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What: Mariano Rivera of Panama and Edgar Martinez of Puerto Rico are among the Latinos on the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot released this week.
Why it matters: Hall of Fame selection can boost the national and international profiles of these great stars outside of baseball, making them more attractive to business partners.

Reflecting the growth of Hispanic players on MLB (@MLBand Minor League Baseball (@MiLBrosters throughout the game over the past few decades, the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame (@baseballhallballot, released this week, includes numerous players born in Latin American countries, both newcomers and returners among the potential selections for Baseball Writers’ Association of America (@officialBBWAAvoting members to ponder. The election results will be announced on Jan. 22.

The top name, and most likely honoree, is Mariano Rivera (@MarianoRivera), who would be the second native of Panama elected (Rod Carew, chosen in 1991 on his first ballot attempt with 91% of the vote, was the first). Some are saying Rivera, the game’s all-time saves leader with 652, five World Series titles and a minuscule 0.70 ERA in 141 post-season innings, may be the first unanimous selection, as his off-field demeanor, charity work and universal respect among peers and fans make him one of the best candidates ever to possibly reach that threshold (Ken Griffey Jr.‘s 99.3% in 2016 and Tom Seaver‘s 98.8% in 1992 are the closest anyone has come).

As this segment of the population continues to be more impactful in the business of sports, these are the guys who can make the biggest difference.

Rivera made nearly $170 million in salary in his 19-year career, all with the Yankees (@Yankees). And while his more reserved personality may not have led to flashy spokesman opportunities, astute businesses like Bank of America (@BankofAmerica), The Hartford (@TheHartfordinsurance and insole provider OrthoLite (@OrthoLitehave partnered with the all-time great, who turns 49 on November 29.

The other Latino who stands a strong chance of election is Edgar Martínez, in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. Born in New York but raised in Dorado, Puerto Rico, the 18-year member of the Seattle Mariners has steadily risen up the Hall of Fame voting, reaching 70.4% last year, a far cry from the 36.2% he received on his first ballot in 2010 and the low of 25.2% in 2014. Also known as a solid citizen and exemplary role model, the designated hitter/third baseman has been less in demand by national sponsors, something that could change with his Hall selection. Though he did do a fine job in this local Seattle hardware spot:

“The list of players who have impacted not just teams and the sport, but communities is really amazing this year,” said Ray Negron, longtime New York Yankees advisor who works with dozens of Latino athletes and celebrities. “As this segment of the population continues to be more impactful in the business of sports, these are the guys who can make the biggest difference, especially when you add on ‘Hall of Fame’ to their resume.”

The Portada Brand-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Omar Vizquel of Venezuela (second year on the ballot), Sammy Sosa (seventh) and Manny Ramirez (third) of the Dominican Republic are the others born in Latin America returning to the ballot. While all considered to be long shots this time around (and with Sosa and Ramirez having the additional burden of past PED use on their respective resumes), business prospects for the three are not particularly strong.

Among the first-timers on the ballot, besides Rivera, are Freddy Garcia (Venezuela), Miguel Tejada and Placido Polanco (Dominican Republic), who all had solid careers but who will likely struggle to achieve the 5% of votes needed to remain on the ballot next year.

Several Latin Americans have earned selection in recent years, increasing their profiles. Vladimir Guerrero (2018), Ivan Rodriguez (2017) and Pedro Martínez (2015) all took their spots in Cooperstown to great acclaim. None have had landmark business partnerships though Martínez has remained highly visible in his analyst role on MLB Network, for which he has earned high marks.

Would enshrinement mean more partnership opportunities for Rivera and Edgar? Both are well-known within baseball, and Rivera’s New York connection and World Series success have given him a wider audience outside the game. But Martínez possesses a lot of the same traits, and the attention that Hall selection would afford could push brands to take a second look at this potential marketing standout.

https://youtu.be/O4MRx3_ttzE

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Cover image: credit Keith Allison

What: MiLB’s successful ‘Copa de la Diversión’ initiative will more than double to 72 teams in 2019.
Why it matters: Programs that celebrate the Latino influence in baseball and connect to the community are positive for the teams and their fans, and a potential touch point for marketers.

As the Latino composition of professional baseball rosters—in both the majors and minors—grows, it makes sense for leagues and teams to celebrate the diversity in their players and fan bases. And as Minor League Baseball (@MiLBcontinues to experience growth on the field and on financial ledgers, initiatives like Copa de la Diversión help everyone embrace the culture and values that these communities represent.

With that, MiLB is following up last year’s successful Copa, which saw 33 teams participate and, according to the organization, generated a combined US $3.7 million in revenue and 12.5% attendance increases, by announcing that more than double that number, 72, will take part, across 29 different states in the upcoming season. In 2018, teams took to the field as the Durham Toros, Omaha Cazadores de Tormentas and Charlotte Caballeros (similar to NBA and MLB alternate identities) in select games.

100 new employees have been hired by the 72 participating teams, helping club staffs begin to more closely reflect the composition of the on-field talent and fan base.

As with other programs in this space, authenticity is the key: it can’t be seen as just a publicity stunt or to market additional apparel. The phrase “Copa de la Diversión” translates to “Fun Cup,” and included other facets of the fan experience, including food and music. And some teams made some internal changes to promote the program, including hiring bilingual employees in ticket sales and attracting more diverse internship applicants, according to La Vida Baseball (@LaVidaBaseball), a baseball news site that celebrates the past, present and future of Latino baseball.

The 40 or so new teams will try to tap into success stories like that of the Albuquerque Isotopes, Class AAA PCL affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. As “The Mariachis” that night, the club’s May 5 Copa celebration set a single-game attendance record of nearly 17,000 and, according to BallParkDigest.com (@ballparkdigest), set franchise records for merchandise sales.

The #PortadaLA summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

With that success, MiLB is all-in on the initiative. “For some teams, it was looking yourself in the mirror and being like, ‘Man we don’t have enough people on our staff that looks like our community’,” said Kurt Hunzeker, Vice President of Marketing Strategy and Research at MiLB “I think that was a huge benefit.”

Hunzeker also noted, per La Vida Baseball, that 100 new employees have been hired by the 72 participating teams, helping club staffs begin to more closely reflect the composition of the on-field talent and fan base. This diversity can also help teams make decisions that will affect those fans, as having voices “in the room” with firsthand knowledge of the particular characteristics of the Latino fandom can prove fruitful.

So what is next for Copa? Hunzeker has indicated that at least 13 more organizations will get on board in 2020. Perhaps this can lead to a program of this type on the MLB level, or other sports may use it as a blueprint to help connect with Latino or other ethnic groups. In any case, it’s been a huge positive for teams and communities.

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What: The Angels have opted out of their lease at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., opening up the possibility that the franchise could move after the 2019 season.
Why it matters: Mexico, primarily Monterrey or Mexico City, could be a destination, if MLB wants to expand south; Mexican-American Angels owner Arte Moreno could be the one to open the market to the league and partners.

Angel Stadium of Anaheim (Wikimedia/Redlegsfan)

Last week news broke that the Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) (née “…of Anaheim,” née “California Angels,” née “Anaheim Angels”) have opted out of their Angel Stadium of Anaheim lease, effective following the 2019 season. It’s a high-stakes call, with political ramifications in Southern California—and perhaps beyond.

So what does this mean for the future of the franchise? Could Mexican-American entrepreneur Arte Moreno take his team south to Mexico? Are Mexico City (two hours plus by air from Houston, the closest MLB city) or Monterrey (about 600 miles closer to the U.S. border), which has hosted the MLB Mexico Series, viable options? There may be some logistical hurdles, but Adrian Burgos (@adburgosjr), Editor in Chief of La Vida Baseball (@LaVidaBaseball), historian and expert on Latino baseball, thinks that Moreno’s ownership could be the difference in making it happen.

Who better to market to a Spanish-speaking community of over 21 million in Mexico City than Moreno whose business was advertising?
Arte Moreno (Wikimedia Commons/jemmill)

“Moreno’s business savvy as much as his Mexican-American background will prompt him to thoroughly consider moving the Angels to Mexico City,” said Burgos, who is also a professor of history at the University of Illinois. “Who better to market to a Spanish-speaking community of over 21 million in Mexico City than Moreno whose business was advertising?”

