic community. In 2001, MLS recognized it wasn't across franchises in penetrating the Latino market. As part of a new effort, a series of "Hispanic Heritage" nights were held by each team, the first starting with Columbus. Boris allows himself a small laugh. "We've done that much bigger this year. We had a Hispanic Pride Week, events were planned all week." The event was developed in coordination with a Hispanic Advisory Committee which was formed in coordination with DCU. Several Hispanic business owners participate in the council, and provide suggestions on how DCU can tailor its outreach programs. The Hispanic Pride Week culminated in a soccer-clinic which attracted over 200 children, each of whom had written an essay on their heritage. "We provided music for the parents while the kids played on the [RFK auxiliary] field. We wanted to make it a family-type event. Players came out, most of the Hispanic players except Jamie Moreno, who was playing in that Real Madrid match. Hispanic families are tight-knit."

The family aspect is one that Boris particularly is concerned with, and wants DCU not just to target individual Latino fans, but families as a whole. "It's good to get children with their parents. Many families are working two jobs, they don't have much time with their kids. We want DC United to be something they can do as a family."

Why Is DC United Successful With Latinos?
One of the more interesting admissions from Boris is that while he believes DCU is doing more to market to a Latino audience than many, and developing several new initiatives, he believes that much of the success in developing the fan-base has nothing to do with his work. "Hispanic fans are very savvy. If the teams are not winning, it is tougher to get them to come out. DC United had domestic and international success. We had players like Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce to set the foundation, and now players like Christian Gomez. Anglo fans will often come for entertainment, but Latino fans want the three points." The early on-field success helped DCU find its footing in the community, providing a product that was worth showing up for. He also credits the Latino fan base for responding to DCU's success, and integrating it into their sense of community without prompting from DC United.

Specific Initiatives
I asked Mr. Flores about how DCU sells its tickets to the Hispanic fan base. I mention that I had read that DC United sells tickets at a discount to Hispanic owned businesses. Those businesses in turn sell the tickets at face value to the community. "For small business, yes" he confirms. But that's only half of how it works: "We have a package for Hispanic businesses with marketing elements. It ties into a monthly magazine insert" into Spanish language periodicals. This effort started in 2001, and has helped lead to the development of strong ties with smaller Hispanic owned business, and larger corporate sponsors, such as Pollo Campero.

With input from the Hispanic Advisory Committee, Mr. Flores is pursuing new options. He says that a soccer tournament for Latino league teams is in the early stages of planning. He's thinking of new ways to help bring families to United games. To tie DC United ticket packages into community events for the entire family.

I ask him about the possibility of separate outreach to the African-American or the GLBT communities. He notes that he has participated in community outreach events, including the one The DCenters caught mention of on WUSA TV-9. He works in conjunction with the Community Outreach coordinators on these matters, and not solely on Latino concerns, and urges me to discuss those matters with that department.

Tips for Other MLS Teams...
When I ask him if other MLS teams have asked DC United for advice, he seems to indicate that they don't specifically. "We have an annual meeting, where we discuss how to translate success into other markets. We share our successes and failures. But we're blessed with the market in DC. I mean, New York is a big market, but," he pauses, "no championships." Again, on-field success makes the job easier.

When I ask him for one tip for other teams, his answer is one that I think explains how DCU tailors some of its marketing even within the Hispanic community, and helps explain a weakness of those that view the Hispanic community as a monolithic whole. "You have to identify the make-up of the community, then get involved. See what's important to them, understand them. Know exactly what you're dealing with. In a market with Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, soccer is not the number one sport. Baseball is number one. So you have to understand the make-up, and know how to work with 1st and 2nd generation families." I'm reminded of a word he used earlier: savvy. The fans are savvy enough to know a good soccer product from a bad one, and a failure of an organization to be savvy could lead to being blindsided to marketing to the wrong set of fans entirely.

Challenges and Final Thoughts
I ask him if he's worried that increased penetration among other core markets identified by Don Garber might remove some of the special atmosphere from RFK. "Not at all, different ethnicities, families, it will all continue."

As an Anglo, I realize what's bothering me. I ask for one favor: "Can you get the English PA announcer to lighten up and be more like the Spanish PA Announcer. He's way more into the game, I dig that guy." Boris laughs, and promises to see what he can do.


At 14 December, 2005 12:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview...I'm Anglo, but very involved in the local hispanic men's league so I understand both types of soccer fans.

Really funny comment about what Anglo fans want vs. Latino fans....
believe me...he's TOTALLY right!!

DC made a great hire. He appears to be humble, and has a great handle on what the Latino market wants to see...and how to market to them.

At 14 December, 2005 13:13, Blogger D said...

Dawg - Thanks. And I agree with you, the idea that issues like this are regulated to annual meetings shocked me. It seems like there would be a team of people flying around the country, identifying best practices, and getting other clubs to implement, adapt, and improve them. That there isn't says something. And thanks for the hype at your place. I do intend to discuss Goff soon.

Matt - I also loved that quote, it was probably my favorite moment of that interview. It was a completley honest appraisal. What was also nice was to see a corporate type not feel insecure to the point of feeling like they had to take credit for everything. Made him very real in my book. The only quote that competed with "3 points" was was his analysis of the New York market (I promise I did not prompt him to slam the Metros :).

At 14 December, 2005 21:08, Blogger Kinney said...

Great interview. I was the anon from earlier that was psyched about these interveiws and this one didn't disappoint.

His "three point" comment validates what I have thought for a while now just from being around the games. Also, I was very happy to see that they were getting a hispanic league tourny together. This was something I thought they could do to increase visability.

Overall, exactly like what I expected a class act like United would be doing. It was interesting to see that they are trying to tap into the hispanic family experience. Great idea.

Also, while it is suprising from a single-entity point of view that there is not more discussion it is fairly obvious from an examination of the situations at different clubs that they don't. They should, but they obviously don't.

At 23 October, 2012 17:09, Anonymous Pay per head services said...

that is a very nice interview, I have seen Boris Flores and he is a really good person and soccer player too


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