MLS, MiLB Doing Best Job of Engaging a Multilingual Fan Base


The U.S. Hispanic audience will have a combined purchasing power of $1.7 trillion by 2020, so teams across the sporting landscape are taking aim at the demographic, but cursory efforts – like heritage nights – to appeal to the Latino fan base aren’t sufficient; teams that wish to establish meaningful connections with the community need to show they’re fully committed (think: participate in cultural events, follow trends and news) and share the same values (think: family, tradition). No club has done a better job of speaking to the Latino fan than LAFC, embracing their feedback on everything from the team colors and logo to stadium design.

Mario Flores is the managing director of Sportivo, a Hispanic public relations firm that counts LAFC as a client. Flores said teams need to authentically engage with fans – starting at a grassroots level – to build trust and loyalty within the Hispanic community. “You can’t just decide on Cinco de Mayo to put the Latino fan at the forefront of your marketing campaign and expect an ROI. You need to be committed to that community 365 days/year. Whether it’s reading to bilingual students at the library, hosting a youth camp or nonprofits for a game; simple things like that go a long way towards building their allegiance.”

Howie Long-Short: To reach the Latino fan teams need to speak their language and depending on who the target audience is, that varies. Flores says that “younger millennials prefer Spanglish (which is why MLS ran a campaign in the language) because that’s the way they speak to their friends; if you’re speaking to an older audience, you’re going to be speaking Spanish.” Teams also need to be where the fans are – which is on mobile; half of all Hispanic millennials are considered smartphone “power users”, meaning they use their phones at least 25% more than the average person.

Flores believes that MLS and MiLB have done the best jobs (among U.S. pro sports leagues) of engaging the multilingual fan base. “MLS teams have really embraced their local communities and have been good about putting out Spanish language media content; and MiLB’s Copa de la Diversión has been phenomenal from a marketing standpoint.” 

You’ll often see pro sports franchises wear alternative uniforms (think: Los Mets or El Heat) as part of their multicultural outreach efforts. While the gesture may not seem like much, Flores believes the temporary name change – which often reflects the nickname the announcer uses to refer to the home team – “actually speaks to the community.” That doesn’t mean that trotting out fresh threads 2 or 3 times/season is enough to build a Latino fan base, though; “it needs to be part of a bigger program.”

It’s not a coincidence that MLS and MiLB are widely recognized for embracing the Latino community.  Having Latino athletes within the sport is crucial to driving Spanish language media coverage. Teams/leagues that don’t have them find that the Spanish speaking media “only wants stories with Hispanic athletes tied to it. It’s one of the reasons why the NHL hasn’t made inroads within the community.”

If a team is going to make inroads with the Latino community’s local leaders “the front office needs to reflect what the fans look like. Teams in Los Angeles better have more than one person who is Hispanic in the front office. Oftentimes the only Spanish speaking person within a front office is the receptionist or an administrative assistant, so they’re asked to be part of the club’s multicultural group. The intentions are well, but those individuals may not understand true nuances of the Latino fan from a marketer’s point of view.”

Fan Marino: Teams need to make Hispanic sports fans feel welcome if they’re going to come to the stadium. Providing bilingual signage is one way to accomplish that. Flores said communicating in Spanish is “a welcoming nod to the Hispanic consumer. It conveys we understand you, we want you to be comfortable here.” Having Spanish speaking staff on-site doesn’t hurt, either.

During the 2018 offseason, the Marlins turned a section in right field into Comunidad 305 – a fan zone welcoming instruments, dancing and flags in an attempt to recreate the raucous environment found at the World Baseball Classic. The efforts were well intentioned, if misguided. Latinos “don’t want to feel like they’re being assigned to a specific section. They want to maintain their cultural identity, but they still want to feel like they’re a part of the fandom with everyone else.”

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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