The aforementioned MLB Mexico Series (@MLB_Mexico), held for the third time this past May in Monterrey, featured a three-game set between the Dodgers and Padres. The Mexican League has a long, storied history in the sport, and current standouts like Joakim Soria, Yovani Gallardo and Jorge De La Rosa dot major league rosters.

The opt out from “The Big A,” which the Angels have called home since 1966 (the team played as the “Los Angeles Angels” as an expansion franchise at the “other” Wrigley Field in 1961 then at Dodger Stadium for the next four years) doesn’t preclude the team from remaining in Orange County, or even in Anaheim. The city will be electing a new mayor next month, with stadium subsidy a hot-button issue. Sites in Irvine and elsewhere have been discussed, but can this be baseball’s chance to set up an established franchise south of the border?

The Portada Brands-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Adrian Burgos Jr., LVB editor

“MLB sees opportunity in the huge demographic market in Mexico City, over 21 million people,” added Burgos. “The three MLB Mexico Series, however, have been played in Monterrey, which is a very different market. So, I’m not sure the series working in Monterrey has much bearing on Mexico City. But that is a challenge that Arte Moreno is arguably best suited to address.”

The opt-out is described by Angels officials as a one-time option that needed to be exercised now or in 2028, according to reporting by the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin. Will the new mayor (incumbent Tom Tait is not running for reelection) work with Moreno and the team on renovations that would keep the team in its 52-year old home? if not, Burgos thinks Moreno would be the one to make it work in Mexico, with marketing a key element.

“No other team owner in MLB would be as culturally aware and knowledgeable business-wise on how to make a MLB team commercially successful in Mexico City than Moreno,” he noted. “Add to all this the fact the president-elect of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a baseball fan surely will give Moreno a big boost.”

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Cover Image: Estadio de Beisbol in Montererey (Wikimedia Commons/Pzurita)

A summary of the most exciting news in multicultural sports marketing. If you’re trying to keep up, consider this your one-stop shop.

  • According to the NFL, the consumption of games on digital platforms has jumped 65% from 2017 through week four of the new season, with an average minute audience of 326,000 viewers per game window across different platforms. The biggest growth has come from fans streaming games on their phones, where the average audience is up 147%. TV ratings are also up on last season. NFL viewership among Hispanics has increased by 28% in the past five years alone, according to a 2016 Nielsen report.

 

  • AT&T Mexico has announced an agreement to become the official sponsor of Mexican Pacific League baseball team Tomateros de Culiacan. The current 2017-18 champion has close to half a million followers on social networks. The deal includes AT&T’s logo to be added to the front of the official Tomateros jersey and the team’s players will take part in a number of AT&T events.

  • Google has expanded its partnership with MLB. The deal will see Google Assistant, a virtual assistant powered by artificial intelligence, become the presenting sponsor of the American League and National League Championship Series. The tech company already has similar deals with YouTube TV and the MLB World Series. 31% of MLB players are Latino, according to ESPN.

 

  • Sugarlands Distilling Company is teaming up with NASCAR and Talladega Superspeedway, as the “Official Moonshine of NASCAR”. As a part of the five-year agreement, Sugarlands will gain rights to promote its moonshine at retail, on packaging and will host key customers and distributors at-track. According to 2011 data, 20% of NASCAR’s followers are multicultural fans, 9% were Hispanic and 8% African-American.

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  • Under Armour locked a five-year deal with NBA player Joel Embiid. ESPN reports that the deal will make him the highest-paid center for this type of partnership, and will see Embiid and Under Armour partner on branded footwear and apparel in addition to charitable initiatives in and around Philadelphia and in Cameroon.

  • ESPN is planning on launching espnW in Mexico. espnW Mexico will serve as the brand umbrella and power content initiatives to engage and inspire women across ESPN’s linear, digital and social platforms.

 

  • The Houston Rockets locked in a partnership with Bilibili, the leading online entertainment platform for younger audiences in China. The Rockets are looking to expand their presence in esports, with Bilibili’s esports team, Bilibili Gaming and the Rockets’ esports squad Clutch Gaming taking part in a friendly game and Bilibili will become the official partner of CG.

What: Family owned, San Antonio based Twang Partners tapped into the Chicago Hispanic market with activations supporting its lines of flavored seasonings.
Why it matters: Flavorful seasonings are a big part of Latino culture, and the Mexican-American Treviño family has expanded its six main brands to 46 states and online, with on-site connections like recent ones at Fire and White Sox games essential to its growth.

While the Goya (@GoyaFoodsbrand may be the first that comes to mind when considering the kinds of full-flavored seasonings so popular with Spanish eating and drinking, San Antonio-based family brand Twang Partners (@twang_officialhas carved out a niche, and with its products now available on shelves in 46 states as well as online, Twang recently made a push north, to Chicago, with activations at Fire (@ChicagoFire) and White Sox (@whitesoxtailgates and games as part of its growth plan. The guerrilla marketing was a hit with fans, according to Edmundo Macias, Director of Marketing at Twang.

“These activations were not endorsed or sponsored by the teams,” explained Macias. “We simply hired a street team that could hand out samples near the stadium including the parking lot to target tailgaters.”

Macias sees sports marketing as an important growth area as the company continues to offer its products to a wider audience, and even teach them the proper way to salt their beer.

With Chicago a new market for Twang, whose brand lines include flavored salts, sugars and seasonings with names like Twang-A-Rita, Cafe Zuca and ZAS!, and without the huge budgets of a Goya, Macias noted that the baseball and soccer crowds were the right fit to introduce the products.

“We want to increase our product’s brand awareness and trial where there was a good mix, demographically, with beer drinking adults,” he added. “We also wanted to make sure that there was a fair amount of Latinos as our product was originally inspired by the Mexican tradition of adding salt and lime to beers.”

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The Treviño family, which shook out its first beer salts under the Twang name in 1986 in San Antonio then throughout Texas, has had success with Mexican national soccer team games as well as bar promotions during boxing events featuring Mexican and Mexican-American fighters. But Macias sees sports marketing as an important growth area as the company continues to offer its products to a wider audience.

“We are hoping to also initiate some activations in and around Dodgers and Lakers games who both have a huge Latino fan base,” he noted.

With Twang’s products serving as complements to food and beverages, the company is also looking to partner with liquor and beer companies, particularly with its flagship Beer Salt product and, according to Macias, Twang-A-Rita, meant to rim drinks and cocktails.

“Our beer salts are great compliments to Mexican beers and domestic lagers,” concluded Macias, “so there are lots of possibilities to co-promote our products and give these facilities an opportunity to offer something completely unique to their customers.”

It’s a brand on the rise and one to look out for in the sports marketing space.

What: Three September initiatives reflecting baseball’s growing Hispanic influence are Roberto Clemente Day, a new MLB Latin American trainer’s program and the extension of ‘Play Ball’ to Panama.
Why it matters: The Roberto Clemente Award is considered by many to be the game’s highest honor; highlighting and expanding the Latino influence in the game can be key opportunities from brands looking to connect.

Javier Baez (La Vida Baseball)

September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month (@hispanicteam), a time when the influence of Latinos in the U.S.A. is highlighted. Dedicated time periods that highlight the heritage of African Americans, women and other groups are perfect opportunities for teams, brands and leagues to connect. The U.S. Latino population, now estimated at more than 58 million, continues to have an affinity for baseball.

Major League Baseball (@MLB), among a series of year-round initiatives that reflect its growing Latino player and fan bases, can point to three in particular as the postseason nears.

Each year, the league dedicates a single day in September as “Roberto Clemente Day,” the day teams announce their nominees for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, considered by most to be the league’s highest individual honor, greater even than an MVP or Cy Young. The award recognizes the members of all 30 teams who demonstrate the contributions and significance of the late Hall of Famer as a player and humanitarian, dating back nearly two decades. This year, it’s Wednesday, a day following the announcement of the 30 club nominees. Fan voting on the award commenced on Wednesday and continues through Sept. 18.

…[I]nvolving these trainers in an important MLB initiative will place them in position to make connections within the game that can enhance their ability to work in the Minor and eventually Major Leagues.

