By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken
Last year, during a visit to Mexico City, we were strolling through the beautiful Roma neighborhood and came upon a small doorway at Colima 145, marked “Museum of Objects.” This oddball museum is dedicated to the ordinary objects of everyday life, and at the time of our visit it was showing exclusively an exhibit about soccer in Mexico (which is called fútbol here). The exhibit included examples of various teams’ uniforms through the years, soccer balls, graphic displays of famous games, and biographies of famous personages in Mexican soccer.
To our surprise, many of the soccer uniforms on display showed prominent trademark emblems of cement companies. Some soccer teams are merely sponsored by cement companies, much as a sports team in the U.S. or Canada might have its stadium named after an automobile company or a technology brand. But some soccer teams in Mexico are actually owned and operated by cement companies. Such a tight intertwining of cement and sports is found only in Mexico, although in Bangkok, Thailand, one cement company does sponsor a sports team.
Currently, the largest cement company in Mexico, Cemex, has an international distribution network and markets under three brand names in Mexico – Monterrey in the north, Tolteca in the center of the country, and Maya in the Yucatan peninsula. The company was founded in 1881 in the State of Hidalgo and became a cooperative in 1931. The company prides itself on the working conditions and benefits provided to employees. It sponsors an academy of fútbol, whose team members’ uniforms display one of more of the Cemex brands – the Tigres of Monterrey display the Cemento Monterrey brand on their uniforms, and the Chivas of Guadalajara display the the Cemento Tolteca brand.
Cemento Cruz Azul (Blue Cross) not only sponsors but also owns the internationally known Mexico City Cruz Azul soccer team – the only major professional sports team bearing the name of a cement company. Cemento Cruz Azul also owns affiliate soccer teams such as Cruz Azul Lagunas, which is less well known but the pride of its home state, Oaxaca.
How did this close relationship develop? In the case of Cruz Azul, in the 1930s, after the company became a cooperative, the cement company’s employees voted to establish an amateur company soccer team. The vote was not too surprising as the director general of the company was a fútbol enthusiast himself and wanted to play on a team. What better way to guarantee yourself a position on a team than to form your own? The first Cruz Azul team started as part of a sports club in Hidalgo. After the team became professional and moved to Mexico City, a new affiliate was formed in Hidalgo, but recently disbanded.
The marketing advantages of a highly visible (and winning) soccer team have encouraged cement companies in Mexico to continue their relationships with soccer. Normally, brands that are marketed through sports events are targeted at consumption by a mass market. But cement is not such a product – average families in Mexico do not buy enough cement by themselves to make much of a dent in a highly competitive market. Cement is sold locally to individual contractors through a widely dispersed distribution network. The appeal of marketing and advertising by cement companies must thus reach this small audience of contractors who buy and distribute lots of cement.
By having soccer teams regularly visible on televisions in sports bars and homes, sporting the emblems of a cement company, the cement company keeps its name in the minds of the distributors the company wants to reach. In addition, the stadium where the Cruz Azul team plays its home games is a familiar landmark in Mexico City. The companies and distributors also need to have the teams well-managed so that they are successful – promoting the idea of a rugged, reliable, winning cement to builders who use the product.
In truth, we cannot really suggest that you visit the Museum of Objects if you are looking for an eye-opening experience, but it definitely clarified to us the importance of soccer in the lives of Mexicans and the role it plays in the marketing of cement. It also highlighted the incredible variety of museums that are among the features making a trip to Mexico City well worth your time.