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A world of opportunity
Published May 31, 2004
For just about every facet of a multicultural marketing strategy, teams and leagues have found that there’s no one correct approach.
Does your non-English-language marketing carry the same basic message and tone as your general-market communications, or do you specifically tailor your message to the target market?
Must you have a significant amount of in-house expertise — staffers who share the same cultural heritage as the consumers you’re trying to reach?
And, should you consider the consumer’s cultural background in your grassroots marketing and on-site promotions, or approach all fans as American consumers rather than singling anyone out because of their heritage?
One approach that definitely does not work is translating promotional materials into consumers’ native tongues and letting that serve as “multicultural marketing.”
Missing the mark
In a December 2002 promotion for Yao Ming’s first visit to Miami, the Heat gave fans fortune cookies. Yao was quoted as saying he was not offended, but the move was perceived by some Chinese people as culturally insensitive. Observers also pointed out that fortune cookies are an American invention.
The Denver Broncos advertised their 2003 fan convention via Spanish-language radio and TV, but only afterward did the team consider that it had used the same English-language ads that were used for its general-market advertising.
Four years ago the Dallas Mavericks established a “Tienda Program,” in which they sold tickets and merchandise through retailers in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. Sales were poor, the team learned, because its Hispanic fans typically bought Mavs goods through traditional outlets. The team pulled the program after a year.
That does not mean, however, that messaging aimed at ethnic groups should be completely different from general-market communications.
“If you tell one group you’re all about excitement and to another group you say your property is great for families with small children, the message isn’t going to hold up and the property can’t deliver against that,” said Tim Calkins, clinical associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “McDonald’s does culturally relevant marketing to a lot of different groups, but at the core, its messaging is consistent.”
Just as important, many fans will see ads in more than one language. “A lot of our Hispanic fans are bilingual and will receive both messages, so [using different messages] can create confusion or be perceived as insensitive,” said Sergio del Prado, vice president of sales for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In fact, while marketers often discuss how to reach Hispanic or Asian consumers, those labels themselves oversimplify the challenge. Promoting Dallas Mavericks basketball to Hispanic fans in the Metroplex requires an understanding of Mexican heritage, but selling the same sport to Spanish-speaking fans in Miami calls for knowledge of Cuban culture.
That’s why the NBA’s Miami office, which spearheads the league’s domestic Hispanic marketing initiative, is a veritable Spanish-speaking melting pot. “We have two Cubans, a Panamanian, two Brazilians, an Uruguayan, a Costa Rican, an Argentine, a Puerto Rican and a Peruvian,” said Arturo Nuñez, vice president and managing director of NBA Latin America and U.S. Hispanic. “We represent a broad swath of Latin American culture, and that helps us be sensitive to each group.”
Even ethnic groups in a single market area are likely to have their own distinct subgroups. The San Francisco Bay area, for example, is home to large concentrations of people of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese descent, so there’s no such thing as a single Asian marketing program that can successfully reach them all.
The ‘business’ thing to do
There is one certainty for any league with national reach and every team and event in a market with a significant ethnic population: If you don’t have a multicultural marketing strategy now, you’re missing the boat.
Most of the nation’s largest Hispanic and Asian communities are concentrated in large cities on the coasts and in other major markets, such as Chicago, Dallas and Denver. And some teams in those markets are pouring significant portions of their marketing spend into in-language and culturally relevant programs.
“Our overall philosophy on Hispanic marketing is that our fan base should mirror our community,” said Matt Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing for the Dallas Mavericks. “The Hispanic community makes up about 20 to 25 percent of the population [in Dallas].”
The team’s spending reflects that philosophy: Fitzgerald said the Mavericks allocate between 20 percent and 25 percent of their total budget to Hispanic marketing.
The Dodgers spend nearly equal amounts on English- and Spanish-language advertising, del Prado said.
“Viva Los Dodgers,” an annual Latino music festival held by the baseball team outside Dodger Stadium, attracts about 10,000 people.
“It’s important to do because it’s the right thing to do,” del Prado said. “But for us, it’s the ‘business’ thing to do. It makes all the sense in the world for our community relations and public relations and from a financial standpoint.”
In 2000, more than 35.3 million Americans (12.5 percent of the population) classified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up from 22.4 million (9 percent) in 1990. That tremendous growth meant that, for the first time, the Hispanic population outstripped the non-Hispanic black population, which was 33.9 million (12.1 percent of the population) in 2000. The U.S. Asian population reached 10.2 million in 2000 (3.6 percent of the population), up from 6.9 million at the previous census.
But in many cases, teams in major markets are just taking the first steps to broaden their appeal to Hispanic and Asian consumers.
The New York Jets have executed a few small multicultural programs before, but the team is considering its first major ethnic marketing push for the 2004 NFL season. “We had kind of ignored Spanish radio and that type of communication,” said Lee Stacey, the team’s senior vice president, sales and marketing. One reason is that the Jets play home games in sold-out Giants Stadium, so there was no need to broaden the marketing effort for ticket sales.
While the team expects its box office success to continue, it also is attempting to strengthen its fan base with the prospect of a move to a new Manhattan stadium in 2009.