“I am very proud of the great philanthropic efforts of our players,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement. “Through wide-ranging work and actions, these 30 nominees honor Roberto Clemente’s legacy of being exemplary community ambassadors. Roberto’s unwavering humanitarian spirit continues to inspire our players and fans and serves as a positive example for future generations.”

Two new efforts that didn’t receive as much attention but arguably can have an equally great impact on the game, long-term, are a partnership with Latin American trainers, beginning with pilot programs in baseball-mad Dominican Republic and Venezuela (which, not coincidentally provide MLB the most and second-most foreign-born players). According to the late August announcement, 46 trainers are already on board, with the goal of improving compliance with MLB performance-enhancing substance policies, long an issue with players from Latin America.

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Besides helping with the drug issue, involving these trainers in an important MLB initiative will place them in position to make connections within the game that can enhance their ability to work in the Minor and eventually Major Leagues.

The other enhances program is “Play Ball,” reaching Panama for the first time, this week. Children attending the sessions in three Panamanian cities (Panama City, hitré, Herrera; and David, Chiriquí) will receive a bat and ball, branded t-shirts and wristbands, with former Major Leaguers and Panama natives Bruce Chen and Olmedo Saenz on hand to support. The goal is to grown the game across North America, with more than 20 previous stops including Monterrey, Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and numerous U.S. cities with large Hispanic populations from The Bronx and Manhattan, N.Y., to El Paso, Texas; San Diego, Calif.; and Mesa, Ariz.

What: The Puerto Rico Little League team made some waves out of the Caribbean region, continuing the sport’s legacy on the island.
Why it matters: Through the dollars brands can spend through cause marketing, dollars which done right, can be amplified well beyond a traditional marketplace.

Last weekend the birthday of one of Puerto Rico’s most revered figures, Roberto Clemente, was celebrated across Latin America. This week his lasting legacy has provided its latest example of the vibrancy of baseball in his native country, as the Radames Lopez Little League team, representing Guayama, continued its positive play as the surprising Caribbean entrant in the Little League World Series (@LittleLeague).

Now it’s not that unusual for Puerto Rico to break through to Williamsport; what is unusual is the storytelling that went on as this team, post Hurricane Maria, often trying to assemble with little supplies or even electricity, several of whom had lost their homes and gone without some essential supplies for months, made it undefeated through its regional and on to the grandest brand stage, not just Williamsport but ESPN (@espnas well.

These kids from Puerto Rico have an amazing story and have succeeded in cutting through the clutter with the eyes of the baseball world on them.

The team, many members with their hair dyed blonde like the stars of last year’s World Baseball Classic Puerto Rico team, have quickly become a shining light on how the power of sport can inspire and engage those casual fans who may think the issues from the massive storms last year are a distant and completed memory.

Yes, it’s a feel-good story, but how does that translate into business? Through the dollars brands can spend through cause marketing, dollars which done right, can be amplified well beyond a traditional marketplace. We have seen the scores of brands that have sought to activate through the platforms of ESPN during the Little League World Series, and while many watching across the country may be casual fans tuning in to watch some elite kids, tying some of those brands to cause, one which is still playing out throughout the Island Nation with some fresh goodwill ambassadors now telling their stories, is a great opportunity.

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Harrie Bakst

While we may think of companies looking to jump on the bandwagon and the buzz, especially traditional baseball brands like Nike (@Nikeor Franklin (@FranklinSportsor Under Armour (@UnderArmour), the ability for cause-related brands to amplify their message surrounding these young, telegenic faces and stories can go much wider. Telecommunications companies like Verizon, who have both big philanthropic and sports marketing budgets, can find a great tie to help continue to give back to the efforts in Puerto Rico by leveraging the cause celebre among the islands newest stars, so long as the mix is one of aid and assistance.

“We see brands all the time tied to causes that are ongoing, and they are able to leverage and inflection point to drive awareness and dollars when the spotlight is turned on,” said Harrie Bakst co-founder of WCPG (@wcpgco), a company whose mission is to pair brands, athletes and causes together for a great collective spend. “These kids from Puerto Rico have an amazing story and have succeeded in cutting through the clutter with the eyes of the baseball world on them, even if they advance no further. If there are savvy brands who see Puerto Rico as a key market, and now better understand the efforts there are not yet complete, the time would be right to work with their group. It could be a win well beyond some games in Williamsport for all.”

An effort Clemente would be proud of, in the land he loved and in the game that delivered so much for him, now with a new generation taking the next step.

What: Francisco Lindor’s All-Star Game appearance in Washington, D.C. helped enhance his status as one of the league’s rising stars on and off the field.
Why it matters: A crossover standout like Lindor, who has appeal not just to Latinos but to a wide variety of fans, can be what baseball needs as it struggles to market outside of die-hard fans, to younger audiences.

There he was in the midst of the biggest night of stars for Major League Baseball (@MLB ‏) in the summer of 2018, shining as bright as a personality as anyone else and then some. The Cleveland Indians’ Francisco Lindor (@Lindor12BC), a young, athletic, multilingual personable star, chatting up Joe Buck (@Buckand crew on the FOX Broadcast from his spot at shortstop, live in the midst of the All-Star Game (@AllStarGame ‏) in Washington as play was developing all around him.

Not only was he answering questions and giving fans a true “look-see” into the goings on on the field, Lindor was chatting up players around him in English one minute, Spanish the next, with the ease of a talk show host. He also didn’t miss a beat as he tracked down a short 7th inning popup in left field, still conversing with the guys in the booth as the inning ended. At a time when some are questioning the marketability of a young generation of stars, the 24-year-old Puerto Rican seems to be ready to assume the mantle not just for Latino fans, but for all of America as the Tribe (@Indiansmake their play in the season’s second half and beyond.

…in a time when many are questioning the lack of marketing effort put forth around some of MLB’s brightest stars, the Puerto Rico native might be ready for a big next step.

The smooth conversation during the national broadcast wasn’t the first time even that day that Lindor let his personality do the talking. He arrived for the MLB red carpet sporting a stylish backpack and hat, with skinny jeans and no socks, as comfortable with the cameras as he is on the diamond. “His sense of calm and style is impeccable,” said La Vida Baseball (@LaVidaBaseballEditor In Chief Adrian Burgos. “If Prince came back as a ballplayer, he would be Lindor; he epitomizes cool.”

Cool is anything the 24-year-old now Floridian has been on the field again this year, ranking among American League leaders in everything from runs (first as of 7/25) to home runs (5th) to WAR (4th). His brand value is also sizzling.

According to opendorse (@opendorse), the leading platform for pairing athletes of all backgrounds with brands using social media metrics, the man known as “Mr. Smile” has amassed over 84,000 new followers on Instagram since Opening Day, seventh among all active MLB players in growth since the season started. He is also 5th overall amongst Latino stars and gaining fast, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Jose Altuve and Javier Baez.

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That on and off appeal hasn’t gone unnoticed in a world well outside Cleveland now. When LeBron James exited Ohio for the L.A. Lakers earlier this month, New Balance (@newbalance), which made Lindor their global ambassador for baseball, started lobbying that James’ massive downtown billboard be replaced by one of Lindor. The campaign itself fit well into his rise on the field, and was amplified by the national stage last week in Washington, where media big and small suddenly saw star power on the rise. Other brands, like Pepsi, Taco Bell, Lids, and Franklin have started to hitch their ride on Lindor’s growth, and in a time when many are questioning the lack of marketing effort put forth around some of MLB’s brightest stars, the Puerto Rico native might be ready for a big next step.

credit: Flickr/Erik Drost

“Francisco has a rare mix of being comfortable around both the English and Spanish speaking fans, partially because he came to the mainland U.S. at such a young age and grew up in baseball in a multilingual and multicultural environment,” Burgos, who has followed Lindor throughout his career, added. “Cleveland might not be L.A., but his personality and performance will transcend that city, and he is a great fit for what baseball needs: a young, savvy, telegenic crossover star, it’s very exciting to see his potential playing through.”

Now that potential still has a ways to go, both on the field and off. To effectively rise above Ohio and find his way to Madison Avenue consistently, the Indians need to stay in the competitive mix. A healthy season, combined with a vibrant personality for a sport that is working to grow telegenic, multicultural stars is a marriage that sells, and sell Lindor can do.

