Mexico | Despite opposition, loyalists continue to spread América brand

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Club América supporters speak about an attachment to the side, based at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, that, in nearly every case, dates back to the womb. América beat AC Milan 2–1 in the World Football Challenge. (5:10)

Atlanta | Finally granted an occasion to show off their replica-jersey collections, soccer-deprived Atlantans took advantage Jul 22 at a friendly between Club América and AC Milan. Yellow América shirts, featuring the Bimbo Bakeries sponsorship logo that never fails to raise eyebrows among English-speakers, predominated in the Georgia Dome, an American football stadium that had never hosted a professional soccer match.

Milan and Las Aquilas (Eagles) played their second matches in the World Football Challenge on grass installed above stadium flooring for $100,000.

It was one night that Atlanta, with a reputation for progressiveness and Olympian ambition, felt like an international city. América supporters left daytime occupations as produce sellers or laborers or students to fill mass transit. Some had stuffed eagles on their shoulders, matched by Milan backers with the inevitable rubber chickens, wan and featherless, dangling around their necks.

“In Mexico you either hate América or you love América,” says Mexico City expat Luis Flores. “You can’t be like, maybe I like América.”

“They’re just a money club,” counters Chivas supporter José Alvarez, Flores’s brother-in-law. Originally from Guadalajara, Alvarez cradles Flores’s daughter, Emma, but wears an AC Milan jersey to make his loathing for América clear. “Chivas is a soul club … soul.”

América supporters interviewed outside the Georgia Dome support anthropologist Roger Magazine‘s observation that they back the team based on tradition and a run of results in the 1980s that brought five league titles and three international trophies. In contrast to Chivas—which signs only native-born Mexicans (an exception being Jesus Padilla, born in San Jose, California)—América has drawn support over time from clubs of Spanish immigrants and refugees. Mexicans and Spaniards have a prolonged sporting rivalry.

While most of its first team comes from Mexico, América has also invested in talent from Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Greece. The branding of fútbol as entertainment has been part of América’s plan since the late 1950s, when broadcaster Televisa bought the club and started to emphasize merchandising and marketing. América’s appearance in Atlanta was no accident. Will Ramírez, publisher of Spanish-language weekly Estadio, estimates that more than 40,000 Hispanics play soccer regularly in leagues around the city.

Many América fans, born in the United States, have adopted Las Aquilas based on family ties. They acquire the team by birthright. Xavier Miranda, although he could have chosen any side, follows his father, Cesar, in continuing to root for América. The pair has never been to Estadio Azteca, the team’s home since the stadium opened in 1966. “Not yet, but we will very soon,” says Cesar, a construction worker originally from Guanajuato state.

Representing four generations of América support, the Hernández family attends en masse to take advantage of what might be one chance to see Las Aquilas in a major Atlanta venue. Ever conscious of the U.S. market, the team must parcel its visits north of the border. Cities like Chicago, with a first-division team that includes former América legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco, are better positioned to benefit from América’s gate appeal.

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