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What: After the World Cup, it’s baseball’s Latino stars’ turn to show off in the All-Star Game and associated activities.
Why it matters: Baseball’s Latino numbers are higher than ever. Companies are figuring out the best ways to transfer that star power to marketing strength.

The best news coming out of the World Cup for sports business in the United States was the aggregate power of Latino activation. It played out across broadcast numbers, social engagement and brand activation. The ROI from all who looked to the Latino demo, from millennials and Spanish-first speakers to families and women, was a landmark. It should pave the way for a less adverse media audience to find better ways to engage across all sports.

So what about baseball? This week’s All-Star events in Washington, from the Futures Game to The Mid-Summer Classic, had more star power with Latino ties than ever before. The brand power of these stars, from established veterans like Manny Machado and Jose Altuve (@JoseAltuve27), to rising names like Jesús Luzardo (@Baby_Jesus9) are not just the names and faces of baseball. They can be its marketing life blood.

Baseball has committed stars who understand their legacy and want to continue to give back to the game that has brought them so much.

Baseball Brand

Last Friday at the American History Museum in Washington, La Vida Baseball (@LaVidaBaseballhosted a panel called “Giving and the Game.” The packed event showcased the history and the opportunities that Latinos have to grow the baseball brand. We can attribute this to the way the game is so deeply rooted in culture, from Cuba and Venezuela to Mexico and Panama and beyond. The event was hosted by baseball historian and La Vida Editor In Chief Adrian Burgos Jr. And the discussion covered a wide variety of topics. Presenters were Mets Special Assistant General Manager Omar Minaya, and José Antonio Tijerino of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (@HHFoundation ‏).

“When you look at the business of baseball, you cannot overlook that 32 percent of the players today in the Major League alone are Latino. That number continues to rise,” Tijerino said. “The game is ingrained in the culture across Latin America. That’s a really powerful message that can help grow the sport that needs to continue to get out there. Baseball has committed stars. They understand their legacy, as well as wanting to continue to give back to the game that has brought them so much.”

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Manny Machado (Wikimedia Commons/Keith Allison)

Minaya was also ebullient about the power of Latinos. As a result, he talked about the commitment of players young and old. He talked about storytelling and making sure that the traditions learned continue on. That’s a message that brands need to hear more of as they pick the areas where they will spend their dollars.

Latinos’ Responsibility

“Leadership is all about responsibility. Therefore, we as Latinos, from the front office to players of all ages, have to grow the game of baseball. We have to grow it and not just on the field but in the community,” he said. “Our athletes today have the ability, especially with social media, to help transform society. That’s because they are revered, and not just in the countries where they come from, but in the cities they play in today or have played in in the past.  They understand that responsibility and as a result how that can translate into helping baseball continue to grow as a sport and a business.”

Still, even with All-Star rosters dominated by Latino surnames, 25 in total, the opportunity for business growth lies ahead. MLB has made big strides in recent years to better develop and assimilate young Latino stars into the business and branding side. Therefore, teams like the Diamondbacks, the Mets, the Yankees, and the Astros have put a premium on marketing their stars to a Latino fan base. They use very targeted programs. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue is still trying to figure out the multicultural mix that shows a return. It remains a challenge. It is one that seems to move more and more to the forefront. That’s because Latino spending increases and millennials are finding their niche in sports engagement.

Partners

This year we have seen companies like New Era (@NewEraCap), Pepsi (@pepsiand 5-Hour Energy (@5hourenergystart to incorporate young Latino stars into crossover promotions. But the growth has been slow, although now more steady.

“Brands need to recognize that ‘Latino’ is a multicultural reality. And for many Latinos in the United States soccer is not the number one sport. Baseball is as young, exciting and profitable as it has been in generations. And the on-field product is becoming increasingly Latino,” added La Vida Baseball’s Managing Director Tab Bamford. “There are tremendous individual ambassadors in the game, and brands don’t see the untapped potential in baseball.”

Baseball can learn a great deal from the success of the World Cup with Latino engagement and activation. Its multilingual stars are more front and center and transcendent in numbers than ever before. Now it’s time to put those personalities on center stage for partners. Specially for those reticent about interacting with players whose background wasn’t always All-American. “All Americas” is becoming in vogue.

What: Hispanic players, which make up nearly a third of opening day rosters, are starting to be used in national campaigns, even for non-sports brands.
Why it matters: Brands may be catching up to the crossover appeal of the sport’s top Latino stars.

With Hispanic players making up more of the rosters of Major League Baseball clubs than ever, it’s interesting to see which mainstream, national brands are employing these crossover stars in their campaigns. Two notable examples were announced as Opening Day arrived across the country. New Era (@NewEraCap), in its “We Who Reign” campaign (see video below), has included Astros second baseman (and reigning A.L. MVP) José Altuve (@JoseAltuve27); eight-time All-Star Robinson Canó (@RobinsonCano); New York Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances (@DBetances68and Cubs infielder Javier Baez (@javy23baezas part of a broad effort: “transcending just baseball alone, and spanning sports, music, art, and culture,” according to its release.

Another is Lamps Plus (@LampsPlus), about as mainstream a brand as you can get, partnering with Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez (@kikehndezand his fiancée —and former Miss Universe Puerto Rico— Mariana Vicente. According to the Lamps Plus announcement, Hernandez and Vicente will promote the nation’s largest specialty lighting retailer through social media and other activations during the year.

While it’s clear that Hispanic MLB players are increasingly making their mark on the field…, their impact as brand spokespeople hasn’t caught up.

“Kiké Hernandez has a passionate fan base resulting from his positive persona,” said Dennis Swanson, CEO of Lamps Plus, in a statement. “As a utility player, Kiké can be counted on to be plugged into the lineup wherever he’s needed for his team. It’s like lighting – you add a chandelier or a lamp to a room where it’s needed and it makes a dramatic difference to the ambiance.”

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Baseball fans also saw Altuve utilized in Five Hour Energy’s (@5hourenergy) TV and digital spots in 2017, in an example of a brand that has a sports connection but targets active adults. The light “José Altuve is Everywhere” ads had him fielding a grounder, signing autographs, even selling hot dogs, highlighting his status as the league’s top player— perhaps on the way to becoming among its most marketable. After all, who doesn’t love that the shortest guy on the field (5’6″) can also be the best?

While it’s clear that Hispanic MLB players are increasingly making their mark on the field —reportedly nearly a third on opening day rosters are Latino—, their impact as brand spokespeople hasn’t caught up. It will be interesting to see which other brands look to connect not just with the Latino community but a broader audience through these stars.

https://youtu.be/ZYHmZSDh8mE

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 photo: Lamps Plus