For brands, for baseball, to the growingly engaged and business savvy Latino audience, and most importantly, to mainstream America, Francisco Lindor is raising the bar. A new star shown brightly in the Nation’s Capital, now it seems ready to take its place in a bright multicultural constellation.

We all should enjoy the view.

What: The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will play three games in the “MLB Mexico Series” this weekend in Monterrey.
Why it matters: Much like the Puerto Rico Series in April, the Mexico games represent an embracing of the Latino influence on baseball and a signal to marketers that the sport is thriving across Latin America.

Fans of a certain age will remember a time, more than 35 years ago, when “Fernandomania” ruled the land. Like a comet out of Navojoa, Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the Major League Baseball (@MLB) scene in 1981, a thousand or so miles north but a million miles away in the sports world, to Los Angeles, where he promptly won a World Series, the hearts of Dodgers (@Dodgers) fans, and a place in baseball lore forever.

It was, for some, the first taste of baseball, South of the Border style. But for legions of Mexicans and others of Hispanic heritage living in Southern California, Fernandomania was the entry point to really feeling like this team, transplanted just over two decades earlier from Brooklyn, was really theirs.

Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan.

Things move slowly in the baseball world, but MLB finally came around to hosting games in Mexico some years later (1996). And this weekend, for the first time in nearly two decades (the Padres hosted the Rockies there in 1999 in the only other series there), the Padres and Dodgers will head south to Monterrey for a three-game set in what the league has dubbed the “MLB Mexico Series,” Friday through Sunday at Estadio de Beisbol. The weekend will include Fan Fest in Macroplaza, a series of youth and community initiatives, special kids ‘Play Ball’ event and Little League games, in an effort to involve everyone. And Valenzuela will throw out the first pitch in Friday’s game.

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Fernando Valenzuela (image: Wikimedia Commons/Jim Accordino)

This, like the Puerto Rico Series last month, is an opportunity to highlight the strong Latino connection to the game. Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan, when Puerto Rican stars José Berríos of the Twins and Francisco Lindor of the Indians stole the show, each leading his team to a win in the two-game series.

While a second series outside the contiguous U.S. states and Canada in one season may not signal the dawn of full-time baseball in either market, it’s a clear recognition by MLB that embracing its Latino player and fan bases is good for business.

It’s something Fernando and his outsized Dodger fandom could have told you more than a generation ago.

What: Former Golden State Warriors president and current Miami Marlins president of business operations Chip Bowers discussed the team’s challenges with Scout Sports managing partner Michael Neuman at Portada Miami last week.
Why it matters: The Marlins are facing a huge rebuild, and have decided to look outside of baseball for a blueprint.

The acquisition of impact the new-look Miami Marlins (@Marlinsmight not only be coming through the trades of All-Stars like Marcell Osuna and Giancarlo Stanton, it may be coming through of all places, the World Champion… Golden State Warriors (@warriors)?

That might sound strange to baseball fans and the Marlins faithful, but from a business perspective the leadership team, starting with Derek Jeter, went outside the organization, and outside of baseball, to bring in former Warriors president Chip Bowers to turn the fortunes of the business side of the team around, and most importantly, get a club that had lost touch not just with the South Florida community but with the baseball-loving and growing Latino community, back in the fold.

Bowers believes that best practices he has experienced at Golden State and other places, combined with a fresh start for the Marlins brand and a unified sense of communication strategy, will lead to brighter days ahead

Bowers, just a few months into the job, made one of his first public appearances this past week at Portada Miami, when he sat down with and Portada Sports board member and Executive Vice President, Managing Partner, Scout Sports and Entertainment (a division of Horizon Media) Michael Neuman to talk about the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for their franchise and for baseball in general in South Florida.

Marlins Park (Flickr/Roberto Coquis)

“Our goals are pretty clear,” Bowers said before a packed ballroom of brand marketers and agency heads at the East Hotel Thursday morning. “We need to build trust, align with right partners, make bold promises, and deliver on what we say.” A good part of that trust, he added, will have to come in the Latino community not just in South Florida but across the Americas, a community that has become disillusioned with the former ownership group, and has also raised a few eyebrows as the current group has started their reorganization that included trading away of some of the teams veteran Latino stars.

Still with all that in mind, Bowers believes that best practices he has experienced at Golden State and other places, combined with a fresh start for the Marlins brand and a unified sense of communication strategy, will lead to brighter days ahead, and those days, at least from a marketing standpoint, are already underway as the first part of the MLB (@MLB) season gets cranking.

“We have such a diverse fan base here in South Florida that the possibilities to engage and grow our presence at all levels are very strong,” he added. “However coming with that opportunity is the reality that we have to market to a Puerto Rican audience differently in some ways than a Cuban audience, or a Dominican audience a little differently than a Mexican audience. The commonality is the baseball experience. That’s what we need to exploit.”

Bowers pointed out that the outreach in Miami and the surrounding communities isn’t much different than what the Warriors did with ethnic groups in the Bay Area, even before the team rose to the on-court heights it is experiencing now. “We saw from our data, and from our community work, that we had great numbers of Latinos, Chinese, Mexicans, Koreans, who were fans of not just basketball but of the Warriors themselves, and we had to find ways to market to those communities. It took time but we found programs and brand partners that made sense, and the result was a brand impact not just at our games, but back in the communities abroad where those fans resided originally. They communicated that affinity to friends and relatives in countries around the world, and as a result, we (The Warriors) built a global fan base that has come along with the team for years, and continues to grow and present new opportunities for all those associated with the team.

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Like at Golden State, Bowers sees the same opportunity for the Marlins, especially given the proximity to so many Latino countries who love baseball, and the brands associated with the sport. “If we deliver we can become Latin Americas team, he said. “We can bring an all-encompassing multicultural multiplatform experience that will expand baseball’s reach beyond what it is today.”

That effort of course starts in South Florida, and involves rebuilding the trust with disenfranchised fans and businesses. The bad news is apathy was high the last few years. The good news is there is only one way to go; up. With that upward rise are great opportunities to create low cost, high impact partnerships and ticketing programs that will have casual fans embracing the Marlins as a lifestyle brand off the field as the transformation on the field takes shape in the coming years. It may be a bit slow and bumpy across the summer of 2018, but the long term outlook, Bowers added, can be very bright.

“We have a unified vision and an aggressive stance that is telling everyone we are open for business and want to find ways big and small to work with you,” he concluded. “Now we have to make sure we stay focused, aggressive and deliver on what we can control, and what we say we are going to do. I’m as excited for this chance as any I have had in my career, and the turnaround here is already underway.”

The turnaround, and the track record of the new Marlins President is good news not just for South Florida baseball fans, but for MLB and its legions of brand marketers that are looking to embrace the sport either again or for the first time, not just in Miami but throughout Latin America.

While the All-Stars on the field develop, the Marlins business side will look to be scoring on their own, and with a new vision and an aligned mission, wins in business should be in the offing.

What: The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians battle in a two-game series at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium in this week’s Puerto Rico Series.
Why it matters: Talk of MLB’s first expansion since 1998 has been growing, and a strong showing this week can put Puerto Rico in the mix, which would be a huge boon to Puerto Rican companies and other international marketers.

In 2003 and 2004, Puerto Rico got its first extended taste of Major League Baseball on the island when the Montreal Expos, playing out their final seasons before moving to Washington, D.C., called Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan for 22 of their home games. Though efforts to make the city the permanent home for the troubled franchise didn’t prove fruitful, MLB has returned intermittently to the venerable 55-year-old facility, hosting World Baseball Classic games in 2006, 2009, and 2013 and a three-game regular season set between the Florida Marlins and New York Mets in 2010.

This week, the sport returns to Puerto Rico as the Central Division rivals Cleveland Indians (@Indians) and Minnesota Twins (@Twins ‏) square off in a two-game set at the historic venue on Tuesday and Wednesday. Puerto Rico Tourism (@SeePuertoRico) is banking on the enthusiasm of fans of those teams, whose home games so far have featured cold, damp weather, as well as baseball fans in general to add to what has been a strong recent showing for the island in hosting major sporting events.

Puerto Rico continues to produce top-level Major League talent, which will be on display in the two games. Francisco Lindor of the Indians and Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario of the Twins are among the most recent crop of stars, with Houston’s Carlos Correa and the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez leading the roster of young Puerto Ricans on the rise. Four P.R. natives are in the Hall of Fame, with a few other likely candidates in the next few years.

