By Aaron Martinez
Just a few miles separate El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, but the sports scene in the two cities are worlds apart. While Indios soccer games across the border bring in fans from both cities, the El Paso Patriots struggle to attract supporters from their own hometown.
Diane Garcia-Gaytan, senior electrical engineering major, says that while she is a U.S. citizen, when it comes to soccer she considers herself a Juarense. Diane says the main difference between the two teams is the passion or lack of it the two countries have for the sport.“In El Paso there is no soccer,” Diane says. “The main difference between the El Paso Patriots and the Indios of Juárez is that their fan base is very different. For example, in a country like the United States, where American football is the main or favorite sport, that means that soccer fans are minimal.”
Bret Bloomquist, sports reporter for The El Paso Times, agrees that football is far more popular in the U.S. than soccer, but believes the passion for soccer in this region can match that of football.“Ultimately, American football is the big sport here, but soccer is very popular in this region,” Bloomquist says. “Walking around town you see a lot of people wearing Mexico Premier League jerseys, and then you got thousands of people here who go to Mexico to watch games. So soccer is a really big sport here in El Paso.”
The Patriots’ franchise has a long history in El Paso. They have been playing soccer in the city since 1989. Compared to the Patriots, the Indios are a much-younger franchise, which was formed in 2005.
According to the Indios’ website, the team has averaged more than 16,000 fans per game since their first season. Their stadium, Estadio Olímpico Benito Juárez, holds a capacity of 22,300. In contrast, the USL Premier Development League website states that the Gary Del Palacios Field, the Patriots’ home stadium, holds approximately 3,000 people. The Patriots averaged a little more than 1,000 fans per game during the 2010 season.
Bloomquist believes the main reason why there is such a dramatic difference in fan support is because the Indios play in a professional league, while the Patriots are in an amateur league. “As a fan of both teams, I think if there were a higher level of soccer here in El Paso, the support would be much higher,” Bloomquist says. “Indios have bigger support because they play in a professional division and fans would rather see a team playing Cruz Azul than the West Texas United Sockers.”
Rafael Guzmán, coach of the El Paso Patriots, says that in order to get more fans to come to their games the team must not only win, but also make the community feel that the Patriots are one of them. “The first thing to be able to attract fans is that we have to win, Guzmán says. “Second, we must make people identify with the players because all our players live here, study here and are part of the community. That’s what makes the team attractive.”
As for increasing fan attendances at Patriots’ games, Bloomquist believes that the team has done all they can to improve fan support, and unless they move to a professional league they will not see an increase in attendance. “Drawing a 1,000 fans a game is really good for that league (USL) and they rank near the top in attendance. They are playing pretty much all El Paso kids and that helps with attendance,” Bloomquist says. “The only thing I see they can do to increase their fan base is to moveD up and become a professional team, but that costs a lot of money and they just can’t do that right now.”
Because the Indios found success in their first three years, the team was promoted to the Primera División de México (First Division of Mexico). Their recent struggles on the field caused the team to be demoted to Liga de Ascenso (Promotion League). The competition level of the Mexican football league system is a huge factor in why Diane prefers the Indios. “What I loved the most was watching the team grow. Because they started out with nothing and they have grown little by little and than they became a first-division team,” she says.
Alonso Simental, senior international business major and longtime Patriots’ fan, says he prefers the Patriots’ games to the Indios because of the family atmosphere the team has developed over the years. “Occasionally, when there is a small group of people, it generates more interest in such a way that it gives a little spice to what we call the community of Chivas of the El Paso Patriots.” he says. “Family is the principal element in these games.”
Alonso now works as an events management assistant for the Patriots. “The Chivas El Paso (Patriots) have already been around for a while, but they haven’t drawn much attention. The team is really good, but we still need a little more support,” Alonso says. Bloomquist believes that El Paso can be a hotbed for soccer with the Hispanic-majority population of the city, but unless a professional team moves into the area, Juárez will remain the place for El Pasoans to get their soccer action “I think El Paso is a very good soccer community with support for high school soccer,” Bloomquist says. “The Patriots do well for their level of play and the support the Indios get from El Paso shows that this is a good soccer community.”
Bloomquist also says he wishes that UTEP would start a men’s soccer team, but doubts that will happen anytime soon. “The team would do well and they would get really good fan support. It would definitely benefit the soccer community here.“ he says. “But I don’t think UTEP is going to add any more sports–they are going to say they don’t have enough money and hide behind Title IX, which is a shame because UTEP needs a men’s team and it would do really well here.”
Juan Salomón contributed to this story.
El fútbol es un deporte que atrae a millones de personas, pero en la región fronteriza entre El Paso y Ciudad Juárez la gente responde de manera distinta cuando se trata de los Patriots o de los Indios.
Diane García Gaytán, estudiante de último año de ingeniería eléctrica, dice que aunque ella es ciudadana estadounidense, cuando se trata de fútbol se considera una juarense. Diane dice que la principal diferencia entre los dos equipos es la pasión, o la falta de ella, de los dos países hacia ese deporte. “En El Paso no hay fútbol”, dice Diane. “La principal diferencia entre los Patriots de El Paso y los Indios de Ciudad Juárez es su base de fans”.
Bret Bloomquist, periodista deportivo de El Paso Times, está de acuerdo en que el fútbol americano es mucho más popular en los Estados Unidos que el fútbol soccer, pero cree que la pasión por el fútbol en esta región puede igualarse en algún momento con la del fútbol americano. “Caminando por la ciudad se ve un montón de gente que lleva camisetas de las ligas mexicanas de fútbol y miles de personas de aquí van a México para ver los partidos. Así que el fútbol es un deporte muy grande aquí en El Paso”el dice.
Bloomquist cree que la razón principal por la cual existe una diferencia dramática en apoyo de los aficionados se debe al hecho de que los Indios juegan en una liga profesional, mientras que los Patriots están en una liga amateur.
Rafael Guzmán, el entrenador de los Patriots de El Paso, dice que con el fin de conseguir más aficionados, el equipo no sólo debe ganar, sino también hacer que la comunidad sienta que los Patriots son uno de ellos. Bloomquist cree que teniendo una mayoría de población hispana, El Paso puede ser un semillero de fútbol soccer, pero mientras no se mueva un equipo de profesionales a esta área, Juárez seguirá siendo el lugar favorito de los paseños para mostrar su afición y apoyo al equipo de su preferencia.