Teams Agree: Authentic Multicultural Engagement in Sport More Important Than Ever

What: Teams are finding ways to engage more authentically with their Latino fan bases.
Why it matters: This growing demographic is critical to franchises and brands, and the more ingrained they are in the community, the more effective their marketing can be.

“We’ve gone away from the Mariachi band.”

That statement, tongue in cheek, from the L.A. Galaxy’s (@LAGalaxyVP of Communications Brendan Hannan (@brendanhannan ‏) at last week’s Portada LA event again signals how teams, especially those in the U.S. in the business of soccer and basketball, are realizing more and more the need to effectively engage in an authentic way the Latino audience, and make that audience more and more a key part of their marketing focus.

The key to success? Authenticity. For years, teams in North America would slap “Los” on a jersey, sell some tacos, play some salsa music and call it a day. Box checked, and move on. Now, more and more you are seeing teams make bilingual, especially Spanish, a priority in their marketing plans, as tapping into the multicultural dollars of brands they are already partnered with, and engaging a growing demo to make them fans for life, is more and more important.

...[C]hange is not easy, and sometimes for those not willing to take the risk, the safer road is the first one traveled.

Teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks (@LosDbacks ‏) and the New York Mets (@LosMets ‏) dedicate more than one third of their budget to multicultural engagement on social, broadcast and community events, knowing that the spillover effect for mainstream marketing will also grow as young Latinos, whether they speak Spanish first or English first, will benefit them down the road.

Case in point of an authentic crossover was demonstrated also in L.A. last week when the Las Vegas Lights' Steve Pastorino talked about their deal with La Bonita Supermarkets (@LaBonitaMarkets). While the deal was a boon for credibility in the Latino community for the expansion USL club and their brand, the real success was in getting non-Spanish speaking Anglo fans to go and check out the offerings at the chain.

“It has really gotten new faces into the store, not because the chain is geared towards Latinos, but because of an authentic connection to all things associated with the team,” Pastorino added. “Our fans see and hear about the chain through our club, and it grows the overall community.” He added that this crossover was also being seen in and around Las Vegas by brands like T-Mobile (@TMobileand Metro PCS (@MetroPCS), who also engage heavily in acquiring rising Latinos but can do so more easily, and more authentically, through sports. “We become the great connector as a community, and that connection really helps all tides rise, even in the desert,” he said.

Still, this is an evolving process for brands, especially when the decision makers still tend to be older non-Spanish speaking risk adverse buyers.

“It’s easy to buy ESPN if you are a brand, no one will question it, if you go and buy Telemundo or Spanish radio, even if it is associated with an elite sporting event, there is still a challenge,” added Chris Lencheski, longtime sports marketer and professor at Columbia University. “That is certainly changing in sports like soccer, basketball and baseball, but change is not easy, and sometimes for those not willing to take the risk, the safer road is the first one traveled.”

Teams, however, can invoke such change with their dedication, and show return at the grassroots level. Hannan pointed to several inner-city smaller field projects, five-on-five and even three-on-three, where the Galaxy have built tremendous affinity and in turn, have opened doors for sponsors who might not have been able to identify a way to connect to a Latino fan base that can be elusive. “Our players enjoy the interaction, because many times those kids are who they were growing up,” he said. “It made great sense, and you see the return much easier at the grassroots, it’s a great pathway into the community which we need to keep taking advantage of.”

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The next opportunity, especially for soccer and brands, will come with the World Cup. The Spanish-speaking consumer will be more attuned to all the goings on around the games than ever before through all forms of media, and the nations they support, from Mexico and Spain to Peru and Argentina, will be a way for soccer especially to engage with a community that may or may not be following MLS, or USL, or even the U.S. national team that closely. “If you are a brand and you have waited to try and engage in World Cup until now, you may have missed the boat,” added Panini’s Jason Haworth (@sportsmktgguy), whose company will produce millions of sticker books and reap the benefit of the brand affinity that comes with the World Cup.

Will teams be able to ride that wave as well? The answer appears to be a universal yes. “We will be following and engaged with all the games, and if there is a segment of our fan base celebrating, we will be right there with them,” Pastorino added. “Soccer is the great unifier, regardless of language or culture.”

Seems like in multicultural engagement in sport, especially around soccer, the Mariachi Band is being replaced by the universal sound of the victory bell.

Cover image: VoicesOfNY.org

Joe Favorito @joefav

Joe Favorito has over 32 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. The Brooklyn, New York native has managed the day-to- day activities in strategic communications for: Two of the world’s hallmark sports and entertainment brands (the New York Knickerbockers and Philadelphia 76ers), the world’s largest professional sport for women (the WTA Tour), the world’s largest sports National Governing Body (the United States Tennis Association) and the world’s largest annual sporting event (the US Open). He also oversaw the strategic planning, investor relations, communications and digital business development of the International Fight League during its two year run as a Mixed Martial Arts venture and a publicly traded company. Favorito serves on the boards of the Weinstein Carnegie Group, New York Sports Venture Capital, the National Sports Marketing Network, the Drexel University Sports Business program, and Columbia University’s Sports Management program (where he is an instructor in Strategic Communications and Director of Industry Relations). Joe also maintains a well trafficked blog on the sports marketing and publicity field, “Sports Marketing and PR Roundup,” on the website joefavorito.com, as well authoring the first- ever text on the sports publicity industry (“Sports Publicity” published in August 2007 by Reed Elsevier and updated in 2012 by Taylor Publishing with a third printing coming in 2018), which is used in over 60 sports management programs in the U.S. He has been a guest speaker on sports marketing, social media and communications at a host of institutions, including Princeton University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, the University of Florida Law School, New York University, the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and many others. He is also a frequent spokesperson on the industry for publications ranging from Ad Age and The New York Times to NPR and CBS News. A graduate of Fordham University, Joe, his wife and two children reside in River Vale, New Jersey.

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