By Lee Roy Lucero
The summer hibernation season is nearly over as all across the state and country.
YAFL, high school, collegiate, and professional teams have dusted their pads off, and football practices are in full gear.
Hitting Cabezon Park, you see the Rio Rancho football teams smacking pads. On ProView Network, Sebastian Noel and Adam Diehl are giving us all the latest high school team previews and news. And on 610 The Sports Animal, our good friend Mike Carlyle is giving us all the Lobo football news you could possibly want.
Fall is close, the smell of roasting green chile is in the air, and footballs are flying!
I hit up ProView Network’s Adam Diehl about the upcoming high school football season to pick up my press credential and find out where I would be broadcasting from.
So of course, the sports topic was — soccer.
I didn’t see that one coming. But I was glad.
What? Summer in Albuquerque? There is nothing going on except maybe the Iso-Dukes (yes, I am still fighting for that name change).
“Wake up man! #SomosUnidos,” he said.
Okay, okay… I tired to avoid having to eat a large serving of crow as I had incorrectly predicted that the USL soccer franchise awarded to Albuquerque was DOA. No way it was going to survive.
“I like hearing this,” chided the smirking Diehl.
Come on Adam! They were playing at Iso-Dukes park, in a town that has a graveyard of minor league sports teams, and with Lobo soccer recently being axed it was a safe bet to think United would crumble as well.
The cards and minor league sports history was completely stacked against this organization. But not only was I wrong about them not surviving, they are thriving and have really inserted themselves into the Albuquerque culture. In fact, they might be the most popular sports program in the state — including the exalted Lobo basketball program.
“They have done everything right,” Diehl said. “They have marketed the team right. They have reached out to the community and built a culture. They have embraced that they are New Mexico. Peter Trevisani is the fiery owner, one who was needed to bring passion. Their partnership with Meow Wolf has been absolutely brilliant.
“Who would have thought mixing art with soccer would have worked so well? But it has really drawn attention to United. And of course, winning is a key. The run in the U.S. Open Cup has created an atmosphere that even non-soccer fans can show up and have a great time.”
I don’t want to sound negative Adam but not losing has to help out United don’t you think?
“They have lost,” responds Adam.
I get that, but United ties or wins more than they lose, and it is always easier to root for a team that you don’t leave the stadium with a bitter taste in your mouth every night. NM United currently stand 5th on the table with 8 wins, 9 draws, and 6 losses.
Another piece of United’s success has to be that the University of New Mexico has had back-to-back bad or subpar years in both football and men’s basketball.
“Obviously, (United) winning helps, but I don’t like the idea that United benefits from the Lobos losing or vice versa,” Diehl said.
Perhaps Adam is right, there is no doubt that NM United is now part of the culture of the sports scene in Albuquerque, and that enhancement could lead to people warming up to sports in general.
“Exactly,” Diehl said. “NM United is part of the sports scene here and they aren’t competing for the same dollar as UNM sports, as the seasons do not cross over much. United’s success will help people feel better about sports in general and UNM and high school sports can feed off of United, instead of thinking of them as competition.”
There is no doubt that NM United has captured the Albuquerque sports scene. Iso-Dukes stadium is full of people donning United’s black and yellow. On social media the hashtag #SomosUnidos and NM United trend on a regular basis and the black and yellow shield are on bumpers and rear windows all across the city. The United team has had an amazingly successful inaugural season and looks to become a New Mexico mainstay.
It is a breath of fresh air in a place where so many minor league programs have died. United is doing it right, its marketing is spot-on, and it has touched a passion nerve that has not been felt in Albuquerque in a long time.
Hopefully the University of New Mexico looks at what NM United is doing to market itself, perhaps UNM can fill their stands and find a way to recreate a Lobo passion fan base that has been missing.
Otherwise, the next corpse we might see will be in faded cherry and silver.
Lee Roy Lucero is an Albuquerque native, former editor of The Red Menace website and a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks. He is Enchantment Sports’ editor of high school sports. For tips or story ideas, contact Lee Roy Lucero at firstname.lastname@example.org.