Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RSL’s Newest Supporters Group: La Barra Real


They are the new kids on the block, but you wouldn’t know it. La Barra Real is only a few months old, but they have already established themselves as the largest and loudest supporters group at Rio Tinto Stadium.

At the last home mJavi and Barra 6atch against Colorado, you could see La Barra Real in Section 8. If you looked closely you might have seen the RSL colored “lienzos” adorning the entire section, amid the smoke from the smoke machine and the jumping, chanting supporters and drummers. You were also likely to see numerous flags, and RSL gear, and you might have even seen RSL’s Javier Morales in the middle of the group. If you didn’t see them, there was no doubt that you heard them as they were easy to catch from anywhere in the stadium. They were also featured prominently on Fox Soccer Channel both before the game and at halftime.

Humble Beginnings

The hispanic supporters group was formed at the urging of Real Salt Lake’s front office. JC Perea, Hispanic Sales & Marketing Manager, helped lead this initiative beginning in the offseason along with colleague Juan Maldonado.

“Over December and January we called just a large amount of our Hispanic fans out to a meeting. It was a very successful event. We had over 180 people there,” said Perea.

Luis Castro responded to this call to action. He attended the original meeting along with about 180 other hispanic RSL supporters. When they had the second meeting the numbers had dwindled, and Castro took the initiative to help organize the group.

“We had a second meeting and not many people showed up, and we couldn’t organize anything. Sometimes for Hispanics we’re a little harder to organize. I just asked for the phone numbers to call everyone, and I started calling people and getting them together.“

For his efforts Castro was elected President of the group.

La Barra as a Marketing Tool

There were a number of reasons for the front office to covet a hispanic supporters group like La Barra. First, there is the obvious atmosphere that it creates which can make the game more enjoyable for all explained Perea,

“We just know that there is a particular way that our market (Hispanic) likes to enjoy their games and celebrate the sport. I think it’s evident – the different dynamic that they have brought to the stadium, and the different flavor that they have given Rio Tinto Stadium.”

In addition, it’s part of a larger initiative to pull in the local hispanic fanbase and introduce them to the MLS brand of soccer,

“We definitely aren’t satisfied with where we are. I don’t think we’ll be able to win over on a full-time basis the first generation fans. It’s those second generation fans that we are going after - those kids born in the States that due to parental influences have a team in Mexico. We really have got to reach out to them and show them that the misconception that MLS is a lower-level league is really a misconception.”

Finally, the team realizes that there are a few Mexican fans that attend certain matches like the Chicago Fire, Chivas USA and the upcoming America match.

“With the Barra, now when people come out to those 1 or 2 matches a year when Chicago and Chivas USA come, they can see that there is someone just like them that has taken that RSL shield to heart.”

Perea also mentions that RSL didn’t do a great job of reaching out to the hispanic fan base in the past. First, he doesn’t feel like they created a great atmosphere for this group to latch onto at Rice Eccles. Second, they didn’t do a good job of mining their database to help connect this group together. And finally they didn’t put a good product on the field during the first few years.

However, with the arrival of Bill Manning Perea feels that things have changed. The RSL President created a special group specifically dedicated to reaching out to the hispanic market, and he has had a different view towards spending dollars to help try to attract this demographic.

“He’s seeing it not as an expense, but a long-term plan. Now we have a real Hispanic department. It’s still largely grass roots, but we’re on the right track.”

The Birth of a Name

Surprisingly the “La Barra” part was the easy one, and came first.

They considered other options before settling on La Barra, but they were stuck with how to complete it. Then a co-worker of Castro’s suggested that it absolutely had to be something connected to Real Salt Lake, and someone mentioned simply “La Barra Real”. It stuck from that moment on.

La Barra Members

The members of La Barra Real have quite differing backgrounds. While the largest demographic is probably young (20’s to early 30’s) and of Mexican descent, there is quite a broad spectrum with participants whose origin is from Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and even Spain.

The oldest participant (sixty-ish) is an RSL fan from Spain who grew up near Real Madrid’sJesus and Joshua Martinez(2) stadium and used to attend matches there when he was a little kid. He enjoys participating in La Barra Real because it reminds him of his youth. The youngest participant is Joshua Martinez who just turned 3 and has his own seat and drum!

Luis Castro himself is a 24 year-old originally from Mexico City. He was a fan of Necaxa and had some strong family ties to the club as he was related to one of the players.

He is not unlike many of the members who are either first generation Americans whose family immigrated here to the US during their lifetime, or are 2nd generation Americans and have ties to the local soccer club from their place of origin that has been passed through their parents. And Castro estimates that about 75% of their members have experienced soccer at stadiums outside of the US.

While they are not requiring memberships during this first year, Castro says,

“Officially we have 45 Barra members who have season tickets, but we have a lot of guys that come game-by-game.”

Game Day Routine

The game day routine for La Barra Real actually begins the day before the game.

“Our day begins the day before the game. We get together and practice our chants and practice our drums. We practice a couple of hours for the next day.”

On game day, they get an early start on things,

“Three hours before the game two of our guys get our section ready, so that it looks good for the game. We meet two hours before the game for tailgating. A half hour before the game we march and sing our way to our section. We march around the stadium once and then go to our section. As soon as we get to our seats we start singing and don’t stop until the game is over except for at halftime. We’ll stay after the game for 15 minutes singing until they kick us out, and then we go through the tunnel and sing all the way through the parking lot.”

They do have a special song that they sing to get things started,

“We always start with one song for about 15 minutes. Our official song. Our good luck song.”

They also have developed a habit for picking out certain opposing players to harass,

“Mostly we focus on the Hispanic players because we can yell at them and they understand. When Kansas City came we yelled at Piojo Lopez. At the end of the game, he came over and laughed at us.”


The expectations are easy for those who participate in La Barra Real.

“The only thing we ask is that you enjoy the game, and sing, and jump with us. You don’t have to speak Spanish. Just have fun. We welcome anyone,” Castro told Keepin’ It Real.

In addition, you can’t wear the jersey of an opposing team or cheer for them when you’re in their section.

“We already had a talk about that. For the America game – 50% of La Barra members are America fans.” Luis laid down the law, and said he’d love to have them, “in our section but if you are going to cheer for America you’ll have to sit in another section.”

Goals for the Group

The goals of La Barra are quite ambitious.

“Our goal is to be the best supporters group of the whole MLS. We want to make Rio Tinto to be a scary place to play for the other team.”

Castro explained that he remembers the home playoff game against Chivas last season. He remembers hearing how loud the visiting supporters were and felt that they outdid our own supporters groups, and he was frustrated. So he, and the rest of La Barra, are determined not to let that happen at home again.

Castro also mentions that he has received some comments from DC’s La Barra Brava complaining that they copied them by their choice of name. Castro’s response was simply that La Barra Real was going to become the best supporters group in the league, and that “La Barra” is a generic term used throughout Spanish-speaking countries.

If La Barra Real can emulate La Barra Brava, then they are in good company, as they have long been considered the gold standard for supporters groups in MLS.

You can find more info, pictures and video of La Barra Real on Myspace.