Back on the West Coast, Mr. Del Prado is intimately familiar with the push other Southern California franchises are making to tap into the Hispanic marketplace. Before joining the Dodgers in 2000, the California State University, Long Beach alumnus climbed the corporate ladder by helping two franchises – the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings and Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy – grow their Latin fan bases.
He worked for nine years in the Kings' organization, beginning his tenure during a time when ice hockey was a tough sell to the general population, much less Hispanics. A market for hockey on the radio barely existed in English, let alone Spanish. That changed in 1988 when Los Angeles welcomed hockey great Wayne Gretzky to the club.
Mr. Del Prado served as the club's Hispanic broadcast manager and helped created the first Spanish-language radio and television broadcasts of NHL games.
He moved up in the ranks and became director of marketing and corporate for the Kings. In 1999, the FIFA Women's World Cup organizing committee came calling and Mr. Del Prado accepted a position as the vice-president of corporate marketing. He was in charge of signing worldwide marketing partners to join FIFA's largest sponsors in promoting the first world championship tournament for women's soccer.
That experience groomed him for a key role with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which named him general manager.
Under his watch, the soccer franchise led the league in attendance and sponsor revenue. In the broadcast realm, Mr. Del Prado was able to secure Major League Soccer's and the Galaxy's first local Spanish television broadcasting deal and the club's first English-language radio deal.
The exposure helped the Galaxy bolster its Hispanic fan base. The Dodgers' organization took notice.
"Consistently across the board, from property to property, the strategy has been the same," Mr. Del Prado says. "No. 1, if you're going to attract a fan base, you have to have a welcoming environment. At Dodger Stadium, we have bilingual ticket-takers, bilingual ushers, and Spanish-language messages that make fans feel comfortable.
"No. 2, you have to have grassroots plan for retail partnerships. Whether it's soccer, baseball, or any other sport, you need the sort of partners who see the impact your brand can have, then partner with them to get your brand into the community."
It's a formula that has worked for open-wheel racing's Champ Car Series, which benefited from the popularity of Hispanic drivers and began making a concerted effort to reach out to the Hispanic fan base.
Four years ago, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach partnered with Tecate to create "Fiesta Friday," a pre-race festival with vendor booths and entertainment. The Long Beach event's CEO, Jim Michaelian, says the promotion has worked as its Hispanic fan base has increased from 6 percent in 2001 to 28 percent this year.
Says Jim Michaelian, the Long Beach event's CEO: "We wanted to create an environment that would make people say, 'I had a helluva time last year, let's go again. And, by the way, who's racing this year.'"
Mr. Lalas of the Galaxy warns other sports organizations courting the Hispanic fan base that promotions and marquee names aren't enough. The product is king.
"It's almost disrespectful to the [Hispanic] community to throw a player out there from a specific background and think [Hispanics] will buy tickets and show up," he says. "You have to be respectful of the power, intelligence, and the growth of that market, whether you're selling soccer or soap."
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