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Wanted: Hispanic Hockey Fans?

Panthers Try To Reconnect With Spanish-Language Market

David J. Neal

November 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

The Panthers have lost their connection with Hispanic fans. The next two months, they'll make an effort to re-establish it through the Spanish-language media.

Modern marketers could be former New Jersey state troopers, they like to profile so much. But you can't profile a Hispanic citizen in South Florida any more than you can profile a Rolling Stones fan.

Was he/she born elsewhere, or were he/she and the parents born and raised in South Florida or New York? Upper class, lower class, middle class, upper-middle class? Do the roots reach back to Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, etc.? And exactly how bilingual is he/she?

That last question goes to where the Panthers' push will be centered. In December, Channel 51 will encourage viewers to log on to the station's website to register for family-pack tickets.

''We'll gather the names of people who attend through that initiative,'' Panthers chief operating officer Jeff Cogan said. ``We'll direct-market to them for a series of $51 family packs in January. Simultaneously with that, we're in negotiations with a broadcast carrier to do four games in Spanish.''

Home games were regularly broadcast on Spanish radio the first few years. The play-by-play wasn't always easy to follow as the announcers sometimes had trouble keeping up with the swift puck movement, but their sheer enthusiasm made up for it.

Cogan said one of the four Spanish radio games also would have bilingual public-address announcements. That wouldn't be an NHL first -- Montreal home games long have had all announcements in French and English -- but it would be a first for English and Spanish.

''It's a growing market with ever-increasing wherewithal,'' Cogan said. ``The hope is we can drive people who haven't seen the game in the Hispanic community to sample our game. We have a world-class facility. We think our product on the ice is improving. We think if we can get them there and know who they are, we can get them back.

``It's not too different from how we treat the general market.''

Some would say, ``Why try? Hispanic people aren't hockey fans.''

Of course, that's the same kind of narrow-minded thinking that has limited the NHL's popularity through the years.

It also shows ignorance of the Panthers crowds during the Miami Arena years, as well as Miami-Dade County's youth hockey leagues.

The biggest surprise from the early attendance success of the Panthers was their popularity among Hispanic fans.

The anticipation was that those with origins in Canada and the northern states would pack the house the first years.

The Northeasterners did their part. But a hint about the Canadian contribution came that first December when a Sunday game against Boston sold out well before the Montreal game four days earlier.

But, much sooner than anyone in Pantherland figured, there were a healthy number of Hispanics in the stands.

The move to Sunrise lost many Dade fans, especially those south of the Dolphin Expressway in affluent, heavily Hispanic neighborhoods. Why is obvious. Early in Wednesday's rush hour, it took me more than 50 minutes to reach Office Depot Center from the Northwest 25th Street entrance of the Palmetto Expressway.

The Panthers thought those losses would be made up by gains in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Anybody have a can of New Coke to drink?

Shows clearly that you can have all the degrees and demographic breakdowns in the world, but without some instinct, you just have a bunch of cat toys that haven't been crumpled yet.

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