The night before the interview, Cu & #233;'s counterpart at the Galaxy, Doug Hamilton, died of an appartent heart attack while on a plane leaving Costa Rica. The flight turned around and Cu & #233; interrupted the interview to help arrange repatriation of Hamilton's body to the U.S.
Question: Do you have a sports background?
Answer: I've always loved sports. My parents really got me involved in sports in Mexico City. My father was very dedicated. He had his business, but he always wanted to go with the family to a sports event. He thought sports and family went together. Whenever we had vacation, we always went with him to a game to watch baseball or f & #250;tbol. It was like a family reunion with sports.
Q: What made you decide to get involved in professional soccer?
A: I was 19 years old when my father passed away. He had a long illness the last three years of his life were very tough. His illness was tough on everyone, and you have to have something to get the stress out. For me, it was sports. At that point I said, whenever I get back to my "real life," I'd get involved with sports in a professional way, because it helped me so much during those years to be close to my father.
Q: How did you make the switch from real estate to owning a professional team?
A: We were living in San Diego during my father's illness, because he had to live at sea level and he had doctors here in the states. After he died, we moved back to Mexico. I started a real estate company, and was successful. When our second child was born, I said to my wife that I was ready for the next stage of what my life was going to be, and it would have something to do with sports. That was three years ago. I was 32. I decided to step away from being the operating business partner of the real estate firm I'm still a partner, but not operationally.
Q: Was it a tough decision?
A: Soccer is the most important sport in the world, and is getting bigger every day in the U.S. I know this is a very competitive country; there is so much going on sports-wise. I thought: "What do I want to do with the next 25 years of my life, which are the most important ones?" So this was my formal decision on my life's project. I told my wife what I had in mind, bringing a soccer team to the U.S., and she was very supportive. I left everything behind in Mexico and moved here.
Q: What made you think Chivas would make it here?
A: I realized Chivas was a great opportunity business-wise. It has a great fan base. Between Mexico and the U.S., we have close to 28 million fans. This is not only a soccer club. Sure, that's the heart of the project and that's what everybody sees, but behind the club is a way to get involved with people who might not have a chance to have sports in their schools. It's about the youth programs, for example. It's a way to educate young kids about what Chivas is all about. Now that you see there are so many Hispanics here and not only Mexicans, there are so many Latinos, and this team is a serious way to get involved with the Hispanic community. It has so much potential.
Q: L.A. already had a Major League Soccer team, the Galaxy, which had established a Hispanic fan base. Was there tension when you moved into the same city, to play in the same stadium?
A: The best thing that can happen to Chivas or to the Galaxy is to have rivalry between teams. The opportunity of having a good team at your home base is important because it creates that passion between
We knew the Galaxy had some Hispanic fans, and that was important to us. If you put the right product on the field and you do the right things with your team, there will always be fans for their team and for our team. Obviously our team is a little bit more oriented towards the Mexican fan base, so we had an advantage there.
But we know that in the end what it comes down to is results, and having a competitive team. The rivalry is a great problem to have.
Q: What's your typical workday like in starting up a new pro team?
A: I'd say my day has changed a lot from the first year to now. It started very simply. I came to the U.S. with my cellular, my kids and my wife. My first year was funny because it was a startup without being a startup. It was a club with 100 years of history behind it, but in Mexico. First I had to build the team and when I say the team, I mean my management team.
The first thing I did was hire a few guys, partners really. The way I work, people don't work for me, they work with me and I work with them. I had to get the heads, the CEO of the company, before we could even talk about soccer.
Q: What's your day like now?
A: Today, my time is spent very differently. We have a fully staffed company of 70 people. But when you have your own business, you never sleep. You're always thinking even when you're on vacation about how to improve what you're doing. My day starts very early. I have two kids, and they wake up very early in the morning, so by 6 o'clock, I'm up working with them, playing with them before they go to school. I drop them off at school, or sometimes my wife does that.
I have weekly meetings with the staff, but I spend most of my time with the community. I think 75 percent of my time should be spent promoting Chivas in the community. But I probably spend half my time working with people inside the company: the guys from marketing, from accounting, trying to figure out how can I be an extra tool to deliver what they need. The other part is out into the community, working with the fan base, because at the end of the day, we work here for our fan base.
Q: How did you go about establishing yourself and the team in the U.S.?