The Jets began to explore Spanish-language game broadcasts for the first time after taking radio rights in house this year; the team now is negotiating with WADO-AM. “If it makes sense financially, we will get the majority, if not all, of our games on Spanish radio this year,” Stacey said. The Jets also are weighing the possibility of partnering with a promoter to produce a Latin music concert, an event that would complement the new initiative.
Already, Stacey said, interest from corporate sponsors indicates moves like that will make economic sense.
“We have two or three advertisers who have said they would commit to a promotional platform in our Hispanic programming,” said Stacey. “Now, one out of every three advertisers we talk to would love to get involved in Hispanic marketing.”
Indeed, if ticket sales and fan development aren’t enough to persuade sports organizations to broaden their appeal, sponsorship dollars provide a compelling reason.
The PGA Tour hired Latino Sports Marketing, a San Diego-based shop, to begin crafting plans to lure more Hispanic fans and generate business from sponsors targeting those consumers. In addition to working on a Hispanic-targeted, made-for-TV event, the tour is mulling a multimarket “power lunch or power breakfast targeted at business leaders in the Hispanic community,” said Jon Podany, senior vice president of brand development and marketing support services.
Podany said the efforts could draw millions of sponsorship dollars annually for the tour in the next few years.
The NBA already has signed sponsors aiming for Hispanic consumers. Nuñez said Motorola and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (promoting the youth-oriented Verb health initiative to promote physical activity) both inked deals that include media, grassroots programming and team rights, and both were initiated by the Miami office’s business development team.
According to Nuñez, the league is discussing sponsorships with Goya Food and Western Union and other companies known for targeting Hispanic customers. He said new deals could be announced soon.
If the Jets put games on WADO, the team — at least initially — would rely on the radio station for intelligence and insight on marketing to New York’s Hispanic consumers rather than hiring staffers who speak Spanish or have experience in the Hispanic business community.
Whether to bring cultural expertise in house or rely on business partners or outside agencies for support is one of the key considerations for any organization starting or enhancing an ethnic marketing program.
The Dallas Mavericks have staffers who focus primarily on Hispanic sales and marketing.
The Dodgers, who boast significant fan bases among the Hispanic and Asian communities, have tried to ensure that both phone and in-person contact with customers is covered. “We have to make sure the people answering our phones and our stadium ushers are bilingual,” del Prado said. “At least 50 percent of our ushers are fluent in Spanish and English, and we have special hosts who are fluent in Japanese and Korean.”
While it’s probably a good idea for teams that have large contingents of non-English-speaking ticket buyers to place native speakers at key customer touchpoints, the majority of fans in most markets do speak English regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
And, it’s not always necessary to hire people for multicultural marketing, promotions and corporate sales positions just because of their language abilities, according to Calkins, the Northwestern marketing professor. “You just have to hire people who are good at understanding different people and understanding different consumers’ needs.”
Still, it doesn’t hurt to have outside expertise. “One thing that often works well is an advisory board. It can be inexpensive, and a simple way to get qualitative feedback on what you’re doing and how your efforts are working,” Calkins said.
Chinese children perform at halftime of a Golden State Warriors home game, part of the team’s effort to reach the area’s Asian population.
That’s a tack the Golden State Warriors are exploring as the team continues to pump up its efforts to reach the Bay area’s Asian population. Already, the club has had discussions with local Asian business associations, Chinese family associations, Chinese language schools and local Chinese-language TV stations and newspapers.
“We’ve sponsored a golf tournament that the local Chinese hospital puts on,” said Robert Rowell, the team’s president. “We do a lot of outreach, just to stay involved in the community.”
Rowell said the Warriors also have consulted a local agency that specializes in Asian marketing communications.
The NFL calls on two other resources for expertise. “Our clubs are interacting most directly with fans in the Hispanic community, so tapping into them is one strategy we implement at the league level,” said Karen Hudson, director of fan segment marketing. “We also have sponsors who are very involved and enthusiastic about reaching the Hispanic market, so working with [them] has been a tremendous help for us.”
Understanding the audience
Experts say it’s important to consider how non-native fans consume entertainment before launching an all-out multicultural assault.
“Sports is a channel that those born in other countries can grab onto to feel more a part of the new culture,” said Jed Pearsall, president of Newport, R.I.-based Performance Research. “It’s therefore not always necessary to single them out. The more acculturated the consumer, the less effective it is to create [language-specific] marketing campaigns.”
Often, properties seem to gain understanding of their audiences through trial and error. One way to minimize the errors is to thoroughly research the market.
Rockets fans show their affection for Yao Ming. The team has enjoyed success with Asian consumers and has since put more focus on Hispanics.
The Houston Rockets, fresh off a Yao Ming-induced crash course in marketing to Asian consumers, now are preparing to increase their marketing to Houston’s sizable Hispanic community, said Jason Bitsoff, the team’s director of corporate development.
The Rockets should be well prepared because the team partnered with the local chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs to commission a competition for business school students. Their assignment: Draw up a business plan for marketing to Houston’s Hispanic community. When the submissions are collected, “we’ll gain a deeper knowledge of the market and get a lot more information about demographics and leisure behavior,” said Audrey Cheng Trevino, the Rockets’ director of strategic planning. (Cheng Trevino, hired by the team after Yao was drafted, is fluent in Spanish and Mandarin.)
