By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 13, 2007
BUENOS ARIES -- Two days before he died this year at the age of 101, Gaspar Paino leaned close to his daughter and whispered one final request.
"He told me, 'Don't you forget -- I want to be cremated, then take me to the cemetery of Boca,' " Norma Paino said.
Her father had lived just long enough to witness an incredibly pervasive merchandising assault by his favorite soccer team, Argentina's Boca Juniors, that has put the blue-and-gold team logo on just about anything that can be sold, from cradles to graves.
So Norma Paino secured a plot for her father's ashes in a licensed, Boca-themed section of a cemetery that opened late last year. The team shield is stamped on gravestones. Blue and gold flowers are planted in the green lawn.
"It's something very, very special," said Paino, whose father played for the club in the 1920s, when the Boca logo was not even displayed on the team uniforms. "To see the team insignia there in the cemetery, to see all the flowers in team colors -- it was powerfully emotional."
Tapping into such passions is something Boca's marketing department has explored with such relentless vigor in recent years that traditional displays of team spirit -- jerseys, doormats, key chains -- seem quaintly insufficient.
Fans can lather up with Boca shampoo while showering behind plastic Boca curtains. They can dry themselves with Boca towels before applying Boca deodorant. They can break Boca bread and sip Boca wine. They can feed their dogs Boca pet food. They can travel to work in one of about 200 Boca taxicabs, or -- if they have about $130,000 -- they can drive a Boca Porsche Cayenne. They can equip the car with a Boca battery.
It could get even better -- or worse, depending on whether you're a fan.
The marketing department has been shopping around the idea of licensing an entire Boca Juniors gated community. Practice soccer fields used by the team would anchor the community, and developers could sell lots around the fields. Schools and churches would be added. Team marketing officials say interested investors are searching for a location within 30 minutes of La Boca, the riverside neighborhood from which the club takes its name.
Additionally, marketers recently created a spinoff license called Boca Toons, anchored by what creators describe as a Simpsons-like animated program featuring a family of Boca fans and some of the team's players.
Guillermo Otero, president of the production company behind the program, said it would be shown on Argentine television, on cable and in public places such as subway stations.
"The idea is that once per day, at least, all the habitants of Argentina would see Boca Toons," Otero said.
The animated figures look a little like bobble-head dolls -- perhaps not coincidentally, considering that a full line of Boca Toons tie-in merchandise is in the works, Otero said.
"It's something that we think will be very attractive to Boca's fans," he said. "We believe the new license created for Boca Toons could be as salable as -- if not more than -- the existing Boca brand."
It wasn't always like this. Boca has long been a very popular and reasonably successful club here, boasting players including Argentine icon Diego Maradona. But the club started winning more consistently about a decade ago, capturing 17 titles since.
At the same time, it began operating less like a not-for-profit neighborhood recreational club and more like an international corporation. The team's president during this period, Mauricio Macri, was recently elected mayor of Buenos Aires.
Team merchandising eventually expanded to dominate the local market, and in 2004 the club created Boca Crece (or "Boca Grows"), a company charged with further exploiting the market. In its first year, licensing of the brand quadrupled.
Orlando Salvestrini, Boca Crece's president, describes his working conditions as a marketer's dream. Surveys indicate that 41 percent of male Argentines and 39.4 percent of women describe themselves as Boca fans. Salvestrini said marketing studies show that of those fans, most are at either the high end or the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, with fewer in the middle.
Salvestrini said he thinks that works to the team's advantage. The middle class is less willing to take chances with its discretionary income, he said, while the rich don't care what people think of them if they walk around dressed in blue and gold from head to toe, and the poor have nothing to lose if people criticize them for it.
"This is why we can have Boca Juniors taxis, and a Boca Juniors cemetery -- it's because they are not ashamed," Salvestrini said. "They say, 'You know what -- I have a piece of land in the Boca Juniors cemetery, and so what?' They don't care about what other people will think about that. So we can offer any type of product and the people will respond positively."
Unless, for example, they are fans of one of Argentina's many other teams and are forced to endure the sight of the Boca logo in increasingly unlikely places.
"Ugh," said Nicolas Caceres, a 15-year-old fan of the Vélez Sársfield soccer team, about the proliferation of Boca merchandise. "It's way too much. There's no way to avoid it."