A: I came here without knowing many businessmen. Obviously I had relationships, ways to know people. But the first thing we did was start working with MLS (Major League Soccer). Through that, we were able to get relationships with individuals that run companies that work with the league. I was lucky to find out that within MLS, there's lots of competition on the field, but when you get to the business part, there are partnerships. That's how we partnered with Anschutz Entertainment Group on the commercial rights. It's a very simple rule: If someone goes to Mexico and wants to do it by himself, the learning curve is much bigger. So we thought we should bring AEG into the partnership at the first phase of this long-term project. They've evolved into a company that needs to have something to do with soccer here.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge you face as an organization?
A: There are a lot of different issues and challenges we'll face up the road here, but the biggest challenge that we have is time. People expect us to deliver right away, to make a winning team from day one. Obviously we have a 100-year-old team down in Mexico, and there's this perception that the Mexican soccer league is much stronger than the U.S. which isn't true, by the way. Today the gap between U.S. soccer and Mexican soccer is closing very fast. We made some mistakes in terms of thinking it was going to be easier. The challenge was getting a competitive team that first year. Obviously when people have in their minds that Mexican soccer is so much better, those perceptions don't stack up well. Our first year was a struggle. People have to understand that Chivas came here not for one year, but for the long-term. We have a five-year plan.
Q: How closely do you work with the club in Mexico?
A: I travel to Mexico about four times a month. I'm in and out a lot not only for business meetings, but also to handle issues with our brother team in Mexico. But it's very different. Even though we have a team network down there, we have to create our own youth program here. You have to be self-sufficient. Obviously we have a great relationship with Guadalajara, and they help us a lot, but the first year was not easy for us. The lifestyle of a Mexican player here is totally different than down there. In the beginning, I thought that was an advantage, but it gets complicated. Life is much more expensive, some of the players can't speak English, and they're accustomed to being near their families. When the outside world of a player is not right, he doesn't deliver.
Q: People have been pretty skeptical about the future of professional soccer in the U.S. Do you think Chivas can turn that around?
A: I think soccer has changed in the last 10 years. MLS has changed it a lot. The biggest thing that has to happen is time but I think Chivas is a big part of it. All the owners are thinking about long-term investments. When you're talking about creating stadiums, it's not a one-night, or a one-weekend strategy. It's going to happen. I don't have a doubt about it. It's happening now. The gap is closing; it's not going to take 10 more years. We're more into a global economy; soccer is global. Chivas will help this go faster. We won't recognize the MLS five years from now.
Q: Do you think Chivas can expand beyond Southern California?
A: We do think Chivas is going to be big.
That's why we called it Chivas USA, and not Chivas L.A. The type of team that we're building and our philosophy is that sure, we play in L.A., but we have fans in Chicago, New York. I think Chivas is a great platform to deliver a lot of education in sports throughout the country. It's going to be much bigger than L.A. We're developing clinics and youth development programs for our fan base in other states. That's the most important asset that Chivas has that it's a family team.
Q: How do you attract more fans to soccer?
A: You learn your sport from two things from what you see at home and from what you see at school. We're talking generations here. The first generation, at school, we don't have a problem everybody plays soccer at school. At home, it's a different story. Here in the U.S., if your father or your family was involved in American football because maybe soccer wasn't strong at that time, you had a mix of both things. Today we're seeing generations that both play f & #250;tbol soccer, I mean. Timing is crucial.
Q: Doug Hamilton, your counterpart at the Galaxy, passed away suddenly. The season opener is just two weeks away. How is this affecting the team?
A: I was very lucky to have met Doug. I got a chance to know him for two years only. He was a great human being, and a great competitor. A guy I could learn a lot from. It is very sad, he was a very young guy. It's a big loss for everybody for his team, for our team, and especially for his family. We'll never know why it happened. He was a man I respected a lot. We lost seven times to him, and he was a gentleman every time.
* Antonio Cu & #233; S & #225;nchez-Navarro
Title: President, Co-Owner Club Deportivo Chivas USA
Born: Mexico City, 1970
Education: B.A., Universidad Iberoamericana; MBA Universidad Panamericana
Career Turning Point: When he learned that Jorge Vergara was thinking about bringing Chivas to United States soccer
Most Admired Person: His father and grandfather
Personal: Married, two children
Hobbies: Sports, particularly soccer and baseball
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