In the minds of many members of New Mexico United’s rabid fanbase, the popular soccer club can do no wrong. But a sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil has some fans up in arms and demanding accountability from the club’s front office.
RJ Montaño and Jake Gutierrez, two New Mexico United fans since since the club was founded in 2018, are two of the creators of Galactic Ambassadors SG, an official supporter’s group of NMU. Montaño was a co-founder of The Curse, the original United supporter’s club, and Gutierrez is a former president of The Curse.
With Galactic Ambassadors, they want to do more outside of the stadium and focus on issues in the community and the world.
“I think one of the things that we wanted to do, there are certain things that groups do really well and we just wanted to focus on community and social activism and causes that were important to us,” Gutierrez said. “We wanted to make it something that people can really throw their full heart behind. You know, The Curse is really great at creating an environment in the stadium. We can leave that to them. We will have our little party upstairs, but we really want to concentrate on causes that are important to us.”
Montaño added: “It was important to focus on social, racial and environmental justice causes using our platform as a soccer supporters group to be able to kind of reach out more into that realm, not just fans on the soccer team but activists in the community.”
Gutierrez and Montaño used to spend game days in the raucous supporter’s section cheering on United. Now they watch games from the upper deck, where they’ll hang signs often supporting the club but also criticizing its deal with ExxonMobil. The Galactic Ambassadors released a five-part statement on Aug. 6 to voice their displeasure with the partnership.
More than $2 million in fines were issued against ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Permian Operating in February. The operators allegedly failed to comply with reporting and operating conditions at five underground injection wells in an unpopulated area about 35 miles southeast of Malaga in southern Eddy County.
“New Mexico is a recipient of a lot of revenues from oil and gas, and that’s the thing that we all know, we all acknowledge,” Gutierrez said. “I think the issue is that there’s a system here where a giant global polluter can come and write checks that are tax deductible for them to get goodwill. And that’s the system that we were not really happy with, with the the monies that come into the club, how those monies are used. We trust the people with the dollars in their hand to do good things. It’s just the source of that money. I guess drawing a line of where the ends justify the means. I really am optimistic. I hold the club in very high regard and the leaders of the club and I hope that they do the right thing because they’ve led with action and they’ve been very admirable up to this point, so I’m hopeful.”
According to XTO Permian Operating, “In 2017, XTO and ExxonMobil invested $352,000 in higher education, medical care, environmental research, and arts and civic organizations in New Mexico.”
“It’s a sponsorship that Exxon has been a part of dating back to 2019, but there’s a contract that’s apparently going to expire this year and what they do with that, well, we’re going to find out,” Gutierrez said. “To the club’s credit, we started making noise and they were very responsive. They asked us to meet to voice our concerns. Obviously, I think we would like them to sever the partnership or not renew the partnership for next year. I think that would be top priority. If they did retain that partnership, then we would absolutely want there to be some accountability for what Exxon is trying to do. To invest in renewables in New Mexico for one. To provide job training for people who work in wells who are going to be shifting to renewables where they don’t know how to do that work. There’s a lot of things that they can do that right now those things aren’t aren’t in place and and yeah, like I said, severing or not renewing would be best but accountability if they were to continue.”
New Mexico United has built up a lot of goodwill in the community through its actions even before its first season in 2019. It was a surprise for many fans to see Exxon signage at the stadium and see the oil company as a sponsor. Montaño said the partnership is very out of line with the history of the club.
“They sold this idea to us before the team was even a team, they sold the idea that we’re community first. We’re going to emphasize this and then they acted on that every step of the way,” Montaño said. “They acted on putting the community first and putting the people of New Mexico, all across New Mexico from the northwest to the southeast. They made an emphasis of reaching out to those communities and being a part of those communities by doing school drives and backpack drives and during COVID going up to the Navajo Nation and delivering supplies out there. Not just publicity stunts, and not just its photo ops, it was actual community involvement. So for them to get in a partnership and this sponsorship with with Exxon kind of went against everything that they have done. I guess from their actual actions that they’ve been doing, it feels harsh to us.”
The club acted fast to listen to the concerns of the fans over a rare misstep and do what it could to fix the problem.
“As soon as all this stuff was brought to our attention, we set up a meeting with fans who had concerns,” said David Carl, New Mexico United’s director of communication and fan experience. “We heard them out, we explained where everything stemmed from, we heard their concerns,” Carl said. “The whole purpose from the club’s perspective was to reach out to the southeastern part of our state, a part that’s often forgotten about. That was the whole reason we were doing this in the first place, hopefully with a focus on renewables. We have a meeting set up with Exxon; it’s difficult to get on their calendar, but hopefully we can make sure that on the same page and that it’s something makes sense. We want to make sure that it is actually focused on renewables and that it is something that is impacting our community in a positive way and not a negative.”
Carl, along with Montaño, co-founded The Curse and is a former president of the group.
“I’m a fan first and the way the club has handled it every step of the way, I feel really positive about,” Carl said. “We heard from fans who had concerns and now we’re going back to the partners with those concerns to see how we fix them.”
Montaño and Gutierrez both said they were pleased with how the club has handled the criticism and concern from fans.
“We met with (United owner) Pete (Trevisani), we met with (Chief Business Officer)Ron Patel, we met with David Carl, we met with (Creative Director) Josh Lane and they were they listened to our our grievances,” Gutierrez said. “They said that they were going to have a meeting with sponsor to talk to them about the contract and, and get back to us. So yeah, we appreciate them talking to us.”
The communication between the club and disgruntled fans is rarely seen in sports. Now fans are waiting to see what happens to and what comes from the partnership with Exxon.
“Once we made noise, the club was receptive to meeting with us. Now the ball is in their court, literally in their court to see what they’re gonna do with this,” Montaño said. “We hope it’s not just lip service. Somebody’s saying like, yeah, we’re going to meet with them and see what’s going on and we want action to be taken. Ideally, sever that partnership but if not, like Jake said, having some sort of accountability with Exxon having some sort of accountability not just to the club, but to New Mexico. That’s kind of what’s been important to us is their stance in New Mexico and where and how they’re investing in our state and our communities. And that’s what we’re hoping comes out of this.”