Great party? Of course. But, beyond festivities was key World Cup networking opportunity

Countdown to World Cup, sponsored by Hispanic and Pride chambers, will be first of many efforts to bring host committee, state officials together with small businesses from diverse chambers

Sure, it was a great party — with great food and drinks, great music and a great atmosphere. Anyone who has been to an event sponsored by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey or the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce knows to expect that.

But, last week’s Countdown to the FIFA 2026 World Cup event at American Dream — held exactly two years out from the first World Cup game to be played at MetLife Stadium — was about more than just a raucous atmosphere, it was about preparing small businesses from minority-based chambers an opportunity to position themselves to get a part of what will be the biggest sporting event in the world.

The event, co-sponsored by two chambers, not only sold the 350 tickets it hoped to sell, it added approximately 100 more attendees before the night was through.

It was a great start, said Luis De La Hoz, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber.

“This event not only showed our passion and spirit to World Cup and local officials, but it provided an opportunity for networking with those officials and with other businesses,” he said. “It also showed our diversity to the officials who are looking for diversity.”

The key, De La Hoz said, is for these businesses to be proactive.

“We realize that we can’t wait for other organizations to give anything to us,” he said. “If we wait for others to give us opportunities, we will have the same outcome as the Super Bowl (at MetLife Stadium in 2014), when we only got one catering opportunity.

“We need to create those opportunities.”

Gus Penaranda, the executive director of the Pride Chamber, couldn’t agree more.

As someone who has been helping to build direct ties to FIFA for years (see the diversity and inclusion event he created here) — Penaranda said the party not only showcased the depth of the business talent among the minority chambers, it showed those members the various opportunities available to them around the sport.

“The Countdown to the World Cup was created to provide an example to the small business community that, even though we are working with the host committee and the state around the World Cup, there is so much else out there,” he said. “We had representatives from both of the MLS clubs in the area.

“What we did showed small businesses that we don’t need them to wait for others to put on events. We can do our own. What we did (last week) can be replicated in different forms across the state to help small businesses in different regions that may not get a direct impact from the Philly and New Jersey games.”

Just being there is a key first step, Hispanic Chamber CEO Carlos Medina said.

Medina said he was thrilled to see a number of businesses that don’t normally attend events at this one. He said he was happy to see officials from the New York/New Jersey Host Committee, including co-managers Lauren LaRusso and Bruce Revman. He said he was grateful that representatives from three Latin American consulates came.

“Being out there and networking is a vital step,” Medina said. “It’s like a gym membership; if you don’t use it, you don’t get any benefits from it.

“We can create the opportunities, but, if you don’t take anything of it — don’t use the lessons we’ve taught in our entrepreneurial classes — you won’t benefit.”

The good news: There will be plenty of additional opportunities ahead. The “Countdown” event was the first of three that is planned for American Dream. And there will be plenty more along the way.

Medina said the Hispanic Chamber — which hosts dozens of events throughout the year — will find a way to incorporate the World Cup into all of them. He said the chamber will work to get World Cup or state officials to as many as possible to help bring awareness — on both sides.

“We are going to be very active around the World Cup,” Medina said.

And throw a lot of really good parties in the process.