• Marianela Camelo

A billboard and a lesson on inclusion

Photo Credit: Twitter @HoustonDash

A report from The Inquirer announced that CONCACAF plans to create a women’s champions league following the 2023 World Cup and many began speculating of a guaranteed NWSL victory, given its vast developmental advantage in the region. But it’s important to note that influence to the United States league has come from unexpected sources, reminding us to open our eyes to what else exists within North and Latin America. Here's the story.

Tigres Femenil’s impact has transcended borders thanks to their social media efforts, gaining attention from notable NWSL club and recent Challenge Cup winners, The Houston Dash. The head coach of the team, James Clark, noticed the marketing efforts and the commitment from the fans. For him and his colleagues, this was something important. What they saw online caught their attention—and now they were ready to experience it themselves.

The Dash’s delegation landed in Monterrey on October 4th, 2019. On their way to the press conference, Paloma Alatorre, Houston's Communications Coordinator, turned to listen to Clarkson, not realizing that what he was about to say would be the catalyst that drove her new project: “Have you seen this?” James asked. There was a billboard by Tigres, with a player from the women’s team and a male player behind her. James told me, “We have to make this happen in our city.” The players that they saw were Mariana Elizondo, a young and promising midfielder, and Eduardo Tercero, a defense of the men's team. At that moment, a new goal was established: to immediately accomplish a similar image and make it the standard.

Two teams. One crest. An equitable, shared space. Something fundamental since the birth of Tigres Femenil.

Photo Credit: Paloma Alatorre

Those billboards were only a part of the great planning and conceptualization that Tigres´organization had from day one. The priority since the first campaign was to give the same space to the women as they did to the men. For Carlos Valenzuela, Tigres’ Director of Commercial and Marketing, it was the only road to take to consolidate the project. "Since Tigres Femenil was born, the approach of the institution was to give it more seriousness, to work with professionalism and provide the same spaces that the men’s team had because in this team we believe in equality."

This image of the billboard remained in Paloma’s mind as they arrived at the stadium. She remembers the moment when Katty Martínez and Liliana Mercado welcomed her, Kealia Ohai, and Sofía Huerta, with a kiss on the cheek, as is the custom in Mexico. The players were surprised to see this incredible welcome. They started to experience Mexican culture, one that is warm and lives in sisterhood with all of those who share the same passion. And, of course, the culture of a club that opened the doors for them to establish an equal relationship.

The experience they had so far was just a little taste of what was to come. The day had finally arrived for the clubs and the fans. The Dash players, including Jamia Fields, fell in love with the environment in the Universitario. The forward was ready to face a new style of soccer, something different than what she faced week after week in the NWSL, but her excitement rose after encountering a spectacular environment. "The stadium was so incredible. I was not expecting so many fans, but the energy in that stadium was stimulating." In the tunnels and the dressing room, they felt a volcano vibrate, ready to explode. They were watching how soccer is lived by the most passionate fans in the country. The experience was better than they imagined.

While the players were playing and learning on the field, the employees of the club kept absorbing the impact the multiple Tigres campaigns had on the public. A stadium with fans singing the names of the players they loved. “It was something very beautiful and exciting to see that the fans that came for the men’s team stayed to watch the game. It did not matter that they were men or women on the field, the fans came to see soccer being played”, Paloma said. She wanted the same for the Dash. They had two great teams, and she wanted fans to cheer for both of them with the same enthusiasm.

Upon their return to Houston, Alatorre and her team got down to work to continue to promote the women’s game. They had a notebook full of notes about how they could use what they had learned to put the teams in the same space and in the same way the team from San Nicolás had done it. Paloma wanted to share what she saw about the positioning of the Mexican team with her colleagues, and she was determined to incorporate that mentality because her club knew that it was necessary. "It was a big part of the change in branding that was historic for us. All our change in branding was united, and it really was a change in culture. We were going to become one club."

It was of utmost importance to keep the communication open with Tigres. Karla Garza, the Marketing Manager for the team, and the rest of the club kept the conversation going. They decided to exchange ideas and strategic practices. A few weeks later, Dash let Tigres know about their rebranding and how they were inspired by their work. "They told us we participated in a little piece [of their rebranding] by inspiring them; we felt very happy and honored and committed." Today, the new billboards of the Houston Dash can be seen throughout the city, proudly sending the same message that inspired them: that in their institution there is space for all.

Photo Credit: Paloma Alatorre

After their experience in Monterrey, Paloma believes a page has turned in their history books. Now that their new vision has become a reality with their new campaign, the next step is to face other teams to keep learning, enjoying, and celebrating. For now, James is ready to return. "We have talked with other clubs in different cities about playing other games. We hope COVID will be under control in 2021, and we can start playing these games with fans in the stadium."

The Dash learned many lessons. But what is next for them? Now it is time to turn around and teach something new to the NWSL. They proved that looking at the Liga MX Femenil had many advantages, one of them the inspiration for starting an inclusive rebranding.

May this be the first step in building relationships between the two leagues, leading to the CONCACAF competition in 2023 and beyond.