Sep 14, 2020

Money Tree of the Mexican League

Money Tree of the Mexican League

Netflix, football & sponsors’ gold… or why smart sports organizations mutate into entertainment brands.

What if an unknown candidate for the US presidential elections changed his name to Frank Underwood, applied the controversial rhetorics from the series and used the House of Cards imagery for his campaign? Let’s assume it’s not a joke, but a provocative PR experiment. Would this candidate have a chance against Donald Trump in the upcoming elections? Probably not… (or maybe?)[1] Would the campaign create buzz and have extensive media coverage? Definitely. And with that media exposure, would there be any sponsors willing to finance his campaign? Absolutely. Why? Because: screen time + existent fan base + emotional engagement with a mediatic brand = Eldorado for sponsorship opportunities.

At this point, you are probably wondering why the content of these first lines doesn’t match the title and heading and whether you should continue reading this article… You definitely should! Because this first paragraph isn’t just a pretentious attention-grabbing introduction (well, maybe a little), but should prepare you for a similar (and real!) case from the sports industry.

a fascinating brand experiment, a win-win-win for the football club, sponsors and fans

So get ready for some high levels of innovation. In this article you’ll get to know the unprecedented story of Mexican entrepreneurs who might have a brilliant recipe for re-creating a football club as a profitable entertainment franchise.

Let’s analyze this case to explore options on how to capitalize on a recognized brand and loyal fan base in the context of the current paradigm shift in the sports industry, so you’ll get some insights you can use to push the limits of fan engagement in your sports organization and start building or expanding your community.

Club de Cuervos – case study

Club de Cuervos, or Club of Crows, is a Mexican comedy-drama, which premiered in 2015 as Netflix’s first Spanish-language original series. The story centers on the football club Cuervos FC, based in the fictional city of Nuevo Toledo, Mexico, and the power struggle over ownership and direction of the team after the death of its long-time owner and patriarch.

During its 4 seasons Club de Cuervos conquered not only the local public, but also the international one. Even though Netflix doesn’t reveal the ratings or play count, the scope of the series’ success is latent in its transmission in the 190 countries in which Netflix has a presence.[2]

Money Tree of the Mexican League

While Club de Cuervos was broadcast between 2015 and 2019, reaching extreme levels of popularity in Mexico, the company Charly Futbol launched the first official products of the franchise: jerseys, sportswear and accessories. Furthermore, the effective development of the marketing of the Cuervos brand was driven by a Netflix advertising campaign and, as expected, the official jerseys turned out to be a great commercial success.[3]

What has happened?

According to information from the international sports network ESPN, the famous selection from the Netflix Club de Cuervos series could become a real team in the Mexican football league.

The journalist John Sutcliffe revealed on ESPN Radio Fórmula that a group of investors would be interested in starting a football team under the name of Cuervos Negros, which would join the Liga BBVA MX, given its possible expansion.

Money Tree of the Mexican League

“There are a number of entrepreneurs who are waiting for the moment when the League goes to 20 teams (…) They are putting together a team called Cuervos Negros, with the Cuervos uniform, that uniform that has sold in an impressive way” – revealed the journalist, highlighting the commercial impact that the creation of an institution with that name would have. “You ask 10-year-olds what shirt they want (…) and after Real Madrid and Barcelona, many (fans) in Mexico tell you that they want the Cuervos (shirt), it has been a phenomenon”.[4]

What can we learn from this unprecedented case?

Intersection of sports and entertainment

Sport is entertainment, that’s pretty obvious. People consume sport, connect with and over sport, it rouses emotions. No doubt about it. The fascinating aspect in this case of turning fiction into reality is that it understands entertainment in broader terms (as an emotional construct, which connects with people on so many levels) and takes full advantage of the power of emotional transmission of audiovisual content.

we’re so used to real life stories about sports being adapted to the screen that seeing it the other way round feels refreshing and bold

Another fascinating point of the project of bringing the Cuervos Negros team to life is, that it operates at the precise intersection of sport and entertainment. It’s the sweet spot where all the positive emotions evoked by the series meet with powerful sport excitement. And this mix is an extremely strong cocktail of deeper and broader fan engagement for a new institution just coming to life under an already existing, broadly recognized and liked brand. But what does deeper and broader fan engagement actually mean in this context?

Money Tree of the Mexican League

New frontiers of fan engagement

By deeper fan engagement, I mean true relationships between fans and the Club de Cuervos series. Why are they necessarily deeper? Because a tv series is a special kind of product made of people + emotions. The building blocks here are fictional characters created to be likable, or not, funny, or ambitious, or silly… they are human. They have dilemmas, problems, life happens to them and all this causes an emotional engagement based on empathy and identification.

Given a wide variety of characters, with different personalities and traits, different social backgrounds, probably everybody from the audience will identify with a character or a situation to a greater or lesser degree.

Moreover, this identification extended over years (four seasons of the series) strengthens the emotional connection. Just remember the feeling of slight sadness, after watching the last episode of your absolutely favorite series and knowing, there aren’t going to be any more. (Let’s be real: didn’t you shed a tear watching the death of Walter White? Did you have this bitter-sweet feeling in the last scene of the Sopranos?) We can all relate to that, right?

leverage fans’ emotional engagement with the brand, transferring it from the series to the new real football club

By broader engagement, I mean that in the Cuervos case we’re coming from more to less, starting with a massive, international, very diverse audience, which is far broader (geographically and socially) than the natural, organically grown, mostly regional fanbase a Mexican football club could ever dream of.

Among the Club de Cuervos series fans, we might encounter more women, kids, people from different socio-economic backgrounds, or fans from other countries, who enjoyed watching the series, but if it wasn’t for that, they most likely wouldn’t be engaged or even interested in a real football team playing in the Mexican League. However now, with the creation of the real Cuervos FC, even if they won’t actively participate in the club’s life or go to matches, they are still fond of the Cuervos brand and might follow the adventures of the new team in the media out of curiosity and attachment.

