By ANA CAMPOY
Thousands of Hispanic fans wearing bright yellow T-shirts and waving Colombian flags crowded Homestead Miami Speedway Nov. 22 to root for Juan Pablo Montoya in Nascar's final race of the season.
The Colombian driver finished 38th after a wreck, but helped pull in the largest proportion of first-time fans ever recorded at the racetrack: 55% compared with the usual 20%, according to Curtis Gray, president of the speedway, which keeps a database of attendees. "We've never seen anything like that before," Mr. Gray said.
Major U.S. sports, from car racing to football, are stepping up their efforts to draw Hispanic fans, in the belief that the rapidly growing group will drive sports businesses -- and fill enormous new stadiums -- in the years to come.
Hispanics make up 15% of the U.S. population and by 2050 are expected to make up almost 30%, at 128 million people, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Their purchasing power, which doubled over the past decade, will expand a further 36% by 2014 to $1.3 trillion, or 10% of the country's total, predicts the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
According to a poll by Scarborough Research earlier this year, 51% of Latinos watched, listened to or attended a football game over the past 12 months, compared with 68% of the total population. For baseball, 50% of Hispanics follow the sport compared with 57% of the general population. Meanwhile, 36% of Latinos tuned in or attended a soccer match, compared with 14% of the general population.
Sports promoters uniformly refuse to say how much they are spending to attract Hispanic fans. But the Homestead Miami Speedway bumped up its spending on marketing to Latinos by 30% from last year, and teamed up with Spanish radio stations to sell tickets.
The National Basketball Association recently recast itself as "éne-bé-a," its Spanish pronunciation of its initials, for a marketing campaign that includes advertising in Spanish-language TV networks, a first for the league.
Eduardo Nájera, a forward with the New Jersey Nets who was born in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, expects the campaign to multiply the number of Hispanic basketball fans. "If we can somehow get to them and relate to them, they're going to respond," he said in an interview.
Similar efforts are under way by Major League Baseball and the National Football League, where salsa star Marc Anthony has bought a stake in the Miami Dolphins, or "los Delfines."
Many Hispanics hail from countries where soccer -- known there as fútbol -- is a national passion, which Major League Soccer is trying to tap. The U.S. league is sponsoring games featuring Latin American teams in the hope that fans will stick around for U.S. matches the same day.
"For us, the Hispanic market is incredibly important," said MLS commissioner Don Garber.
But catering to "the Hispanic market" is a big challenge for U.S. sports promoters, in part because Latinos here have ties to more than a dozen countries.
Eduardo Carvacho has been navigating the Hispanic market for U.S. soccer teams since 2007. He started out building a fan base for the Columbus Crew in Ohio, where most Hispanics were recent arrivals. To start a "porra," a group of diehard fans who set the tone at the stadium, he relied mostly on personal interactions, like eating tacos with community leaders.
Mr. Carvacho now works for the soccer team in Dallas, a much bigger market with established Hispanic institutions where he can proselytize through businesses such as Fiesta, a Hispanic-food grocery chain that sells FC Dallas tickets.
"You have to customize every single thing," he said of appealing to Hispanic fans, depending on the local community.
Back in Miami, Mr. Montoya, the race-car driver, is using his popularity to attract donations to a foundation he created to help children in his native Colombia. But he says winning races remains his main focus. "I'm not racing Nascar to create Hispanic awareness," Mr. Montoya said at a recent news conference. "I race Nascar because I want to kick everybody's butt."
Source: The Wall Street Journal (World) Nov 30, 2009