The story behind the numbers
The vice president of corporate marketing for Spanish-language media giant Univision was leading a focus group of young adult viewers in New York this month when she met an intriguing 21-year-old college student.
He began by speaking to her in clear, crisp English. When she shifted to Spanish, she suspected the student would reply in English again, as many young bilinguals might when speaking with their parents.
“Much to my surprise, he was so Mexican you wouldn’t believe it,” said Chiqui Cartagena, who joined the network in April after 25 years working with agencies and brands.
When she asked about his viewing habits, he told her that, like many U.S. Hispanics, he was glued to Univision when the network aired soccer.
“I won’t watch soccer unless it’s in Spanish,” he told her. “It’s not the same experience for me, as a Latino, to watch it in English.”
Much has been made of the latest U.S. census, which confirmed what demographers predicted through the better part of the last decade. In 2010, there were 50.5 million U.S. Hispanics, up 43 percent from the previous census. In the last 10 years, Hispanics accounted for 56 percent of U.S. growth. Those numbers have gotten the attention of the marketing and advertising community.
Many of the Hispanics living in the U.S. are bilingual and bicultural.
And yet despite that — or some would say because of it — on the final Saturday of June an average of 8 million viewers tuned in to Univision to watch the Spanish-language telecast of Mexico’s come-from-behind Gold Cup victory against the United States, making it the most watched program of the night among all age groups and the No. 1 program of the week among viewers ages 18-34, regardless of language.
More U.S. viewers watched Mexico beat the U.S. in Spanish than watched Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in English, ballyhooed as the NHL’s highest-rated telecast since 1974.
This is not a story contained to soccer, or even sports.
It is about language and culture, and the death-do-us-part marriage between the two.
It is about béisbol, but also baseball. Soccer, but also fútbol. The NBA, but also Éne Bé A.
It is about the well-documented, frequently discussed, wildfire growth of the Hispanic segment of the U.S. population, but more importantly about the less readily understood makeup of that population: increasingly U.S. born, bilingual and bicultural.
Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than in the continued swell of viewership for Univision, which has delivered year-over-year ratings growth of 8 percent among adults 18-49 in prime time while the four traditional networks have fallen by 5 to 12 percent. Since the close of the NFL season, Univision has beaten NBC on about two-thirds of the nights among 18-34s and on half the nights with 18-49s.
“English-language options have been around for Latinos for 50 years,” Cartagena said. “So why aren’t Latinos
An average of 8 million viewers tuned in to Univision to watch the Spanish language telecast of Mexico's Gold Cup victory over the United States.
“The reality is that acculturation is an individual process that very much keeps alive both cultures, both languages. And people make their choice with the remote control.”
For decades, the assumption was that as Latinos spent more time in the U.S., they and then their children would cast aside their native culture and language, becoming more like everyone else. That assumption was only half right. Hispanic viewers are choosing Univision, and to a lesser extent other Spanish-language programming, not because they need to but because they want to.
This is not about language alone. If it were, they would tap the SAP button, which provides Spanish audio for most prime-time programming, including major network sports. Turns out this is also about culture, about the passion points of growing up Latino: food and music and family and, yes, sports.
“It’s the challenge that stands before us all, because this is the new American mainstream,” said Juan Martinez, director of multicultural marketing for the Florida Marlins, who next year will christen a new ballpark in a county that is 65 percent Hispanic. “Our country will become a bicultural nation in the next 10 years. It’s on us to figure out how best to communicate to these bilingual and bicultural individuals who can consume in both languages, and can go back and forth at will.”
Leveraging the language
ESPN’s research and analytics department recently studied the habits of Hispanic viewers, breaking down all the national sports telecasts they watched and segmenting them by language preference.
Those who spoke only Spanish looked nothing like those who spoke only English, the latter of whom nearly mirrored the general market.
Viewers who spoke only Spanish spent 49.6 percent of their sports viewing time watching soccer, which dwarfed all other sports. Wrestling/MMA finished second at 6.8 percent, MLB third at 4.0 percent, and the NFL fourth at 2.2 percent. For those bilingual Hispanics who spoke mostly English, the swing was dramatic. The NFL replaced soccer as the dominant No. 1, at 21.6 percent, followed by the NBA at 8.5 percent. Soccer failed to make the top five. The shift came in stages for bilinguals, coinciding with the transition of language.
What that means, and whether the shift will continue if younger, U.S.-born Latinos continue to reconnect with their cultural roots, as they have of late, is a point of debate. Some believe it will spark programming like Mexican Primera Division soccer. Others say the future is in a Latino-flavored NBA or NFL. The thing most agree on is that, regardless of sport, the best way to connect with Latinos will be in a way that aligns with culture.
At its upfront presentation in May, ESPN featured its long-standing Spanish-language offering, ESPN Deportes, more prominently than ever. The message: that ESPN is the home for the suddenly front-and-center Latino sports fan, be it in English or Spanish.
The general manager of Deportes, Lino Garcia, remembers a time not long ago that those in Spanish-language television might have taken that notion as a threat.