Now the question is, what’s next? MLB executives have talked about the league’s potential first expansion since 1998. Would San Juan be a candidate?

But it’s not just about baseball there. In addition to the Indians-Twins series, Puerto Rico has been the site of the Divas Half Marathon and 5K and IRONMAN 70.3 this year and is set for two more years as the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open host in 2019 and 2020.

“Hosting the Major League Baseball organization, its executives and players for two series games is important for Puerto Rico,” said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares in a statement. “We thank the MLB organization for their continued commitment to host this highly regarded event on our Island that is bringing thousands of fans to our historic ballpark where many MLB players of Puerto Rican descent started their very own professional sports careers.”

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The influx couldn’t come at a better time for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September. The series had been announced before the hurricane arrived, and was an easy sellout in the 18,000-seat stadium, which took on some damage to the dugouts, bullpens, playing field, lights and more during the storm. The two games are the first played under the new lights at Hiram Bithorn.

Brands have taken notice as well, as Anheuser-Busch, JetBlue and T-Mobile among the international partners joining Rum Puerto Rico, Ashley Furniture Berríos and other locals.

Now the question is, what’s next? MLB executives have talked about the league’s potential first expansion since 1998. Would San Juan be a candidate? Two games in April aren’t going to be the deciding factors, but a strong showing this week can go a long way towards making it a viable option, which would change the face of the island for not just the sporting public, but local companies and international brands with Puerto Rican ties.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

cover image: Hiram Bithorn Stadium, credit: Flickr/Bryce Edwards

What: Both Gerard Piqué and Alex Rodriguez have been in the news lately for bold and successful business ventures.
Why it matters: These athletes are paving the way for other Latin and Hispanic athletes to recognize that they too can find financial success outside of their sport both during and after their playing days.

Kobe Bryant made headlines recently for his Oscar-winning documentary Dear Basketball, and he has since been lauded as the next great athlete to succeed in business ventures beyond their own sport. Kobe is following the trail blazed by fellow basketball stars Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in this regard, but it should be highlighted that two Hispanic and Latin superstars have been making entrepreneurial headlines of their own: Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) and Alex Rodríguez (@AROD).

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Piqué is showing that Hispanic athletes can also join the movement of athletes looking to become financial powerhouses.

Gerard Piqué: Soccer Star and Tennis Entrepreneur

Gerard Pique
Gerard Piqué: the world’s best defender and a leading entrepreneur (credit: TSM Plug)

Gerard Piqué is currently working on his master’s in business at Harvard University while also leading the charge to create the World Cup of Tennis, which will fill the hole that the Davis Cup leaves behind. Piqué is also a leader, writer, and ambassador of The Players’ Tribune Global (@PlayersTribune) initiative and has multiple other investments and business ventures. Apart from these impressive initiatives, he’s taking FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) on the path towards winning an impressive double of LaLiga and Copa del Rey championships. The usual path for athletes’ financial success off the field has usually been to develop their brand and social media appeal as much as possible and then lock up endorsement deals that net them revenue for appearing in commercials. Though Piqué strikes these types of partnerships as well, he is bucking convention by seeking unique opportunities in the market to grow different businesses. This type of entrepreneurship is more associated with someone who has been trained in finance all their life, but Piqué is showing that Hispanic athletes can also join the movement of athletes looking to become financial powerhouses.

Rodríguez has piggybacked off of his successful investment firm A-Rod Corp to create space for himself on a channel that usually shows coverage of the New York Stock Exchange.

Alex Rodríguez: A New Type of Television Personality

Alex Rodríguez has become a business mogul and has turned his financial prowess into his own CNBC show (credit: John Anderson, The Austin Chronicle)

Another figure making the most of his business instincts and intellect is Alex Rodriguez. He not only has garnered rave reviews as a host on MLB on Fox, but he is also the star and host of a new show on CNBC called Back in The Game. The premise of this show is that Rodríguez helps former athletes regain a hold on their finances. His MLB on Fox position, in which he offers truly insightful commentary and meshes well with his high-profile co-stars, is more in line with jobs typically associated with former athletes: broadcasting, coaching, etc. The CNBC show, though, is a new example for retired athletes, particularly those who are Latino, to follow. Rodríguez has piggybacked off of his successful investment firm A-ROD CORP (@_ARodCorp) to create space for himself on a channel that usually shows coverage of the New York Stock Exchange. Rodríguez has used the money he earned from his mega-contract with the Yankees not only to invest in fruitful ventures, but he is showing athletes, regardless of background, that they can take an active, responsible role in their financial success.

When a Latin or Hispanic athlete joins the ranks of the Billionaire Athletes Club, they will deserve much of the credit.

Inspiration for Other Latin and Hispanic Athletes

The biggest impact of athletes such as Piqué and Rodríguez will likely be seen years down the line. There will be a kid out there, though, in Barcelona, Miami, or elsewhere who will look at their examples and be inspired to not just work hard on their game, but also cultivate their mind and dream bigger than just ball. Motivation does not have to come from one type of source, but there is something to be said for being able to look up to someone out in the world who looks like you, sounds like you, and is breaking barriers that you did not know were possible. Whether it is through their own ventures or the inspiration the path they carved for others, when a Latin or Hispanic athlete joins the ranks of the Billionaire Athletes Club, they will deserve much of the credit.

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Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

What: More MLB teams have Spanish-Language broadcasts and dedicated Spanish Websites than ever.
Why it matters: More Latino players dot MLB rosters and more Spanish-speaking fans consume the sport in new ways. Marketers can reach these fans of more teams, en español, via TV and online.

As we head toward Opening Day for MLB (@MLB) and MiLB (@MiLBthis week, the increased awareness and opportunity in the Latino community for baseball branding and awareness keeps growing. From the announcement last week that a wide group of Minor League teams will create branding and business campaigns more focused on the Latino community than ever before, to MLB’s growing initiatives to make Latino players more comfortable, engaged and involved in the clubhouse, the power of the Latino consumer to growing baseball is being more recognized now than ever before.

Dedicated Spanish-language baseball websites, not just translations, marketed with URLs en español (yankeesbeisbol.com, loscubs.com) at the MLB.com-run Web pages for each team are further evidence that the league is catering more to this fan base.

With that expanded coverage will come more brand awareness for companies who target Latinos but need a way to reach those Spanish language consumers directly. More local markets mean more opportunity.

On the Airwaves

MLB teams will be streaming and broadcasting more in Spanish than ever before. As we head towards Thursday, MLB games in Spanish will be broadcast in 19 countries throughout the Americas. Meanwhile, ESPN Deportes (@ESPNDeportes) and MLB En Espanol (@LasMayoreswill handle weekly national broadcasts. A record 19 clubs will broadcast at least select games in Spanish in their markets. With a 20th, the Milwaukee Brewers, offering some games in Spanish language TV as well.

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Most of the Spanish language broadcasts are for major market teams. Surprisingly Washington, DC is still without a Spanish language broadcast. Still smaller markets like Seattle and Tampa and Minneapolis are expanding their Spanish language coverage as well. This includes the World Champion Houston Astros. Longtime Dodgers lead Spanish announcer Jaime Jarrín. As much a legend to Hispanic fans over his 60 years in the booth as Vin Scully is to English listeners, he was recently spotlighted in the Los Angeles Times.

spanish language
Jaime Jarrín

With that expanded coverage will come more brand awareness. This especially for companies that target Latinos but need a way to reach those Spanish language consumers directly. More local markets mean more opportunity.

“It’s a smart move by teams, usually at a pretty low cost, to have Spanish language baseball coverage these days. And the players and the fans appreciate it. That will translate, literally, into business deals,” added Ray Negron, who does the nation’s only bilingual sports radio show with partner Felix DeJesus on ESPN Deportes in New York. He’s also a longtime employee of the New York Yankees.

Challenges to Come

“It’s still not the easiest sell as mainstream brands are still struggling to quantify the spend,” he added. “But for a business like baseball that needs to have a Latino identity in every city, the broadcast, even if it is just online and not on an over the air station, makes great sense.”