Money Tree of the Mexican League

Shortcut in building community

So there already is an existing base of loyal, engaged fans of the Cuervos brand. The idea is to transfer this loyalty and engagement to the newly created real Cuervos team and build its own community around it. Easier said, than done. Let’s do some futurology here. What may happen: not all fans of the Club de Cuervos series will transition to being fans of Cuervos FC for a variety of reasons.

Some of them might just have enjoyed watching the series, but aren’t particularly keen on football itself.

Others (depending on their interests / demographics / age / gender / where they live, etc.) may not support the real Cuervos FC because they just don’t follow the Mexican league closely, or they prefer to support their local, regional team.

Some might transition at first, but then weaken their enthusiasm or even get disappointed, when they realize the differences between a fictional team played by attractive, charismatic actors, immersed in (designed, created and purposefully exciting and dramatic) adventures and a real team, operating under the same brand, but formed by real players, whose priorities are their sport achievements.

Money Tree of the Mexican League

But overall, the majority (the overlap of people who liked and enjoyed the series and who are actively involved football fans and would gladly support this team – as proven by the huge sales success of the official products) will transition and become fans of the real Cuervos team.

Therefore, what makes it so interesting and complete is that the real Cuervos FC will have a community on 2 different layers: 1. Core community of active, involved fans and 2. External community of people who aren’t watching every single match, but know what’s happening due to media exposure. Such a broad, varied, segmented fan base, basically a cross-section of Mexican society (and probably fans from other Latin-American countries) is just candy for potential sponsors. So let’s talk about money.

Capitalize on a strong brand

Let’s play with the idea of the development of the Cuervos brand in the context of commercialization. The real Cuervos FC is in a great starting position: there’s an existing, recognized (fictional) sports brand, official products are selling great, there are loyal fans, there is a relationship with the club, there is visual identification…  the basic foundations for the sports club are made, which makes it such an unprecedented case. So what are the possibilities of harnessing all this potential and monetizing the Cuervos brand?

Money Tree of the Mexican League

When sponsors look for potential partnerships, they evidently want the best possible exposure for their products or services, meaning a cost-effective, fast and straight path to their target groups resulting in higher turnover. They want the fans’ screen time and attention and preferably access to a large, well segmented fanbase.

Club de Cuervos can provide all that plus so much more, because this case isn’t just relying on existing (enormous) brand recognition, it goes far beyond being just a recognized brand. Club de Cuervos series is a beloved franchise for the Mexican audience, it’s entertainment, but also a cultural reference everybody knows and likes.

capitalizing on existing fan engagement, positive connotations and strong emotional connection to the brand is pure gold for sponsors

Lastly, another important layer is the unprecedented media exposure any Cuervos FC activity would get in Mexico (and probably also in other Latin-American countries). Big parts of the series’ audience would be curious about the adventures of the real-life Cuervos Negros team, as compared to the favorite fictional team. With all the foundations already in place and with a well thought-through advertising campaign, the real Cuervos FC could create some hype and have an explosive start, basically a rocket launch, taking full advantage of its mediatic nature and the genuine interest of broader audiences.

Money Tree of the Mexican League

My opinion & yours

What an exciting experiment! – I thought right after reading the news of Club de Cuervos possibly becoming a real team and immediately I looked for other sources just to check whether it was actually real (yes, living in the age of fake news) because it seemed so perfectly put together, trespassing the limits of reality & fiction, but also of sport & entertainment.

I haven’t watched the series before, so my first move was to check out the trailers (a little research) and then a couple of episodes (well, a little more research)… and I think I can understand the series’ huge success, because I perceived it as quite ironic, warm and funny. It was actually fun to watch.

I think that this experiment is actually brilliant, a win-win-win for the club, sponsors and fans. The most valuable part here is the entrepreneurs’ understanding that they’re in the business of emotions and that the very best they can do is harness fans’ emotional engagement with the brand, trying to transfer it from the series to the new real football club.

the club already has the most convenient foundations, a tremendous potential for sponsorship and revenue and for Cuervos fans it’s a fantasy coming to life

Weak points? With time, after the initial hype passes, the real Cuervos FC will probably lose huge parts of the large audience which was interested in the series, but maybe isn’t that fascinated by real-life struggle and matches of a real football club. Another weak point of this case (based on available information) seems to be Netflix’s policy of not not sharing the ratings and all the view data they have on the series with the creators. But that might be different, depending on the deal the investors will have with the streaming giant. And finally a possibly negative spot in this potentially very shiny case would be just poor sports performance of the real, newly created team, leading to fans’ disappointment. But that’s way too far reached to even speculate about it.

Money Tree of the Mexican League

All in all, I think it’s a fascinating brand experiment, and I’m definitely going to follow further development of this case and maybe even watch a couple more of Club de Cuervos episodes… ¡Vamos Cuervos!

But I would like to hear from you, dear readers. Have you heard about Club de Cuervos before? Have you watched it? What do you think of this experiment? How do you think it could be further leveraged for monetization? Can this model be applied to other areas in the sports industry? Please let me know in the comments, I’m seriously interested in other thoughts and opinions about this curious case. And if you are interested in placing this case in a broader context, and have some points of reference for your own sports organization, a new article about the paradigm shift in the sports industry is coming soon!

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[1] A similar case in politics really happened in the Ukraine, where comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the 2019 presidential election.

[2, 3] https://www.forbes.com.mx/club-de-cuervos-la-serie-que-le-dio-alas-a-netflix/

[4] https://www.espn.com.mx/video/clip/_/id/6631787