“There was this idea that we would acculturate, or assimilate, and that there would be less of a need for Spanish television,” Garcia said. “Clearly, that hasn’t been the case. You have a viewer now who is comfortable in either English or Spanish, and we’re in a position to serve both.”
One of the more intriguing plays for the Latino fan actually will come in English. Dan LeBatard, the Miami Herald sports columnist and frequent ESPN contributor, will get his own show this year on ESPN2. Raised in Miami by Cuban-born parents, LeBatard mirrors the audience that the networks say they’re chasing, bilingual and bicultural.
There also will be a far more aggressive attempt to cross-pollinate content between Deportes and other ESPN networks, Garcia said. One of the first will come via “Sports Nation” and its Deportes counterpart, “Nación ESPN.” Once a week, each show will send one-half of its host pairing — Michelle Beadle from ESPN and Adriana Monsalve from Deportes — to the other show to discuss what their respective audiences choose during their daily “3 Cheers” highlight segments.
“It’s an opportunity to make [Hispanic] viewers of ‘Sports Nation’ aware of what we have on Deportes, and make the Deportes viewer more aware of ‘Sports Nation,’ and maybe move them back and forth,” Garcia said. “It’s difficult to truly do bilingual content within a broadcast, but you can do something like this that’s relevant to a bilingual fan.”
The crossover spot will be sponsored on both networks by Toyota, the No. 1 vehicle choice among U.S. Hispanics.
The shift toward moving viewers back and forth between languages is particularly interesting, considering the fear ESPN once had that programming Deportes too similarly to the other ESPN channels could cannibalize the audience. Instead, the network consistently has found unique audiences for shared programming, such as “Sunday Night Baseball,” “Monday Night Football” and “Friday Night Fights.” ESPN says about 20 percent of Deportes viewers don’t watch any other ESPN channels. At the same time, Hispanic viewers watch more ESPN than does the general market.
“What we’re hearing from our viewers is this dual acculturation when it comes to sports,” said Ed Gordon, senior director of distribution and audience research at ESPN. “Unlike people who have recently immigrated to the country, they’re getting a different interest in sports from their family than they are from their peers. Their family is connected with international sports. And their peers are connected with the U.S.-based sports. What that does is make them more interested in more sports.”
Univision executives say that multigenerational connection, with the television as a campfire for family and friends, has helped fuel the growth of its ratings. By next season, it will have secured rights to at least 12 of the 18 teams in the Mexican Primera Division to air on Univision, sister network Telefutura and a planned sports network scheduled to debut in the spring.
While young Mexican-Americans may follow an NFL or NBA team, Univision executives say they remain drawn to the Mexican soccer club that their parents or grandparents followed.
“It’s absolutely multigenerational,” said Carlos Deschapelles, senior vice president of sports sales and marketing for Univision. “There’s an enormous amount of family viewing that takes place. By the way, I could be talking about novellas or major tent poles like the Latin Grammys. [Primera Division] is one of the major passion points, and it is a family experience.”
At Fox Deportes, there also is a strong menu of soccer, but it aims south and east of Mexico. The centerpieces are Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, two annual competitions featuring the best South American club teams. There also are Spanish-language broadcasts of top-shelf international soccer, which come through larger U.S. rights packages acquired by Fox.
The distinction in the way that Fox Deportes views itself is best explained through the two branding spots it cut recently. They feature the theme “Con Garra,” which it translates to “Do or Die.” Both are slick and edgy, clearly Fox. One features Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, the other UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. They close with the tag line “Esta Es Un Momento,” “It’s Our Moment.”
What is revealing here is that both Rodriguez and Velasquez were born in the U.S., Rodriguez to Dominican parents in the Bronx and Velasquez to Mexican parents in central California. A-Rod grew up in Miami and was the first high school player ever to try out for Team USA. Velasquez was a junior college All-America wrestler and earned a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State.
Vincent Cordero, who recently completed his first year as Fox Deportes’ executive vice president and general manager, said they were the first two athletes who came to mind when he considered who best to launch the new brand.
“I guess that’s part of my being Latino,” said Cordero, a fourth-generation Mexican-American. “Historically, media has looked at U.S. Latinos and thought Spanish. I look at U.S. Latinos and think of the new face of America, and of something that is English and Spanish.
“We’re changing the invitation from saying we’re the space for Spanish-only Latinos to we’re the space for all U.S. Latinos.”
Properties learn to evolve
The NBA was testing the name of its Spanish-language website with bilingual, bicultural fans a few years ago when it came upon the first of several unexpected discoveries. Asking fans whether they might prefer the more en vogue sounding NBA Latino moniker to the NBA En Español name that the site had carried for a decade, they found bilingual fans didn’t relate to either.
When speaking Spanish, they typically called it “Éne Bé A.” Most of the Spanish-language radio crews called it “Éne Bé A.” So did the international crews who called games that aired throughout Central America and South America.
It’s an interesting quirk of language, in that a fan would never write out the phonetic sounds of the Spanish alphabet.
Still, the NBA chose it as the name not only for its website but also for a new, more bilingual and bicultural Hispanic brand.