What makes even more sense is for brands to continue to embrace the Latino, Spanish, emphasis baseball is undertaking even more in 2018. With the Latino population continuing to grow and assimilate into mainstream America, and the ties to baseball still strong, the opportunity for new brands, and some traditional ones, to speak the language of baseball is bigger than ever.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

Cover Image: Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel (credit: Keith Allison)

What: ‘Culture’ was a topic of conversation at last weekend’s SABR baseball analytics conference in Phoenix.
Why it matters: Bridging the gap between English and Spanish speakers in the clubhouse can lead to better success on the field, which benefits teams’ marketing efforts as well.

Last weekend’s Society of American Baseball Research (@sabr) conference in Phoenix was largely about baseball business by every way, shape, and form of numbers, but it also touched on a key point of growing the Latino fan base and the brand value of athletes in a way that had less to do with data: culture.

Throughout the weekend, speakers talked about the need for understanding and inclusion in the clubhouse as a key parameter for success, with the most successful teams, and the brands tied to them, being the most valuable and the most successful both on and off the diamond.

With a sport whose rising stars are increasingly Latino…, the value of a bilingual, or a multicultural clubhouse is going to be essential to the marketing of baseball going forward.

“The guys willing to learn Spanish will bring the clubhouse together and have tremendous value,” said ESPN veteran announcer John “Boog” Sciambi (@BoogSciambi) in a conversation with MLB Network’s Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny). “What Eric Hosmer brings to the table because he took the time to learn a language to communicate with his younger teammates shows how far he, and others, should go, to help an organization grow.”

With a sport whose rising stars are increasingly Latino, and with a marketing effort that includes a more concerted effort to integrate Spanish language partners in Mexico and beyond, as well as the major Spanish-first brands looking to grow in the U.S. marketplace, the value of a multilingual, or a multicultural clubhouse is going to be essential to the marketing of the baseball going forward.

“Look, I was always the guy in the middle of clubhouse conversations, since I had been on both sides because of my background,” said multilingual former MLB player and current ESPN announcer Eduardo Perez (@PerezEd), who is also the son of longtime MLB star Tony Perez. “It is a lot easier in the tough times when you have an understanding of what the other guys are going through, and it certainly helps grow baseball if more teams paid attention to the value of having players at least have an understanding of what some of the young Latino, or even Japanese players, might be going through.”

Dr. Lorena Martin (2nd from right) at SABR Analytics Conference

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One story that was relayed over the weekend was of longtime MLB player Mark DeRosa, and how he was stranded at an airport in the Dominican Republic during winter ball one year. Without an understanding of language or culture, DeRosa struggled to get to his destination, and it left an imprint on him that he brought back to the States as to what it is like for young Dominican or Puerto Rican players who struggled to adjust to the small town cultures in minor league baseball.

While all MLB teams have added multilingual, especially Spanish speaking, members to their communications staffs in recent years, a number of clubs still have not been able to bridge the cultural divide in the clubhouse. That divide can also translate (no pun intended) into losses at the box office and on the ledger sheet through a lack of success on the field.

“I see it all the time, where some players or coaches mistake a gesture or a custom as a form of disrespect, when in reality it is a misunderstanding of the background of a player, especially a young Latino player,” added Dr. Lorena Martin, who was recently hired as the Head of High Performance for the Seattle Mariners. “The education for both sides in better understanding what goes on in the locker room, and how to better integrate the cliques that form, is really important in building a successful culture.”

Effect on Brands

From a business perspective, the integrated clubhouse would have great appeal for brands like Verizon and Geico that look to expand their consumer base deeper into the Latino community and better exploit relationships with players from varied backgrounds. Whereas a language barrier can slow relationships, having Anglo players fluent in Spanish and a growing number of young Latino players more comfortable with English provides a great crossover opportunity if you can identify a player from one culture and integrate him into a program that literally translates to a bigger audience and market share.

Yes, baseball is about the numbers. But even at an event like SABR, focused so much on the analytics, the value of multicultural success as a key to winning came through every day. That winning is not limited to the field; it translates into the business world as well.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

cover image: Francisco Lindor, Bradley Zimmer (credit: Wikimedia/Keith Allison)

What: The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez and Astros’ Carlos Correa head the list of Latino players with the biggest Twitter growth.
Why it matters: As the social media presence of Latino stars soars, the opportunities for brands to connect increases, with Correa’s Adidas deal a prime example.

As we near MLB Opening Day, the impact of Latino players who are active in social continues to grow, especially among the younger emerging stars who can drive brand value in both the Anglo and Spanish speaking communities. Who are the biggest and most impactful?

We asked social monitoring leader opendorse (@opendorseto give us the top five.

Opendorse analyzed historic Twitter data from the past year to find the five Latino MLB players with the most significant follower growth on the platform. By pairing success on the field with consistent, quality content, these players achieved massive growth of their social audiences and added value to their individual brands.

The list may not surprise you, but their impact will. Two Dodgers, Kenley Jansen (@kenleyjansen74and Enrique “KiKe” Hernandez (@kikehndezare near the top of the list, with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez (@ElGarySanchezand Astros’ Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) making a huge impact. The Indians’ Jose Ramirez (@MrLapararounds out the top five of budding Latino stars using social to grow awareness as well.

Baseball is a game where Latino brands, and brands that are looking to reach a Latino audience that also speak English, should thrive.

One of the most important ties between all five? On-field success. The group all play for teams with big expectations in 2018 coming off impressive 2017 seasons as well, so tying social growth to impact in the community and wins and losses is key for brands to succeed. Their share of voice continues to be amplified as the team rises in the standings, although that is not the only factor companies need to consider when engaging with athletes in the social space. The market is also key for business success, with Ramirez being the only one of the five not playing in a traditionally strong Spanish-speaking market to start the 2018 season.

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Gary Sanchez
Gary Sánchez (Flickr/Arturo Pardavila)

Of the five, Correa’s deal with Adidas remains the gold standard for young players crossing over into the Latino space. Sanchez will benefit from being around the lineup of Bronx Bombers that include Giancarlo Stanton as well, while the pair of Dodgers should be able to continue to thrive as kings of Southern California.

“Baseball is a game where Latino brands, and brands that are looking to reach a Latino audience that also speak English, should thrive,” added longtime baseball executive Ray Negron, who has worked with some of the biggest crossover stars during his career in the Yankees front office. “It is still a bit of a mystery as to why more brands aren’t deeply involved as they could be crossing over between the Latino and Anglo audiences, but these five guys are great examples of how you can make that effective jump and reach a new audience using social media.”

For brands looking to score in baseball this season, these five Latino stars are a great start.

Check out the stars of Portada’s Sports Marketing Board, who will meet at Portada Miami on April 18-19 to discuss various topics related to the future of marketing and innovation in sports. Register now!

Cover Image: Carlos Correa (courtesy Adidas)

What: The WBSC released its updated international baseball rankings, with nine Latin American countries in the top 20.
Why it matters: With its reinstatement into the Olympics in 2020, baseball in Latin America can be an increasingly attractive sport for marketers at a global level.

Latin American nations rejoiced in August 2016 when baseball and softball were reinstated to the Olympics. The upcoming 2020 Games will mark the first time teams will compete in baseball since 2008, after which the IOC removed it from the lineup.

While Korea, Japan and, of course, the United States field strong squads, many Latin American nations were hardest hit by baseball’s loss and perhaps most buoyed by its reinstatement. Last week, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (@WBSC) released its updated rankings, and several Latin American nations made jumps since the last update. Cuba (up one spot to No. 4), Mexico (+1 / 5th), Puerto Rico (+1 / 10th) and Dominican Republic (+4 / 12th) are among the upward movers, and in all, 11 North American entities are represented in the top 20. USA (No. 1), Canada (7th), Venezuela (11th), Nicaragua (13th), Panama (14th), Colombia (16th), Brazil (19th) and Argentina (20th) round out the elite list, with 74 baseball playing nations rated in all.

The important question moving forward: what value will marketers see in [events] which represent the future of the amateur game?

As Latin American national teams move towards the sport’s triumphant return to the biggest international stage in Tokyo in two years, will sponsors follow? Beisbol rivals futbol for popularity in many of the nations, and 18 months into the reinstatement there are hints of major international companies getting back into the game there. Alamo Rent-A-Car has naming rights to the Kukulcan Alamo Park in Merida, Yucatan; GBG Energy-Texaco has sponsored the Águilas Cibaeñas team in the Dominican Republic’s Winter Baseball League.

