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Sports Central To ESPN Deportes' Growth

By George Diaz

April 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

You won't hear any "boo-yas," contrived nicknames or trite Eagles "Hotel California" references in their broadcasts.

The gang at ESPN Deportes wants to create its own niche, relying on Big Brother only for brand identity. Reputations and respect will have to be earned.

Comprende, amigo?

"We're looking to establish our credibility first and building to a point," said Lino Garcia, general manager of ESPN Deportes. "We want to earn the right to be able to have as much fun with our reporting as Stuart Scott or some of our other colleagues in the English version of SportsCenter."

Since launching on January 7, ESPN Deportes is trying to find its niche among the clutter of channels on your satellite or cable network. The concept makes perfect marketing sense: Connecting with a Hispanic audience that is the fastest growing minority in the United States, while also tapping into a bilingual audience that can switch languages in the flick of an adverb and never miss a word of the message.

While this is extremely confusing -- OK, and maybe a touch annoying -- to folks who only speak English, this scenario is common among many first and second-generation Hispanic immigrants. Further documentation is available with transcripts of conversations yours truly has with his dos hermanas who live in Miami.

We are Garcia's people.

The distribution outreach is less than one million homes, but Garcia is hopeful that the number will expand to 1.5 million by the end of the year. Prospective viewers include the Central Florida market and Miami. Locally, negotiations are ongoing with Bright House Networks (through Time Warner).

Garcia was in Central Florida for a few days last week, chatting up folks at Disney Sports and seeing what possibilities there could be in terms of partnerships in the expansive Disney/ESPN empire.

Now approaching his first-year anniversary with ESPN Deportes, Garcia has a nice cross-cultural influence. He was born in the Bronx, though his parents are from Puerto Rico.

He's been a "cable guy" for almost 16 years, working with HBO, USA Network, Sony Entertainment Television, among other companies, before gravitating to the place where we can all find escape from the grind of our complicated lives.

"Who doesn't like sports?" Garcia said.

ESPN Deportes will cater to the high-interest events in Hispanic households -- baseball, soccer, boxing -- whole also tapping into the more mainstream sports like football and basketball.

Most importantly, we may finally get to hear what some prominent Hispanic players have to say. Faced with language issues, some of the better players around -- Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind -- have been silenced by mainstream media unable to communicate without a translator.

ESPN Deportes efficiently cuts out the middle-man, particularly with its Wednesday and Sunday night Major League Baseball telecasts.

"We feel that if we're able to cover baseball in a way that's different and give a voice to some of our players," Garcia said. "We'll give it another dimension, another focus. We're able to provide the human side of things, especially given the fact that 30 percent of all baseball players are Latino."

If you care for a sneak peek at another world, ESPN2 is scheduling the ESPN Deportes edition of SportsCenter for a ten-week run ending June 27. The one-hour show is set to run at 1:30 a.m. ET on Sundays.

Perhaps that dwindles the prospective audience to Spanish-speaking insomniacs, but in Garcia doesn't mind. He wants to keep crunching numbers to show cable operators that his product offers a viable niche among the clutter of channels.

Comprende, amigo?

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