Hispanic Sports Market Widening

Apr 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

If soccer is the king of Hispanic sports, then boxing and baseball may be the crown princes.
Soccer telecasts still make up the bulk of programming on most sports channels targeted to the Hispanic viewer, but soccer saturation and viewer demand are driving broadcasters and cable networks to expand their horizons and their selection of programming.
“The Hispanic market is not focused on just one sport,” said Lino Garcia, general manager of ESPN Deportes. “While soccer has a great audience, it is a stereotype to say Latinos are only interested in soccer. It is clearly not the case.”
People tend to follow the sports that are popular in their home countries, Mr. Garcia said. For viewers of Mexican heritage, soccer is the preferred viewing choice. But for the growing audience that hails from the Caribbean-including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela-baseball reigns supreme.
Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol carries winter league baseball telecasts from the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean version of the World Series. Since 2001 the channel has enjoyed exclusive rights to Major League Baseball games under a sublicensing agreement with sibling Fox Sports.
Fans are drawn to familiar players, and many of the greatest players in baseball today hail from Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The three highest-paid Major Leaguers either were born overseas or claim Hispanic heritage. Top-earner Manny Ramirez (2004 salary: $22.5 million) of the Boston Red Sox is from the Dominican Republic. Carlos Delgado ($19.7 million) of the Toronto Blue Jays is Puerto Rican. Alex Rodriguez (New York Yankees; $22 million) is a native New Yorker but lived in the Dominican Republic and in baseball-loving South Florida, where Hispanic culture is ubiquitous.
As the popularity of baseball grows among Hispanic viewers, advertising dollars follow.
“The Hispanic media community has come to realize that soccer is not the only sport that interests the Hispanic viewer,” said Tom Maney, senior VP of advertising sales for Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol.
Advertising categories on Spanish-language baseball telecasts look remarkably similar to those on English-language programs. Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol has signed up about 80 advertisers, including MasterCard, Miller Beer, AT&T Wireless and Verizon. General Motors, Ford and Toyota are pouring new dollars into Hispanic sports programming.
“The automotive category is really heating up, because research shows that the majority of new car sales in the future will come from the ethnic marketplace,” Mr. Maney said.
ESPN Deportes, which began in 2001 as a Sunday night programming block, expanded to a 24-hour service in January. The channel offers exclusive national coverage of more than 70 Major League Baseball games on Sunday and Monday nights, and has announced plans to carry the pre-All-Star Game Home Run Derby and the Triple-A (minor league) All-Star Game.
Azteca America and Univision also offer limited slates of baseball programming.
Boxing Is a Hit
If there is one sport in which interest extends to all Hispanic cultures, it is boxing. ESPN Deportes conducted focus groups in several markets before the channel’s launch and found boxing to be the one sport that resonated with all viewers.
“Boxing has always been very attractive to Hispanic audiences,” said Edgar Cardoze, media director at Dieste Harmel & Partners, a Dallas media agency that places advertising in Spanish-language sports telecasts for such clients as Gatorade, Pepsi, Frito-Lay and SBC Communications.
The hottest boxing property among Hispanic viewers is TeleFutura’s Friday night staple “Solo Boxeo” (“Just Boxing”). The program draws an average of 1.3 million viewers each week and is typically the highest-rated non-soccer sports telecast among Nielsen’s Hispanic Television Index.
Boxing’s popularity is driven by viewers’ allegiance to favored fighters such as Fernando Vargas, Felix Trinidad and the revered Oscar De La Hoya. Mr. De La Hoya’s production company, Golden Boy Promotions, has about 30 Hispanic fighters under contract and stages a number of televised events for HBO, TeleFutura and ESPN.
“Oscar is the `golden boy,’ a living legend and modern-day gladiator who has captured the hearts of millions of fans,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.
“The Latino market is becoming increasingly important to the sport of boxing as a percentage of the existing pie, but that pie is getting smaller,” said Lou DiBella, a New York boxing promoter.
Although still a minor sport compared with soccer and baseball, boxing is finding an audience. Univision, Galavision, Telemundo, HBO Latino and ESPN Deportes each offers a menu of boxing telecasts.
Other sports are gaining speed in the race for multicultural viewers as well. An increasing number of Hispanic professional racers is driving interest in motor sports among the Spanish-speaking audience. Several racing associations, including the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League, claim Hispanic drivers.
“We had Adrian Fernandez, one of the top racers in the world, who just came over to the IRL and will be on our air,” said ESPN Deportes’ Mr. Garcia.
ESPN Deportes carries a package of IRL races, while Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol has sewn up rights to the CART schedule.
“You have a lot of built-in sponsorship opportunities because of the involvement of so many advertisers with the car sponsor teams,” said David Sternberg, general manager of Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol.
NASCAR, the hottest motor sports property among the general audience, has yet to catch on with Hispanic viewers in a big way, but that, too, is changing. NASCAR has developed a driver diversity program to encourage minority participants, which in turn should create additional interest among Hispanic viewers.
Its efforts seem to be working. NASCAR counts about 6.5 million Hispanics among its 75 million fans in the United States. A recent national study found that auto racing is the fastest-growing spectator sport among Hispanics.
“Right now, interest in motor sports is about on a par overall with interest in soccer,” said Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center, a Phoenix firm that keeps tabs on the Hispanic media market.
Mr. Haynes conceded that his data is somewhat skewed by the fact that his firm focuses on what he calls “fully acculturated” viewers: bilingual households in which Spanish is not necessarily the dominant language.
“The more acculturated Hispanics become, the more they take on characteristics of the general audience,” he said.
That accounts for the growth in interest in professional basketball and football as well.
Wrestling With Wrestling
In April, StereoVision Entertainment, a Van Nuys, Calif., media and marketing firm, announced the creation of a new subsidiary, WOW Latinas LLC, for the purpose of developing and marketing an all-Spanish-speaking women’s wrestling league. The company has been taping matches at the Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas. GRB Entertainment, the distributor of the Women of Wrestling series, will oversee the Spanish-language production.
David McLane, the founder and managing partner of WOW, said he hopes to capitalize on the historical success of wrestling in Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America.
The league, Mr. McLane said, will be “ideally positioned to create and market to the strong bonds between the millions of Hispanic wrestling fans and WOW’s Latina stars.” So far, there have been no takers among the major Spanish-language television distributors.
Hispanic viewers like their sports news. ESPN Deportes has its own version of “SportsCenter.” Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol carries the longest-running Spanish-language sports program in the United States, “Fox Sports Noticias.” The nightly one-hour scores and highlights show produced in Argentina runs in prime time on the East Coast. Fox recently launched a second nightly show, “Diario Fox Sports,” which concentrates on Mexican sporting events and news and runs in prime time o
n the West Coast.
As viewers’ interests diversify and the Hispanic audience begins to look more like the general market, advertisers will be in a better position to target specific segments and nationalities, Mr. Cardoze said.
“We handle Western Union, and that client is more interested in attracting the recent arrivals, because they are still sending money out of the country back to the home country,” he said.
Programmers are also experimenting with telecasts of tennis, golf and bullfighting, albeit on a limited basis.
“Soccer may be No. 1,” Mr. Sternberg said, “but there is going to be a strong marketplace for other sports.”