‘This is what America is’: A multiethnic future for sports
Will sports teams and leagues still be holding heritage months — celebrations of specific ethnicities, races or countries — by 2040? If they are serious about reaching America’s increasingly diverse audiences over the next two decades, the answer will be no.
Heritage months are already out the window at Major League Soccer. The league prides itself on what it calls cultural fluency, evident in its 2019 “Our Soccer” campaign. The campaign featured pop singer Prince Royce and was voiced in English, Spanish, French and Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English).
“The way we look at it comes from this idea of what North America is becoming,” said David Bruce, MLS’s senior vice president of brand and integrated marketing. “It is younger, it is more diverse, it is more connected to the world. As a result of that, our sport and our league is a reflection of where America and Canada are going.”
MLS intentionally picked culturally fluid influencers like Prince Royce, born in the Bronx and of Dominican descent, and Miguel, who is African American with a Mexican parent. Those choices show the kinds of people that MLS wants to include in its tent.
“This is what America is,” Bruce said. “We pitched a position to build our brand so that it’s able to speak to these people all of the time, and not just a certain time of year. They will recognize themselves, connect their values and who they are, and they will see that in how we talk about the league and our clubs.”
Bruce said cultural fluidity begins with language. English and Spanish live alongside each other in many American households, and in the stands at MLS matches.
“Spanglish has been connected to contrived marketing,” Bruce said. “But if you go into any of our stadiums, any of our dressing rooms, you will hear Spanish and English being thrown together in the same sentences. So, we’re able to weave the two languages together.”
Soccer’s global appeal positions it to thrive in a more diverse America. The same could be true for a sport like baseball, which has a hugely international player pool, but a fan base that hasn’t reflected that diversity.
Adrian Williams is trying to change that in Atlanta. He’s the Braves’ senior director of diversity and community marketing, becoming the first person in MLB with such a job title when he was hired three years ago. Of all Williams’ projects, the Braves’ Hispanic-focused sub-brand “Los Bravos,” launched in 2017, has been especially successful.
The Braves’ Spanish-language social media accounts led all of MLB in growth and engagement since last May, according to Williams, and Los Bravos merchandise is among the club’s top-sellers, thanks to interest from all types of people, not just Hispanics. Ticket packages for 2019 games with Los Bravos activations were some of the organization’s top sellers.
“You saw this true embrace of culture and people coming together to learn and understand about the Latino community,” Williams said. “Why? Because their favorite players are Latino, they see their favorite players wearing Los Bravos gear and so it became kind of this safe space for connections between cultures and communities.”