Article republished on businessofsoccer.com
As the Philadelphia Union continue to grow as a club in Major League Soccer, increased attention is placed on the caliber of player development, particularly for homegrown players. It will not be long before the Zach Pfeffers and Jack McInerneys of today will be the elite level players on a U-18 or U-20 side for the Philadelphia Union, instead of beginning a career with the first team at 15 and 17 years old, respectively.
Additionally, despite the introduction of Bimbo as a kit sponsor, the bakery company has yet to make an appearance among the Union Juniors and Academy programs. It also appears that Bimbo was left out of any deal with Union Soccer Schools. Despite the mispronunciation and short-lived controversy around the English definition of the word, Bimbo appears to be missing a key marketing opportunity, given the growing number of youth players in the Union's program.
However, insurance company, Allstate, has taken advantage of a similar opportunity – Sueño MLS. In its fifth year, the competition, which may be unknown to some, is providing opportunities to players in three Major League Soccer markets – Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia – made possible by its presenting sponsor, Allstate, and additional partners. Past winners of the competition have gone on to play for the first division side in the MLS, have received opportunities within the U.S. Youth National Team player pool, and become full-time members of MLS club academies.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the youth competition, Sueño MLS, with representatives from both Major League Soccer / Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and its sponsor, Allstate. Gabriel Gabor, responsible for International Communications within MLS/SUM, and Karen Uhler, Senior Marketing Manager at Allstate, were available for comment on the competition.
Discussion with Gabriel Gabor, MLS/SUM
tBG: Though the competition is targeted towards Hispanic youth players, is there a participation requirement that the players must be Hispanic?
MLS/SUM: Not at all. While the competition is promoted and televised through Univision’s República Deportiva and other Hispanic media outlets, and at its core targets Hispanic youth players, Sueño MLS has always been open to all ethnicities. In the past we have welcomed hundreds of non-Hispanic participants not only from the United States, but from dozens of foreign countries, like Morocco, England, Australia and more.
tBG: How are the MLS clubs selected for participation in this competition?
MLS/SUM: In most cases the clubs reach out to the league soliciting participation. MLS also takes into consideration the youth development structure of the clubs to ensure that the program is a good fit for everyone, and finally, it’s also important that Sueño MLS be brought to different markets over time to allow all players an opportunity.
tBG: How does this competition complement the existing academy programs that exist within the MLS clubs?
MLS/SUM: The competition works hand in hand with the club’s Youth Development Directors to assure that Sueño is an asset for the club, both in terms of player recruitment and community outreach. In the past, while only one player is selected as the ultimate winner, several players from each club tryout get invited to join MLS youth teams.
tBG: Is the reward merely the opportunity to train with an MLS club or to be signed to the respective first team roster? What other opportunities come as a result of winning as well as participating in Sueño MLS? Are youth players invited to join the MLS club's youth academy (if applicable)?
MLS/SUM: Sueño MLS is an amateur competition, as we do not want to jeopardize the participant’s college eligibility. The winner gets the title of “Sueño MLS Champion” and an invitation to join a club’s youth team (at a level determined by the team scouts). However, most importantly, Sueño MLS allows the winner to transcend from a talented neighborhood player among thousands of youth, to a name that will be recognized by every scout and coach in the country. The competition opens doors, and what a player does with that exposure is up to him. The winner of the first Sueño MLS, Jorge Flores, joined Chivas USA as an Under-19 player. But he worked hard every day, and within six months he was offered a contract by the senior team.
Discussion with Karen Uhler, Allstate
tBG: As a sponsor, what role does Allstate play with regards to Sueño MLS?
Allstate: Allstate is in its first year as presenting sponsor of Sueño MLS and we see this as a great opportunity to support young Hispanic soccer players and help them pursue their dreams of one day playing for an MLS team. To put our own unique stamp on Sueño MLS presented by Allstate and add a new component to the program, this year we will reward the top-performing goalkeeper with the Allstate "Good Hands" award – "El Portero Allstate." The winner will be announced on national television on Univision at the National Finals in May and will have the opportunity to train with his local MLS team.
tBG: How did Allstate Insurance first become involved in Sueño MLS?
Allstate: For the past four years, the Mexican National Team sponsorship has been an integral piece of Allstate’s Hispanic marketing strategy and our sports sponsorship portfolio. Coming into this year as we were looking at ways to expand our presence in the sport of soccer, Sueño MLS emerged as an opportunity that provided a unique platform for Allstate to reach even more Hispanic soccer fans as part of the larger MLS sponsorship we have become a part of. As a company that prides itself on protecting consumers from life’s uncertainties, Allstate has focused much of its soccer marketing efforts around the goalkeeper position and "El Portero Allstate" is another great way for us to communicate that message of protection.
Though the competition is not to detract from the academy programs already in existence, Sueño MLS provides an opportunity for youngsters outside the scope of clubs from which the Philadelphia Union Academy and Juniors program identifies players.
For additional information on Sueño MLS, please visit the Major League Soccer's website.
Thank you to both Gabriel Gabor (MLS/SUM) and Karen Uhler (Allstate) for commenting on this topic.