Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with the Latino Professionals Association: Feeding His Soccer Jones

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Jovan Chavez is living the life as the Latino outreach manager for Forward Madison FC, which owns the Madison Flamingos Soccer Team.

By Jonathan Gramling

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Jovan Chavez became passionate about the sport of soccer.

“I was playing soccer since I could remember,” Chavez, the Latino outreach manager for Forward Madison FC. “I probably wasn’t registered with a soccer club until I was 7-9-years-old. But I just remember at family barbeques playing with older cousins and family friends just kicking the ball around. I had older cousins who loved the sport and played. It was something that we did for fun and then through high school, I played. I supported my clubs on TV, whether it was Liverpool or the Mexican national team or even the local teams here like Chicago Fire. I would go with my friend to catch a game. I got injured in high school and so I think that prevented me from any future in the sport. But I still enjoy playing it today. I play in my own beer league team at Kiva in Middleton. It’s just so much fun getting out there and playing the sport that you love.”

After high school is when Chavez moved to Madison with a friend who was into DJing.

“He was a keyboardist,” Chavez said. “I played a little guitar. There was a tech school here. I came up to Madison and went to school. After school was over, he went back home, got married and had kids. I got a job here in Madison with a start-up

company and they needed a sales manager. I joined the team and I was there for 10 years. I definitely learned a lot in terms of sales and marketing. It’s a skills set that still helps me today. And after 10 years with them, I kind of reached that flat feeling, if you will and was ready for a new challenge.”

It just so happened that Forward Madison FC was bringing a professional soccer team to Madison in 2018. Chavez didn’t wait for job announcements to come out. He proactively sought employment with the club.

“I got introduced to Peter Wilt who was the general manager for the club at the time,” Chavez said. “Peter just kind of told me what his plan was and the team he was looking to assemble. At that time, I felt I definitely wanted to be a part of the team and learn from Peter and just really help this thing grow. So I joined in October 2018. My title was Latino outreach manager. I kind of had two objectives. As a sales executive, my role was basically to manage the season ticket accounts and work with different groups, whether they were youth soccer clubs or the Boys & Girls Club or Girl Scouts, any type of local group to help bring them out to a game. You have sales goals and try to get as many people in the stadium as possible. And then the other side was also outreach. And that is basically growing the brand specifically targeting the Latino community here in Madison.”

The club was pretty successful during its first full season in 2019 as the team developed its brand and competed on the field.

“We’re the only pro soccer team in Wisconsin,” Chavez said. “We have to raise our profile here. We definitely hit the ground running in 2019 and really raised the bar as far as lower-league soccer goes in the state. The sport of soccer is growing exponentially. I think here in the states, we’re the number one consumer of soccer in the world. You have more people watching it on TV and they aren’t just watching American soccer. They are watching the English Premier League, the Italian league and other international tournaments. We’re watching the most soccer. We’re buying the most soccer in terms of tickets, merchandize and apparel. And so it’s a fun time to be a part of the sport, specifically here in the state to the point of growing it to the point to where now people in New York City and LA and Texas and smaller market cities know about Madison, Wisconsin.”

But after a very successful debut in 2019 came the COVID-19 pandemic and a general lockdown of Dane County. It would take a lot of creativity to make it through the season while meeting their obligations.

“When the board of governors in our league decided to postpone and then eventually voted to come back in June 2020, at that time, Dane County didn’t allow outdoor sports,” Chavez said. “That was a new challenge we had to face and roll with the punches and try to come up with a better option. And so we unfortunately had to move and find a new home. We played in Milwaukee County in Hart Park in Wauwatosa. It was a shortened season, but we had to do it because we were obligated to do it by the league to find a stadium and play the games and

 

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basically finish a shortened season. People have their opinions on whether that is good or bad. But at the end of the day, we averaged about 600 fans at our home games and we did it in a safe way. We did lose a little bit of momentum there because of the fact that we aren’t playing in Madison anymore. We were playing somewhere else. It was kind of hard to build what you started here in Madison when you are in a different county and city all together. But we rolled with the punches the best we could. And then obviously the excitement was there when we announced that we were going to be allowed to play here at Breeze Stevens Field here in Madison.”

But 2021 brought its own challenges.

“We had to basically build a new seat map that was socially distanced, that would allow a certain number of fans into the stadium in a safe way and obviously follow all public health orders as far as socially-distanced seat maps and queuing in line and wearing masks in common places,” Chavez said. “But it worked out and we are wrapping up our 2021 season.”

Chavez is working hard to get the message out that the Flamingos are a professional soccer team with players from around the world. Some have played for their counties’ World Cup teams. This is something that Madison has never seen before.

“We want to connect with that community and say, ‘Hey there are other fans from different nationalities coming to these games and supporting their local team,’” Chavez said. “And at the end of the day, when they come in through those gates and win us a game, they realize this is a higher level. It’s not just a little league soccer game that can be seen at a city park somewhere. This is a higher level and a lot of fun. Look at this beautiful stadium in downtown Madison. Your seats are so close to the action on the field, it is really hard to beat once you walk in and experience a Flamingos match. But that first challenge is getting them through the door. I’m connecting with different organizations and leaders in the community, soccer coaches, high school coaches, UW-Madison and Madison College coaches to be that bridge to connect me with these different communities to invite them to come out to a game and experience it and find a new fan base that they can be a part of.”

Chavez won’t be leaving the team anytime soon.

“I am very happy with continuing my role and continuing our objectives here,” Chavez emphasized. “It is post-pandemic. There are certainly challenges that we face today that we weren’t thinking about three years ago. But I have to say that we have a great ownership group here. And they really allow me to grow. They leave the keys in my hands and say, ‘Hey, this is yours to make it happen.’ It feels really good to have that support and have that freedom and confidence to continue my professional growth and doing something that I love.”

Jovan Chavez gets to feed his soccer Jones and make a living too. Now that is an American Dream.