Already, consultants and their own experience have given the Rockets plenty of practical insight into the local Asian community. For example, the team tries to position its Asian marketing as “extending an invitation,” Cheng Trevino said. “Everything we do is more of an invitation than a forced call to action.”
Thanks in large part to Yao’s visits to Oakland, the Warriors have gained useful insights about their new wave of Chinese-American ticket buyers. One is that the suffix “-American” need not be attached to “Chinese” or “Korean” when the team refers to U.S. citizens of Asian descent, Rowell said.
Another lesson with more direct impact on the team’s marketing plans: “We learned that planning to be entertained is something very important to our Chinese fans,” Rowell said. “They’re not impulse buyers, so we need to advertise and market well in advance of the game.” When hawking tickets for games against the Rockets, the Warriors now initiate promotional activity two months in advance and hit the market again about four weeks out, Rowell said.
Teams have found the opposite to be true of Hispanic fans. In Denver, where more than 20 percent of the populace is Hispanic, the Broncos have found that it doesn’t pay to advertise to Hispanic fans too far in advance, said Steve Harbula, the team’s director of marketing communications.
One of the NFL’s more active practitioners of multicultural marketing, the Broncos are one of the clubs that hold a league-created event called NFL en Español. Admission is free, but the Broncos encourage attendees to reserve tickets in advance. “We were trying to gauge attendance, but the advice we got was that we weren’t going to get a lot of RSVPs, and we should just deal with it,” Harbula said. Sure enough, only about 20 percent of the audience responded. “So now the bulk of our radio promotion for events like that is always going to be right before the event, or even the day of.”
Whatever the cultural reasons, Harbula said there may also be practical reasons that Denver’s Hispanic customers buy tickets at the last minute. “There are not a lot of Ticketmaster outlets in Hispanic neighborhoods, so that contributes,” he said.
The Broncos play to capacity crowds, so for game ticket sales, the placement of Ticketmaster locations isn’t a major concern yet. But given the large and growing Hispanic population, it’s an issue on the team’s radar. “When our Ticketmaster contract comes up, I know it will be a point of discussion,” Harbula said.
The Chicago Fire, meanwhile, has found that reaching Hispanic fans calls for a different media mix than the team uses for its general-market promotion. “Traditionally in Latin America, radio and TV dominate much more than newspapers,” said Steve Pastorino, the team’s assistant general manager. “We use the newspapers, but they’re not as important to us as print media in English.”
An ‘intrinsic part of the culture’
Hispanic fans’ interest in pro soccer may seem like a foregone conclusion, but something else the Fire learned about communicating with Hispanic fans might translate in any sport. Pastorino said advertising and promotions aimed at that audience “tell a much truer version of who we are as a team, and we don’t have to dress up our offers as much with premiums.”
Hispanic consumers’ interest in the game — rather than the game experience — also has become apparent. “We get much more feedback on the quality of play, quality of officiating and decisions by the coaches from them,” Pastorino said. “From the general-market audience, we hear more comments about parking or stadium concessions.”
(That doesn’t mean Hispanic fans ignore ballpark food and merchandise stands. Del Prado said Hispanic ticket buyers generate the highest per capita spending of any fans at Dodger Stadium.)
Also, while experts say it’s nice to have a Mexican player if you’re appealing to Hispanic fans, fans generally want to see the team’s star players, regardless of their heritage. So it’s important not to use only your Hispanic or Asian players in promotions and advertising aimed at those audiences.
The Fire’s success in reaching Hispanic fans — about 30 percent of the team’s ticket buyers — and a small but vocal contingent of Chicago’s Polish-American enclave is only partly a result of knowing where to advertise. “We are most effective in Polish and Hispanic communities not because we are great media buyers, but because we have become an intrinsic part of the culture of being Polish or Latino in Chicago,” Pastorino said.
That’s easier said than done. The Fire taps into Polish and Hispanic soccer leagues, sends team representatives to participate in parades and hosts cultural-themed events outside its stadium.
“It’s important that we’re not just going to them when we need something from them or responding when they want something from us.”
Audrey Cheng Trevino,Houston Rockets
The Dallas Cowboys employ the same strategy with their Hispanic fans, even holding a massive Cinco de Mayo festival outside Texas Stadium each year, right in the middle of the NFL’s off-season. More than 130,000 fans attended this year’s event, said Victor Villalba, the team’s manager of Spanish-language properties.
Culturally relevant, out-of-season events clearly help the Cowboys connect with the Hispanic community, in part because they seem to be central to the team’s marketing efforts rather than an afterthought to mainstream programs.
Fans also can see that the organization’s commitment to Spanish-language programming extends from the top down, Villalba said, because team owner Jerry Jones tapes a segment for each of the team’s four Spanish-language TV specials. “We could just grab sound bites [of Jones] and put them up with subtitles,” he said. “But he recognizes how important it is to be there, and fans see how important Spanish-language properties are to what we’re creating.”
Sean Brenner is a writer in Chicago.