The Los Angeles Dodgers have a Hall-of Fame broadcaster who has served as the voice of the baseball club for decades. Generations of Dodger fans have grown up listening to his story-telling style, tuning in to his play-by-play to celebrate the triumphs and weather the disappointments of their favorite team.
But the broadcaster isn't Vin Scully. And the broadcast isn't in English.
Jaime Jarin, who hit the airwaves with his Spanish-language coverage of Dodger games in 1958, helped cultivate the sizable Hispanic fan base that many sports franchises covet. He still helps immigrants from Latin America follow the ups and downs of the Dodgers' seasons.
"Two to three generations grew up with Jaime and his Spanish-language broadcasts," says Sergio del Prado, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Dodgers. "And the original kids who started listening to him years ago now have grandkids who listen and watch games in English."
While Mr. Jarin helped provide the medium, a corps of talented Latin players helped generate interest in the Southern California squad. Dodger teams in the 1980s benefited from Manny Mota's timely hitting, Pedro Guerrero's home-run power, and Fernando Valenzuela's pitching dominance, which spawned "Fernandomania" in 1981 and helped solidify the Dodger brand in the Hispanic community for decades to come.
But it's the Dodgers' front office that is fighting to keep fans coming back to the stadium as competing interests – rival teams and other sports – copy the Blue Crew's model to gain a share of the Hispanic fan base.
Competing for Dollars
"You can't be involved in business in Southern California or the U.S. and not recognize the power and the growth of the Hispanic market," says Alexi Lalas, general manager of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy. "We have the advantage of having futbol, or soccer, ingrained in that community, but we've been dealing with second- and third-generation Hispanics you look at themselves as Americans. Their fathers may have supported a team based in a specific [Latin American] country, but we're trying to give them, especially the younger demographic, something of their own."
In its inception, Major League Soccer placed Latin stars in franchises with sizable Hispanic populations, hoping a large Hispanic fan base would follow. Mr. Lalas said the strategy didn't always work.
"You could have a big-name player come over [from a Latin American country], but if the player is poor or the team is poor, the Hispanic fans quickly turn off," Mr. Lalas explains. "It's a very soccer savvy fan base. You can't fool them. You have to give them quality."
The National Football League has shown its interest in the Hispanic market by devoting time and money to staging pre-season and regular-season games in Mexico City since 2005. Last season, the success of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is of Mexican descent, gave the league a face to market to its Latin fan base.
A 2006 study by Scarborough Research reports that auto racing's Champ Car Series, an unlikely player in the battle for U.S. Hispanic sports fans, is in a tie for second for the highest percentage of Hispanic TV viewers (14 percent) among U.S. sports broadcasts. It trails only Major League Soccer (35 percent) and is equaled by the National Basketball Association.
The same research firm says the Los Angeles Lakers are the most popular team for Hispanics in its city. Keith Harris, vice-president of marketing and broadcasting for the Lakers, says that while the team hasn't formally surveyed its arena crowds to measure its Hispanic fan base, the annual "Fiesta Lakers" promotion drew more than 40,000 people last March.
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