But big sponsorships in these countries at a global level are few and far between. The World Baseball Classic, which first gained a foothold in 2006 and has served as the highest-profile —though by no means only— international baseball event, has seen Dominican Republic (2013 champion) and Puerto Rico (2013, 2017 runner-up) figure prominently, with multinational companies Delta Air Lines, Gatorade, LG and AT&T making strong commitments to last spring’s quadrennial tournament.

The important question moving forward: what value will marketers see in, for example, events like the U-21 and U-15 Baseball World Cups and the Central American and Caribbean Games, which represent the future of the amateur game?

images courtesy WBSC

What: Alex Rodriguez spoke at last week’s 12th annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
Why it matters: Rodriguez is the ultimate redemption story from what appeared to be a completely damaged brand to a growing Hall of Fame business career.

There are few better comeback stories in sports and entertainment than the one of Alex Rodriguez. From banned baseball superstar to mega-businessman, entrepreneur, analyst, and now Yankees advisor, Rodriguez has risen from the ashes of what most thought would be a career lost and a brand squandered to be one of the most thoughtful, engaged, and well-rounded Latin American athletes turned businessmen of the past 25 years, succeeding well beyond his stellar position as baseball analyst for FOX and ESPN.

ARod, his business plan, and the brands he works with were center stage late Friday afternoon at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (@SloanSportsConf) in Boston, where the MLB great shared his business thoughts on a panel that included Maverick Carter, DraftKings founder Jason Robbins, and 538 Founder Nate Silver.

The ARod Corp (@AROD) has created a wide business portfolio that includes everything from commercial real estate to eSports, with brand partners that include UFC Gyms in South Florida; Trifision, a rising fitness initiative which marries yoga, pilates, boot camp, barre, boxing, and cycling; Energy Fitness —a large chain of high-end fitness centers primarily located in Mexico City—, and NRG eSports, a millennial-focused content network, providing exclusive, multi-platform programming for gamers. That is in addition to the advisory work he does with the Bronx Bombers (which was announced on Sunday), his stellar baseball analysis, and his work with Jennifer Lopez on any myriad of cross-promotional businesses.

His comeback off the field has made for a growing Hall of Fame business career that may not surpass his legendary status on the field, but can come close.

The brand of ARod, it seems, has never been as vibrant, diverse or successful as it is today. How has it gotten there? Learn from those around you, and the mistakes you make along the way.

“I have the fifth most strikeouts in MLB history. Only four people in the entire world have struck out more than me,” Rodriguez told ESPN’s Michelle Steele before a packed room at Sloan on Friday. “You get a Masters in failing, but you get a Ph.D. in getting back up.”

The backup involved rebuilding the trust of a skeptical public, as well as the business world, following his suspension from the Yankees. His comeback off the field has made for a growing Hall of Fame business career that may not surpass his legendary status on the field, but can come close.

One of the keys to success today? The three-time MVP believes control of your brand and all of its elements, is more important now than ever. “I look at the great success Jennifer [Lopez] has had with so many elements of what she does,” he added. “She had a fragrance called Glow that sold more than US $1 billion but she only owned 1 or 2 percent of the overall brand. Now with Glow2 she has much more control and if it ‘only’ makes US $200 million it is still better business because she can control the entire process.”

Another key to business success for Rodriguez? Listening. While always being known as a solid and thoughtful student of baseball during his playing days, the now retired veteran has a diverse team of business experts working with him on his myriad of businesses, many of whom are women.

The ARod Corp culture is based on a set of five values —Collaboration, Integrity, Accountability, Loyalty, and Excellence— that shape both the business and the companies that they work with. Also mixed deeply in that culture is a diverse leadership group that has identified and has executed business deals in a multicultural landscape that is becoming increasingly valuable, and the insight from young, vibrant successful Latino leaders will be key to the company’s future growth.

The transgressions of the past appear to be just that, and although Rodriguez will have critics and naysayers, the business world, both in sports and in other areas, seem to buy into the belief of his brand and the scalable growth that has come and will continue to expand.

“Alex Rodriguez was a success on the field and a hero to millions, especially in the Latino community, before all his issues, and he is perhaps an even bigger hero now because he has addressed, overcome and thrived not just as an athlete, but as a businessman,” said Chris Lencheski, who helps lead  MP & Silva’ s global partnerships, and a longtime sports marketing expert. “He has done what many at the top sometimes struggle to do; learn from your mistakes, reinvent who you are, embrace change, and come out ahead. It’s a great story, and at his age it’s pretty clear that the best may still be ahead, which is great news for his team, the brands he partners with, and most importantly, for the millions of people, both in and out of the Latino community, that will know ARod the businessman as much as ARod the baseball superstar.”

Success off the field can be tricky for even the most successful athlete. To be able to rest, succeed, expand and grow while learning from those around you is pretty amazing. While MIT Sloan featured some of the biggest names in sports business coming together for 48 hours (along with a former President of the United States as well), one of the most engaging and entertaining narratives came from a retired baseball superstar who has controlled and recast a brand that was tarnished and now shines across multiple languages, cultures, and brands. A second act better than the first?

That’s a pretty high bar but losing is not something acceptable for the New York native. Hits, after all, are what he does.

What: Jorge Posada, Carlos Beltran, and T.J. Rivera were honored at Tuesday night’s Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in New York, highlighting the baseball brand in a multicultural market.
Why it matters: The selection of three top Puerto Rican athletes for this prestigious honor is a testament to the power of Hispanic stars across all lines, in the sport and in cause-marketing efforts.

There they were at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Tuesday night in New York: three great ambassadors of baseball together for a key cause. They were conversing with a throng of media members in both English and Spanish and flowing back and forth between the two languages and cultures with ease.

latino
Jorge Posada interviewed by PIX11’s Andy Adler

Yankees great Jorge Posada; former Mets, and Yankees outfielder and Houston Astros World Series champion Carlos Beltran (@carlosbeltran15); as well as New York Mets infielder and Bronx product T.J. Rivera (@TJ_Rivera_); were honored at the 38th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner to benefit AHRC New York City Foundation. The organization assists children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, what they all really represented (all with Puerto Rican ties), was the great value that exists for baseball as a brand to seamlessly connect Anglo and Latino cultures in the biggest markets in North America.

Multicultural representation

“We are proud of our heritage and of the sport we played, and there is nothing more important than being an example for the next generation, whether that is in business or baseball,” Beltran said before the dinner, which was emceed by New York Yankees announcer Michael Kay. “Baseball is a business that crosses cultures better than any other. It has really helped the people of Puerto Rico unite with the ongoing issues there. We see what great power it has to bring out the best in everyone. It’s much more than a game to us, no matter where our fans are from.”

The universal language of cause marketing is also key for both the Latino and English speaking audience as well. That cause-and-effect was not lost on all those in attendance for the Munson dinner.

The power to unite

That power to unite and build is also not lost on another influential figure in attendance, said longtime New York Yankees advisor, media member and award-winning author Ray Negron. Negron, who has the unique distinction of hosting a talk show in both English and Spanish in New York each week on ESPN Deportes (the only show of its kind in the U.S.), has worked for years with Latino athletes and celebrities in finding a mix of cultures that translates to brand activation as well.

“We are seeing it more and more with crossover stars like Carlos and Jorge, and new faces like Carlos Correa and others. They are conversant in two cultures. That convergence is becoming more acceptable to brands who see ways to integrate into both a Latino and Anglo fan base more seamlessly,” Negron added. “I see it when brands come to our show. Brands like Verizon and Goya. They see the opportunity to reach a Latino base that loves the culture but speaks English as a first language. Sports, especially baseball, is the best entry point into that cross-culture now.”

–> Read also in Portada: Leaders Agree: Baseball’s Latino Stars Set to Take Center Stage in Business Too

Cause Marketing

latino
Ray Negron

The universal language of cause marketing is also key for both the Latino and English speaking audience as well. All those in attendance for the Munson dinner were aware of that cause-effect. Bringing brands together to work for a greater good also knows no language barrier.

“When disaster strikes and the stars turn out, there is no question what language they speak. It’s the language of love,” Negron added. “That’s what I think brands want as well. They want to see their names tied to social good. The athletes here tonight are all about the cause and doing what’s right to use their fame to help others. It’s quite a gift.”

