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Interview with Miguel Zara, Senior Coordinator of Partnerships at Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing

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Miguel Zara

Senior Coordinator of Partnership Marketing,

Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing

 

 

Q: What is your name and your current role?

 

A: My position is broken down into Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing. For MLS I am in charge of commercial rights, activation, and insuring partner presence in our  domestically varied soccer  with currently 23 clubs ranging from the LA Galaxy in California to the New York Red Bull’s in New York.

 

As for Soccer United Marketing, it is a similar relationship but I handle commercial presence and rights for the Mexican national team or any international half season tournaments that are held in the US. Soccer United Marketing is the marketing arm of MLS and acts as a marketing agency in the US solely focused on soccer and the union in the US.

 

For MLS, we manage the 23 individual sponsors in the league such as Audi, Adidas, and Target. We make sure they are integrated into anything that we have going on during the regular season but also for special events such as the All-Star game.  At special events we help them launch their partner activations, such as our partner fan fest and any integration into the game. 

 

 

With Soccer United Marketing we represent CONCACAF and the Mexican national team during major tournaments and big events that are hosted all over the United States. Starting off with the Mexican national team, we host 5 Mexico matches throughout the year around the country, in predominantly NFL venues like Levis Stadium in California, AT&T Stadium in Dallas and MetLife in New York. We bring the Mexican national team to areas in the US where we know there are a lot of Mexican/American fans that will come and support the team. It’s really about bringing that international flame and flavor into the US.

 

 

For CONCACAF we host major events like the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Cup. These are more competition-based events where we host all national teams in CONCACAF from Mexico to Jamaica to US Soccer.

 

 

 

Q: The US is a very diverse country.  How do you adapt your marketing strategy at different cities/clubs?

 

A: It’s definitely about how we leverage our players. When speaking about MLS it depends on where you are so you leverage your players differently. For example marketing Darwin Quintero in Minnesota United FC is probably going to be a bit different than the way you would market him somewhere with a large latin population. You would probably market Quintero more from the skill basis than a cultural tie.

 

With LAFC where there are a lot of Mexican/American fans and latin fans, you market players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi brining in aspects tied to the culture. In my opinion that is how you’re successful at using what you have. When we talk about the Mexican national team we must identify certain locations throughout the country where we would be able to expose the team to the most amount of people. 

 

 

 

Q: What does a typical day look like for you at Major League Soccer?

 

A: I really don’t like to say there is a typical day here at MLS or Soccer United Marketing. We aren’t as big as other major sports clubs or major sport leagues therefore most of us are wear so many hats. We can be working with an MLS sponsor and an SUM sponsor for the Mexican national team. 

 

We wear a different hat everyday and it really depends on what events are coming up. In September we have a few events coming up.  For example, Mexico vs Uruguay and immediately following that we have Campeones Cup.  As these events are so close together we are really putting on a different hat every day.

 

I can be working with our partners making sure they are getting the information they need or making sure they are being represented correctly and keeping them in the loop about their representation of a specific event. At the same time with MLS we have to be considerate of the regular season and everything that goes in between that.

 

It really doesn’t stop just because another event is going on. We have to make sure that week-in and week-out we are still servicing our clubs and still servicing our MLS partners. So it really depends what time of the year it is, what event is coming up and whats going on at the MLS regular season and post-season. 

 

It is a very varied job that can be a lot of fun and it is rewarding because we get to touch a lot of different areas.

 

 

 

Q: Can you share with us how you got started in this industry and what has been your path to success?

 

A: I started off at the college level. I actually switched my major about two times, I started off as a biology major switched to computer engineer, and then sports management. I found myself in sports management after going into two years of college I started realizing that I was always at the gym, always volunteering for our collegiate basketball teams and I was also working at our local recreation center as a building manager. That’s when I really realized I needed to put my own selfish desires (in front of what my mother thought!) and began to move forwad with my sports management major. 

 

I’m from New Jersey and went to Rutgers University so I stayed quite close to home. It was the perfect location because you have access to Philadelphia and New York but also had the access to go further north or down south. Rutgers really gave me the opportunity to connect with many people in New York, specifically a good buddy of mine here from "Generation Z Marketing". 

 

"Generation Z Marketing" gave me my first look into the sports industry where I started off as an intern. They focus predominantly on youth marketing and finding ways to help children in the future in sports but also connecting them to commercial events. One of my main projects was MLS Kraft which was basically an opportunity to live the life of a professional. We flew out 12 children for about 3-4 days to Orlando, Florida. They visited Orlando City FC and spent each day at Disneyland, having team meals, hanging out with the players, being able to play on the field, etc.

 

That is where I met a lot of folks from the club and MLS. I connected with them and made sure I was putting in the hard work making sure that I was hungry and willing to learn and asking questions. I eventually got connected to the Vice President, Craig McCarthy (who is currently my boss) as he became a good mentor of mine. He gave me the first break here at MLS as an intern where I was able to show my worth and the good work ethics that I have. I showed my desire to learn about the industry and I was able to get a full-time position in my current role. I believe its about using the position you’re in, making the connections, and again, nshowing how hungry and how willing you are to learn!

