Having quickly established itself as one of the most fervent fan-bases in the Championship, New Mexico United is gearing up for Cinco de Mayo this Sunday. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As he looked out across the club-record crowd of 12,921 fans that filled Isotopes Park last Friday night for New Mexico United’s clash with the Portland Timbers 2, there was one emotion in particular going through the mind of NMU Owner and President Peter Trevisani.
“I was humbled,” Trevisani said this week. “To see so much trust and support for a team that nobody had really seen before or knew much about was just very humbling, in the sense of a deep sense of gratitude and also a commitment to make sure we don’t let anyone down, and for anyone who came out and supported us, to make sure we re-earn that support every single game, every single night, every single day.”
It's been 11 months since the arrival of professional soccer was announced in the capital of New Mexico, and the fervor that has surrounded the first-year side has been arguably the most remarkable story of the 2019 USL Championship season in an expansion class that has included other outstanding on- and off-field stories.
NMU sits in third place in the Western Conference standings going into this weekend’s action having lost only once in its opening nine games of the season, and second in league attendance with an average of more than 11,500 fans packing into Isotopes Park for the club’s first four home games of its inaugural campaign.
With San Antonio FC visiting for a Cinco de Mayo clash on Sunday evening, Trevisani is expecting the biggest night of the season so far. While that will be a big accomplishment, it also speaks to how in tune NMU has been with its region and its state.
“It will be our biggest crowd of the year,” said Trevisani. “I think there is a lot of focus on attendance, but we talk a lot that the number of people who come to a match, that doesn’t validate our mission, it doesn’t validate our values, so although we want to see the park filled every single night, we also want to make sure we’re speaking to our mission of being an agent of positive change and uniting our community and our entire state. When you have a sold-out stadium, when you have a crowd that might be the biggest in the history of the park in the past 20 years, we’re certainly sending a statement that New Mexico is united.”
Sitting third in the Western Conference entering Week 9, New Mexico United has seen an average of more than 11,500 fans on hand for its home games so far in its inaugural season. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
To achieve the mission Trevisani and his leadership laid out last June, the biggest factor has been its conversations and immersion within the New Mexico community. The club’s Marketing & Communications Director Elizabeth Davis – a native New Mexican – understood the dynamics the club was going to face in building a fanbase and the necessity for collaboration at all levels.
“I think in order to do anything in our community, you have to go to the community first,” said Davis. “We don’t accept things very readily, and I think that has to do with our history as a state, that’s how we came together. There have been a lot of outsiders in this community who have come in and made it very hard for people here, and so in order to get into this community you either have to be part of it or go straight to them and get their trust first, so that’s what we did. We went straight to the community and got their go-ahead before we really did anything.”
Those efforts toward inclusion and working to be more than simply a soccer club have clearly resonated, maybe all the more because many of those working within the club’s front office have brought experiences from beyond sports business to the venture.
“The fact is that very few people in our organization have had professional sports experience, really nobody on our executive team,” said Trevisani. “Our staff is I think 60 percent women, and that’s not by design, it’s a residual of the process of the kind of people we were looking for, the jobs we were hiring for. We talk a lot that we play soccer for 90 minutes a week, so what else are we doing? And what we’re doing is creating a platform that people can get behind that goes deeper than soccer. For us it’s worked, and it’s been a really good formula.”
What has also worked is the way the club has leaned into New Mexican culture to set itself apart from the pack. That’s going to be on show particularly this Saturday, with the club set to bring in all manner of pregame entertainment including Spanish-language singers, Mariachi bands, flamenco dancers and Baila! Baila!, a local group that features ballet folklorico. New Mexico native Chevel Shepherd, who won ‘The Voice’ last December, will sing the national anthem, on a day that Davis points to as a celebration of what makes New Mexico unique.
“We’ve really leaned into our own culture, which is very different from even Mexican culture or Hispanic culture or Native American culture. It’s sort of a mix, it’s a melting pot of all these different communities coming together,” said Davis. “We’re really leaning into those cultural aspects, and that’s what’s getting people excited, that we’re doing this in a way that feels very genuine for New Mexicans.”
New Mexico United is undefeated through its opening four games at Isotopes Park this season, with the venue having picked up the nickname 'The Lab' from its supporters. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
With Cinco de Mayo having become a major celebration of Mexican-American heritage across the United States, Trevisani hopes Sunday’s game is the first of many for the club in the same way that other sporting events have become within the Hispanic community.
“I think right now we’re a little bit limited because we’re only able to play at the Lab when the Isotopes aren’t playing there, so there’s a chance next year there may be a baseball game that would limit us,” he said. “Long-term as we search and push toward our own stadium, Cinco de Mayo will be a game we play every year regardless of the day it falls on.”
So, how does Trevisani expect to feel on Sunday night as the countdown to kickoff nears?
“When we look around this stadium and Chevel from Farmington, New Mexico is singing the national anthem and representing our state, and a packed stadium is waving our flags, 15,000 people waving the flag, I think we’re really going to be making a statement about New Mexico and a New Mexico that’s going to be united.”