“It’s almost tongue in cheek,” said Saskia Sorrosa, the NBA’s senior director of multicultural marketing, who was born and raised in Ecuador. “They don’t write ‘Éne Bé A.’ That’s how they pronounce it. So it’s like a wink. We get you and this is for you.”
The same batch of research that led to the rebranding also persuaded the league to reconsider the way it had looked at language previously, both across its website and in its promotional content. After a decade of doing all Hispanic Web content in Spanish, the league now leaves its videos in English. The NBA knows from its ratings and failed attempts on Spanish language television that most Hispanic fans are content with watching games in English, so it follows that they’d accept the highlights in English.
Instead, Enebea.com saves its Spanish for written content, such as blogs by Spanish-speaking players, along with the occasional video interview or feature on a Latino player. There also is translated content from NBA.com. The idea is that since the bilingual fan can work comfortably on either site, the most valuable use of the Spanish site is for unique content that is culturally relevant for them and, more importantly, would be far less relevant for them in English.
“They’re comfortable navigating both cultures,” Sorrosa said. “They switch back and forth between their languages, depending on what they’re consuming or what they’re talking about. We’re really trying to cater to that.”
Two of the NBA’s Hispanic brand spots speak to precisely that. In one, Puerto Rican-born player Carlos Arroyo teaches another player how to properly pronounce Éne Bé A. When Arroyo speaks Spanish, it is subtitled in English. When he switches to English, it is subtitled in Spanish.
In another spot, a man and a woman part at a bus station. She embraces him, but he doesn’t return the hug, appearing sad, but stoic. The next time viewers see him, he is at an NBA game, celebrating a great play wildly, hugging and then kissing a friend on the cheek. The tag line: “Guarda Tu Pasión” or “Save Your Passion.”
|A series of NBA ads encourage Hispanics to “Save Your Passion” for the game.|
While some worried that catering to bilinguals might leave out recent immigrants, the league bet that its target’s history as an aspirational group for other Hispanics would turn them into ambassadors, haloing out to others who remained more deeply rooted in their native language and culture. The results seem to indicate it’s working. The NBA’s ratings among Hispanic viewers jumped 50 percent last season, Sorrosa said. Sales of Spanish-language jerseys — Los Suns, Los Heat, etc. — doubled this year at NBA.com.
The NFL, which already has a firm hold on Hispanics who speak mostly or only English, has chosen to make those who lean toward the Spanish side of bicultural the focus of their Hispanic marketing efforts. It divides the Hispanic market into five segments. The largest group is the bicultural bilingual who views the game as a bridge between the two cultures, Saralegui said. Those fans are generally casual, rather than avid, and are best reached by invitation — such as a game broadcast in Spanish or a promotion that brings an All-Star flag football team from Mexico to play a team from a U.S. city.
“A lot of these guys are still very close to their Hispanic culture, sort of torn between the two,” Saralegui said. “Their identity is really one foot in both societies. What we want to do is make it easy for them to participate in our game. That might mean speaking Spanish, where that bilingual fan can watch with all his friends and show off what he knows.
“That soccer-centric sports fan may be more on the Spanish side of the divide, but they love soccer for the same reasons as the guys who love the NFL. They like watching games together. If you substitute NFL for soccer, these guys are just like NFL fans.”
Offering a broader menu
This past TV season, Univision debuted its version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” featuring 10 Latino celebrities paired with contestants who auditioned for the show. Among the 9.5 million viewers who watched some or all of the three-hour season finale was Martinez, the director of multicultural marketing for the Marlins.
“As a bilingual, bicultural Hispanic, I can consume good entertainment in either language,” Martinez said. “It puts an extra onus on providers of entertainment to take that into account. It makes it somewhat more challenging, because you no longer can apply the same static rules and say, ‘This is the programming I offer on the general side and this is the programming I offer on the Hispanic side, and everyone will continue to exist on their own side.’ Now, you have a lot of folks crossing over.”
The Marlins have gone further than any other team in creating broadcasts that appeal to both ends of the spectrum of language and culture. Most teams offer viewers a bilingual option, piping their Spanish-language radio broadcast out via the SAP button on viewers’ remote controls. The Marlins take it a step further, offering a full Spanish TV broadcast for about 60 home games, with separate announcers and graphics in Spanish. Sponsors have embraced the telecast, Martinez said, as a way to more deeply connect with Latino consumers.
The Marlins and their TV partners, Fox Sports Net, know that most fans watching the Spanish telecast could understand the English version or press the SAP. Yet, like the many bilingual viewers of Univision, they choose something more closely aligned with their culture.
“You have different levels of Hispanicity, if you will,” Rodriguez said. “They may be fully bilingual, or more English dominant, but they’re speaking Spanish to connect with their heritage and customs. So you better pay attention to that.
“How do we speak to this younger audience that came out to their first ballgame with their abuelo and their dad, and now they’re becoming young parents? They’re still connecting emotionally. They just experience the sport differently. They have the apps on the phone and they consume information a lot differently than the previous generation.
“They’re different. And that’s a challenge. But this is where our country is going. So we better figure it out.”