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N.F.L. Seeking More Hispanic Fans


February 2, 2004
Copyright ©2004
BLOOMBERG NEWS. All rights reserved.

The VF Corporation, the maker of Lee jeans, is selling Super Bowl T-shirts that read Lo Mejor de lo Mejor (The Best of the Best) after conducting marketing tests on Spanish-language N.F.L. apparel last year.

Last week in Houston, site of Super Bowl XXXVIII yesterday and a city that is 32 percent Latino, the N.F.L. sponsored a conference for young Hispanic entrepreneurs. Adolph Coors, an N.F.L. sponsor and the third-largest United States brewer, helped pay for the league's Latino Concert Series.

The game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots was broadcast in Spanish under an agreement with the radio distributor Westwood One.

N.F.L. executives say they plan to boost the league's $5.2 billion in annual revenue partly by increasing sales to Hispanic consumers. The N.F.L. wants to sell more tickets and create more television viewers among Hispanic consumers, who, a University of Georgia study says, spent $653 billion in the United States last year.

"You have to respond to the fan interest and get them connected to the game," N.F.L. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at a news conference last Friday. "The bigger your audience is, hopefully you can have some people buying tickets and make some money. That's what we're in business for."

A 2003 ESPN/TNS Sports poll said 21.3 percent of Hispanic-Americans named football as their favorite professional sport, the highest total and double the percentage of the year-earlier survey.

With additional television viewers, the N.F.L. could win larger future contracts for the right to its games on television because networks can charge more for ads. CBS, owned by Viacom, said a 30-second commercial during this year's Super Bowl cost about $2.4 million.

Still, the N.F.L. knows it needs a sustained effort to win over the children of immigrants as the new generation gains spending power.

"Reaching out to the Hispanic community requires more than just translating things into Spanish," said Beth Colleton, an N.F.L. spokeswoman. "We need dialogue. You need to introduce yourself to someone before you can ask them to dance."

Already, Latinos, numbering about 39 million in the United States, or 13.5 percent of the 2002 population, are becoming a powerful marketing constituency.

Their buying power is growing 8.8 percent a year – almost twice the 4.9 percent of non-Hispanics – and will surpass black Americans' purchasing power by 2005, the University of Georgia study said.

Black Americans accounted for about 13 percent of the 2002 population, according to United States census estimates.

"It's a no-brainer for the N.F.L. to reach out to an untapped demographic like this," said Anthony Muñoz, the former Cincinnati Bengals lineman and the only Latino in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"It has to be an ongoing process," Muñoz said in an interview. "You can't just go into Houston and make it a one-time thing. It has to be a long-term commitment. If that's the case, I really believe it will be a successful marriage."

Marco Sanchez, 46, a native of Mexico who owns Baja Printing USA in San Diego, says getting the Hispanic community's attention might not be all that hard.

"The game of football has been popular since I was a kid in Tijuana watching it on a black and white TV set," Sanchez said in a telephone interview. "And you see it all throughout South America today, where the younger generation is really picking it up."

In 2003, 9 of the top 10 television programs watched by Hispanic men 18 to 34 years old were N.F.L. games, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Sanchez is not sold on the league's effort to make marketing inroads.

"All these Super Bowl events – you need either connections or money to get anywhere near them," Sanchez said. "If they wanted to win over Hispanics, they'd show up in Mexico City handing out T-shirts and hats in the off-season, or come down in a group and paint someone's house."

The N.F.L. offers 220 games a year on Hughes Electronics's DirecTV Latin America L.L.C., and all of the N.F.L.'s games shown on Walt Disney Company's ESPN are also aired on ESPN Desportes.

The N.F.L.'s agreement with Westwood One includes regular-season and playoff games.

Individual N.F.L. teams have been addressing Hispanic fans on their Web sites and in radio broadcasts since the early 1990's. This season, 12 of the 32 N.F.L. teams broadcast their games in Spanish, and five N.F.L. teams, including the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, have Spanish-language sections on their Internet sites.

The N.F.L. is not the only league wooing Hispanic fans. Major League Baseball formed a Hispanic marketing division in its New York office in 1991. Now, 15 teams have Spanish-language radio broadcasts, 12 have television broadcasts in Spanish and five have Web sites in Spanish.

The league also produces "Sabor a Beisbol," a television program focusing on Latino players that is seen in 22 countries in Latin America. There are more Hispanic players in baseball – about 190 – than any other United States professional sport. The N.F.L. has 14 and the N.B.A. has nine.

The N.B.A. has a Spanish-language Web site and signed a three-year contract last year to show more than 80 games on Telemundo. The N.B.A. also sponsors a week of activities for Latino-Americans during the buildup to its All-Star Game.

As the N.F.L. gravitates to the burgeoning Hispanic market, so do its corporate partners. Last year, VF produced N.F.L. T-shirts in Spanish for sale in 10 test markets and sold out its initial allotment.

The shirts had the N.F.L. logo along with Hispanic-themed messages like "With All My Heart" and "Long Live," which are similar in cultural meaning to English-language chants like "We're No. 1."

"There is a growing population of Hispanics that are living in this country but maintaining their own language," said Philip Dooley, VF's N.F.L. brand manager. "They want to be as much a fan of the teams as anyone else. They just want to do it in their own language, with the cheers and mottos that are part of their culture."

As part of the buildup to the Super Bowl game, the N.F.L. played host to a weeklong fair in Houston called the N.F.L. Experience. Among the events were Latin Day, where local Latino singers entertained the crowd, Hispanic players signed autographs, and companies like PepsiCo handed out free fair tickets.

While some Hispanic sports fans have little interest in the Super Bowl, others like Christopher Contreras, a 26-year-old studying to become a respiratory therapist, are receptive.

Contreras said that while the N.F.L.'s efforts might not win over first-generation immigrants, it would have an impact on their children.

"They may not see results now, but they will in the future," he said.

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