Negron believes that that gift will continue to give as baseball becomes more engaged in multilingual brand pursuits. Meanwhile, brands continue to get more comfortable with unlocking the power of the Latino community through baseball.

“Baseball is a 24/7 sport. The continued influx of affluent Latinos to the United States, as well as the efforts made through social media to export the product of MLB to other areas of the Spanish speaking world, has a huge upside for brands that take the time to embrace the opportunity,” he added. “You see the star power that these veterans have, and their ability to make an impact for companies and for the community not in one but in two languages, so why not take advantage of it?”

A great question, and one that will continue to get our attention as we head toward Opening Day in March.

What: The Arizona Diamondbacks continue to demonstrate a strong commitment to the Latino community, according to communications executive Josh Rawitch.
Why it matters: The Latino market makes up a significant portion of the team’s fan base,
including greater Phoenix as well as the entire state.

As we pass the Super Bowl and turn towards the opening of spring training, we will start to focus on the efforts of MLB (@MLB) teams and their unique approaches to marketing to a Latino audience. Leading off are the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have been among the progressive and proactive clubs in North America in engaging with audiences of diverse cultures and brands.

We spoke with Josh Rawitch (@JoshRawitch), Diamondbacks (@DBacks) Sr. Vice President, Content & Communications, to better understand the club’s engagement and what is coming up as we head towards pitchers and catchers.

Portada: The DBacks have always been front and center in terms or cultivating the Latino audience. How valuable is that market share to the team?

Josh Rawitch: “The Hispanic market accounts for a significant part of the overall population in Arizona and our fan base, so it’s extremely important that we find authentic ways to engage with them. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, it’s been interesting to go back to the beginning of the franchise and see how important it has been since before we even took the field. That said, we’ve definitely increased our efforts over the past few years once we hired our Manager of Hispanic Marketing, Jerry Romo, and we continue to do so each year. We were honored last year by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as the Corporation of the Year because of our increased efforts, so it certainly feels as though the marketplace is taking notice.”

P: Are there brands that are partners that market directly to the Latino fan base? Who are some of them and what are some of the best practices they have seen?

J.R.: “Many of our corporate partners are specifically looking to activate within the Hispanic market including Chevrolet, Pepsi, Fry’s Food Stores, MillerCoors and Anheuser Busch, to name a few. Chevrolet had a very significant presence in La Terraza, our Hispanic-themed area of the ballpark where they put up a culturally-relevant mural from a local artist and created t-shirts featuring that same graphic. Fry’s Food Stores has been the presenting sponsor of D-backs Fiestas, our pregame street festivals celebrating the Hispanic culture. Pepsi has been the presenting sponsor of our Hispanic Heritage Day promotional giveaways the last couple of years, which have included Los D-backs soccer jerseys and a Sugar Skull Bobblehead. AB is our partner on Hispanic Heritage Day which includes several key elements but notably, they honor a member of the Hispanic community each year. And MillerCoors does a great job in general and will be announcing some additional activation for 2018 soon that we think has a great chance to resonate marketwide.”

Many Hispanic fans are seeing our messages in the mainstream and in the traditional Spanish-language media outlets.

P: How do you segment your marketing for that fan base? Will you market to the Mexican audience differently than other groups?

J.R.: “We have a multi-tiered approach that focuses on Spanish-language marketing for those who prefer to get their information in their native language, but there’s also a huge segment of the population that identifies as Hispanic and gets their news and entertainment in English, just like the general population. The majority of Hispanic fans in our marketplace are from Mexico or Central America, so we certainly focus on efforts that are culturally relevant to them more so than, perhaps, Cuba or Puerto Rico the way you might see in Miami or New York. Two examples are our incredible partnership with the Liga Pacifico de Mexico, that country’s professional league, which has grown incredibly in just two years and our postgame concert with a young musical superstar, Luis Coronel, who was born in Southern Arizona (and is a big D-backs fan) but is huge in Mexico. With each passing season, we feel we are able to get more sophisticated in our approach.”

P: On the player side, the DBacks have taken great strides in developing their base in the Dominican Republic. How has the Academy worked out not just from a baseball standpoint but from an educational standpoint as well?

J.R.: “In 2013, we were fortunate enough to meet with the President of the country, Danilo Medina, and our CEO Derrick Hall promised him that we would give back to the country as much as we benefited. That included providing them with a top-notch education program that will help all players, particularly those who never reach the big leagues. We’re proud to say that even if a player’s career ends before being able to make significant money from it, he still gets the benefit of having his high school education paid for by the team. We’ve even seen coaches benefit from the program. Of course, developing players is extremely valuable and at the forefront of any team’s operations there, but we think it’s equally as important that we develop them as citizens of the world.”

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P: How much crossover does a team like the DBacks have in marketing to a Latino and Anglo audience? Is it cookie cutter or has it become more targeted as the market matures?

J.R.: “In general, we have done a much better job of targeting our marketing efforts over the last several years and the Hispanic audience is no different. As previously mentioned, that includes realizing that many Hispanic fans are seeing our messages in the mainstream and in the traditional Spanish-language media outlets. Not only has the market matured, but as technology continues to grow each year and allow us to target our marketing and messaging better than ever, we’re always looking for ways to do so.”

P: Looking ahead to spring training and the regular season, are there new or expanded programs that the team and its partners will offer for your growing Latino base, be they sponsor activations or community programs?

J.R.: “We will have an announcement as it gets closer to the season about La Terraza, which has become a great area in the ballpark for families and fans. We are also very excited that we will be able to expand our focus in Social Media in 2018, as we’ve tried hard to grow our accounts and engagement over the last few years and will now have an employee focused on that area. I believe we are still the only team in baseball with a monthly Spanish-language magazine in baseball, which started two seasons ago, and it continues to grow each year in terms of content depth and the breadth of advertisers.”

 

What: Three Puerto Rican standouts will receive the Munson Awards during the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, a fund-raising event that has taken place annually for 38 years.
Why It Matters: There will be a strong Hispanic presence at an event which is important because not only does it honor the most valuable baseball players, it also sheds light on their humanitarian efforts.

Annually, one of the biggest events of the baseball off-season is the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner, remembering the great Yankees catcher. For 38 years, the dinner has raised funds for AHRC New York City Foundation and honors great New York area stars for success and inspiration on the fields of play, and community spirit off the field.

On February 6, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, three Puerto Rican standouts will be among the honorees, as Carlos Beltran, Jorge Posada and T.J. Rivera will receive the coveted Munson Awards.

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Both Posada and Beltran have spearheaded Hurricane Relief efforts for victims in their native Puerto Rico; the Jorge Posada Foundation assists those afflicted with Craniosynostosis, while the Carlos Beltran Foundation empowers young people to reach their dreams through sports and education. Rivera was the Mets nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for his community efforts, notably at his alma mater, Lehman H.S. in the Bronx.

Honoring Unparalleled Baseball Careers

Beltran had 10 years in New York, including seven in Mets Orange and Blue, when he swatted 149 home runs and swiped 100 bases, slashing .280/.369/.500 in 830 games. In all, he hit 435 home runs and drove in 1084 runs in a 20-year career that concluded with his retirement after winning his first World Series with Houston last year.

Posada’s 17-year career, all in Pinstripes, produced 275 home runs and 1064 RBI, along with five championships. One of the “Core Four,” Posada was a five-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger, hitting .273 in more than 1800 career games.

Both Posada and Beltran have spearheaded hurricane relief efforts for victims in their native Puerto Rico.

Rivera slashed .290/.330/.430 last year in 73 games split between third, first, second and left field for the Mets. He hit five home runs and drove in 27. The native New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage has defied logic of an undrafted player climbing the ranks in the Mets organization to achieve MLB status.

Others to be honored that night include Yankees pitcher David Robertson and former Giants football standout Justin Tuck.

The AHRC New York City Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports programs enabling children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead richer, more productive lives, including programs of AHRC New York City.

For tickets and information on the Munson Awards Dinner call 212-249-6188 or email jennifer@emgbenefits.com.

(Beltran photo credit: AHRC; Posada photo credit: Keith Allison; Rivera photo credit: MLB)