Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What the Union's marriage with Bimbo means

To many soccer fans, the word "Bimbo" represents something very different from its traditional English connotation.

What the Union's marriage with Bimbo means

Note: You can watch video highlights from yesterday's press conference here.

As The Inquirer's Jeff Gammage reported this morning, the Union have signed a shirt sponsorship contract with Bimbo, the gigantic Mexican baked goods company whose American headquarters is in Horsham.

The first rumors about this deal were floated a few weeks ago, but at the time they had so little substance that few people really believed them. It turns out they were right, though. Now, we have real numbers - and the Union have real revenue. According to Gammage's story, the Union will make around $12 million over four years from the deal.

I have also been told by a source with direct knowledge of the deal that Bimbo's advertisements going forward will feature players from the Union and other clubs in Major League Soccer. So this deal will have an impact beyond just Philadelphia.

More coverage
The Goalkeeper: Union-Bimbo press conference video

Now, I suspect a fair number of people woke up this morning and wondered why on earth the Union would partner with a company whose name is spelled the same way as a word used to describe women in a derogatory manner.

But in this case, the word has no such connotation. Indeed, to many soccer fans - especially the growing Hispanic population in the Philadelphia region - the word "Bimbo" represents something much more positive.

Bimbo's association with soccer goes beyond its long history as one of the most important companies in Mexico. The firm sponsors the jerseys of three of the country's biggest clubs: América, Chivas, and Monterrey. Bimbo also sponsors the jersey of the largest club in Costa Rica, FC Saprissa.

(Some of you may know of Saprissa because of its stadium, which has hosted multiple U.S.-Costa Rica World Cup qualifying matches in recent years.)

So the Union is joining some fairly select company here - and the club could reap a very particular benefit from the partnership. If Bimbo is able to use its name recognition in the Hispanic community to promote the Union as a soccer team that the local Hispanic population should follow, that could open an entirely new fan base for the club.

And to be blunt, it's a demographic that the Union did not reach out to much in its inaugural season. Throughout last year, I heard from many reporters at local Spanish-language media outlets that the Union did not market themselves much to their readers, viewers and listeners.

Although the Philadelphia area's Hispanic population is not as large as the communities in New York and Washington, it is sizeable nonetheless - and it is comprised of much more than the Puerto Rican population that has called Kensington and Northeast Philadelphia home for decades.

In particular, this region has a growing Mexican population, stretching from 9th Street and Washington Avenue to the mushroom farms in Kennett Square. There are a lot of soccer fans in that demographic, as evidenced by the shop windows full of jerseys that are scattered throughout the Italian Market.

You can buy some quality products in those stores, not just knockoff jerseys but the real thing. There's apparel from Mexican clubs, South American national teams and European giants such as Barcelona and Manchester United. You can even find a U.S. national team jersey every once in a while.

But not once in my many trips to 9th Street have I seen anything with a Philadelphia Union logo on it. No matter that there are many Spanish-speaking players on the team, or that multiple Union games were broadcast on Spanish-language television this season. Even though the Union don't have any Mexican players - Michael Orozco Fiscal comes closest - there is still plenty of marketing potential in players like Roger Torres and even Eduardo Coudet.

Coudet is actually very well known in Mexico, having spent four years there with San Luis and Necaxa. He is an even bigger name in Argentina because of his many years with Buenos Aires-based power River Plate. Coudet was often one of the most sought-after Spanish-speaking Union players for postgame interviews last year, even though he didn't arrive until midway through the season.

This is all a very long way of saying that the Union has much more to gain from their deal with Bimbo than just $12 million in sponsorship revenue. If the two sides want to, they can make something of this that is not just about money.

Vince Melchiorre, senior vice president of Bimbo Bakeries USA, phrased his view of the deal in a very particular way in the Inquirer story this morning.

"The passion that exists in that stadium rivals an Eagles game - that's what I took away," Melchiorre said. "This is Philadelphia, for goodness sakes ... You would have thought we were in Mexico."

Perhaps Bimbo's affiliation with the Union will bring a little more of that flavor to PPL Park.

In addition to the deal announced today, there have been rumors going around lately that Bimbo is interested in buying Tasty Baking. As we all know, the Philadelphia stalwart has fallen on hard financial times. If Bimbo makes the acquisition, it would have an even stronger hold in the local market. The firm already owns dozens of familiar brands, including Entemann's and Strohemann.

Bimbo has taken out a fair amount of advertising in our region, most notably billboards on Interstate 95. If the firm does buy Tasty Baking, it does not seem too far-fetched to me to wonder if one of those signs could feature Roger Torres or Sebastien Le Toux endorsing Butterscotch Krimpets this summer.

Chew on that next time you head out for a snack.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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