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The Tampa Tribune
Sporting The Latino Niche
Newspapers, advertisers target interests of a growing population.
By GARY HABER
MAY 18, 2002
TAMPA - For sports leagues looking to connect with Hispanic fans, Spanish-language newspapers are becoming an increasingly important part of the media strategy.
Major League Baseball, for example, produces a glossy, magazine- style insert with articles in Spanish and English. Major League Baseball en Espan~ol is distributed in eight of the largest U.S. Spanish- language dailies, such as Miami's El Nuevo Herald and La Opinion in Los Angeles. The publication, also distributed in the English-language New York Daily News, appears three times a year during baseball season - April, July and October.
Flip through the latest edition, and you'll find articles about Arizona Diamondbacks slugger and Tampa native Luis Gonzalez, as well as a piece on the movie "The Rookie," based on former Devil Rays pitcher Jim Morris' unlikely major-league debut at 35.
But what really makes the 24-page publication a home run are the full-page ads from MLB sponsors pitching a Hispanic audience everything from allergy medicine to cellular telephones. Radio Shack, MasterCard and Nextel are among advertisers.
"It's become a very meaningful part of our advertisers' media buys," said Don Hintze, vice president of publishing for Major League Baseball Properties. The publication started three years ago because MLB executives wanted each of its business units to do a better job of reaching Hispanic fans, Hintze said.
Although advertisers were initially slow getting on board, interest has picked up to the point where MLB is considering adding pages, increasing publishing frequency and expanding distribution to other markets, including Tampa-St. Petersburg.
And baseball is not alone. Last Thanksgiving, the National Football League ran an insert in Spanish-language papers in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The National Basketball Association is looking into something similar for next season.
A Growing Constituency
The reasons for pro sports' interest in the Spanish press are simple: the nation's Hispanic population is growing - it increased to 35.3 million in the 2000 census, up from 22.4 million in 1990 - and its purchasing power is increasing.
"They've been attracted by the census numbers," said Gonzalo Soruco, an associate professor at the University of Miami's School of Communications.
At the same time, Spanish-language dailies are rising in circulation and their journalistic quality has improved, experts such as Soruco say.
Their selling point has always been more comprehensive coverage of the local Hispanic community than available in the English- language press. But many have also beefed up their sports and entertainment coverage.
"If your first language is Spanish and there are two quality publications that are equally available - one in English and one in Spanish - you're going to read the one in Spanish," said Andrew Erlich, president of a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based advertising consulting firm.
And media conglomerates have moved into a field once almost exclusively the province of family-owned enterprises. Tribune Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsday, among other dailies, owns a 50 percent stake in La Opinion. In 1998, it launched Hoy, a daily that covers New York City and its suburbs. Last year, it started El Sentinel, a weekly Spanish-language edition of the Orlando Sentinel. Knight-Ridder owns El Nuevo Herald in Miami.
"The ownership is now generally from big media groups, so they've got big bucks to put back into production values," said Patrick Manteiga, publisher of La Gaceta, an 18,000- circulation Spanish- English-Italian-language weekly based in Tampa.
One newspaper benefiting from the changes is La Opinion in Los Angeles, which with a daily circulation of 128,945 is the largest Spanish-owned daily in the United States. Founded in 1926, the paper is jointly owned by Tribune Co. and members of the founding Lozano family.
While most English-language dailies saw daily circulation remain flat or fall slightly during the six months ended March 31, La Opinion's rose 9 percent. It marked the seventh straight period of a circulation increase.
Other Spanish-language dailies have seen their circulation numbers jump. Hoy's daily circulation rose 28 percent during the same period to 75,113, Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said.
Along with its rising circulation, La Opinion has also seen its share of national advertising increase. Five years ago, national firms accounted for 30 percent of ad revenues. Now, they make up 50 percent. That helped the paper weather a downturn in local advertising revenue last year, said Francisco Lozano, the paper's business development director.
Circulation growth has also enabled the paper to raise ad rates for national advertisers each of the past three years, Lozano said.
"One of the things that helped us, is that we've put millions into our IT [information technology] systems to get the paper out faster and cheaper," he said.
Facing Special Challenges
Still, Spanish-language dailies face unique challenges, said Soruco, the University of Miami professor and author of a book about news coverage of South Florida's Cuban community.
For one thing, the communities they cover are diverse. Hispanics come from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and Latin nations. Some are recent immigrants. Others have lived in the United States for generations.
And as with other immigrant groups, children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants have tended to become readers of English- language papers. For them, the Spanish-language press is at most, a supplementary read, Soruco said.
Soruco sees that trend among his University of Miami students, who he said are more likely to read the Miami Herald than El Nuevo Herald.
At the same time, all newspapers struggle to retain readers at a time when people are as likely to get their news from the Internet, radio or television than from the morning paper.
"The biggest challenge is maintaining an audience," Soruco said. "In general, Americans are reading newspapers less and less, whether they're in English or in Spanish."