 

 

 

Q: How did you get into the soccer/football industry?

 

A: I kinda fell into MLS. I always felt I was going to be in basketball. I played it growing up, I worked for the basketball team but then the moment that I spent with Orlando City literally opened my eyes to the culture that soccer brought. It got my wheel turning and got me intrigued in what this sport does to the people that follow it. 

 

And then I realized it’s probably the number one sport in the world for a reason, so I began looking into it, supporting their culture, their environment on the inside, and I just began to fall in love with it! I realized I wanted to be in sports because I wanted to eventually be a part of something that changed our everyday lives. I love their aspect and helping them grow the sport in the US where its not as popular.

 

 

 

Q: As the sport industry grows it also undergoes numerous changes. Tell us how you have adapted to the disruptions in the football industry.

 

 

A: I have been working three years here at MLS and Soccer United Marketing and right now more than ever our partners are activating with our special events. It is about fully finding those opportunities where our partners can activate and how we can help them activate with the best of our abilities while supporting their brand. 

 

At the same time we must find ways they can support our brand. What I see trending is the digital concept of it. Our partners are wanting to activate more and more towards social media and the digital landscape. In my particular role it’s a bit difficult to have those two together. We have pop-up ideas of how we can leverage certain events and access the stadium so there’s a digital component. Examples are having text promotions during half-time, ideas that are digital but also event-driven. It's those little tweaks that challenge this industry. We need to grow toward and find more opportunities. I’ve been learning to adapt to and I'm really enjoying it.

 

I think that soccer is the perfect sport for the digital age. Kids and younger generations are constantly on their phones and they give more attention to that than the things going around them. The challenge is to retain their attention for a certain period of time. We do this by having that constant live action that you see in soccer as supposed to other sports that have constant stoppages like NFL football, basketball at the NBA, etc. It is essential to keep the fans engaged and finding ways to grow.  

 

I believe soccer is in a really good position to continue using the digital aspects in events and numerous opportunities are available. 

 

 

 

Q: What is the most exciting project you are working on this year?

 

A: Campeones Cup! It’s the first-ever event of this kind for MLS and the Mexican football league (Liga MX). These two companies are partnered together to create this competition. At the end of each year we host the "Campeon de Campeones" between the champion from Liga MX against the MLS champion. This year it will be Toronto FC vs Tigeres at BMO Field in Toronto.

 

It really is about capitalizing that rivalry between the two leagues and seeing who’s the best of the best, Toronto FC won the MLS Cup and Tigeres won the Liga MX therefore they will play to see who is the best of the best. But really it is also about bragging rights until the year after that! Essentially it is about creating more competition, creating more exposure for our clubs and hopefully creating this into a bigger event year after year.

 

 

 

Q: What are your thoughts on La Liga thinking of bringing a few regular season games to the US?

 

A: The number one thing that we are trying to accomplish is growing the sport in the US. Everything after that will fall back in. This can help growing MLS and give exposure for the Mexican national team.

 

Therefore we welcome as much exposure to the sport as possible in the US. If they do bring La Liga matches to the US it will give us an opportunity to expose the sport and hopefully MLS capitalizes on that. It will leave people hungry for the sport and then they would want as much as possible so that’s when we can come in and give them games to watch in MLS, CONCACAF, the Mexican national team, etc. 

 

I think it’s a great thing to expose the sport as much as possible in the UA. Although it is the most popular sport in the world, we all know that it is not the number one sport in the US.  The more we can put it in front of people's faces, the better!

 

 

 

Q: What are your thoughts on the World Cup 2026 coming to the US and partnering with Mexico and Canada?

 

A: It was a fantastic bid leveraging all the stadiums in Canada, the US and Mexico. We must now leverage each other and the demographics that each of our countries holds to create one united front.

 

Our thought is that the US and Canada are very diverse countries from a cultural standpoint. Mexico is beginning to be more diverse so the question is how do you leverage that? How do you invite the entire world here and make them feel like home?

 

This is something they will be working on these next eight years. Something hopefully I’m a part of when it comes time but to my knowledge it is really about how do we blow this up to be the most memorable World Cup of all time and get people to understand how great these three countries really are.

 

 

 

Q: Finally, after discussing your career path and some of the latest events in football, what advice would you give aspiring professionals looking to work in the sports/football industry?

A: I would tell them to, ask questions, volunteer, and make connections. I remember when I started reaching out to professionals I did it so I could hear other people's stories, where they came from and why they were doing what they were doing. I also did this to see if I was a good fit and to see if that is something I would love doing. 

 

The more you learn from other people the more you can relate to yourself. And the more you know yourself the better you are in the position to succeed and be comfortable in what you are doing. Again it is about siezing the opportunities that come your way.

 

I would say to them to not be afraid to create their own opportunities by creating connections and asking many questions!

 

 

 


This interview was conducted by Elizabeth León, Marketing Assistant at the Sports Business Institute Barcelona. 

 

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