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Sports Toss More Than Soft Pitches for Latinos

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NEW YORK Blue Demon Jr. threw out the first pitch between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks on May 2. The crowd roared.

On any given game day, nearly half of the 56,000-seat stadium is filled with Latino fans. In early May, they watched in awe as the famous Lucha Libre Mexican wrestler went to bat for their hometown team.

Behind home turf at Dodger Stadium, the baseball team's marketing team stood in a different kind of awe: the seamless activation of brands joining forces to make a connection with Hispanics in Los Angeles.

As part of the game, Full Throttle, Coca-Cola's energy drink, had sponsored an area-wide giveaway: buy-one-Dodger-ticket-get-one-free at local grocers Valu Plus Food Warehouse and Top Valu Markets.

"[Coca-Cola/Full Throttle] is a perfect example of not only activating in-stadium [marketing] but also taking it to retail and leveraging the Dodger marks for its grass-roots marketing," said Sergio del Prado, vice president/director of sales and marketing, for the Dodgers.

With more than one million Hispanic Dodger fans, it's part of a bigger, longstanding grass-roots effort to recognize the more than 7.5 million Hispanics living in Los Angeles.

For a second year, the Dodgers also have partnered with Macy's for a Father's Day promotion aimed at Hispanic men that gave away a free game ticket with the purchase of Calvin Klein Jeans. The sponsorship agreement included a block of tickets for the retailer.

Luis González — a left fielder for the Dodgers who's also a father of triplets — participated in Macy's creative as well as store signings.

To have players included in any deal is a plus, explained Marty Greenspun, executive vice president/COO for the Dodgers.

"Everyone is focused on ROI and providing sales return," he said. "We've seen when our partners use Dodger marks in the marketplace that they get a lift in retail. Obviously, it benefits the Dodgers from a promotional point of view."

Associations with relevant Hispanic sports stars and strong partnerships with brands have also been at the forefront of Major League Soccer (MLS) marketing since 1976. The league counts a third of its U.S. soccer base to be Latino, which has helped cement partners such as Honda, Makita, Burger King and Panasonic.

Recently, MLS stepped up by hiring former Colombian World Cup star Wilmer Cabrera as the voice at grass-roots Latino events, including a program that kicks off at the end of June, appropriately called "Verano MLS" (Summer MLS).

David Wright, senior director, partnership marketing, for MLS and SUM (Soccer United Marketing) sees tremendous growth opportunities for the brand name by giving back to the Hispanic community. "We needed to develop programming that has longevity," he said about the six-week Verano MLS. The free clinic program will be held in L.A., New York, Dallas and Chicago. "In 12 months time, we hope that it will be in all [12] of our markets."

Wright also hopes that the program will be as successful as Sueño MLS, which helped sign an aspiring Latino soccer player to Chivas USA. The program aired on Univision network and was presented by Home Depot

But one of the biggest highlights in tapping Latinos is the long-running amateur soccer tournament MLS Futbolito. After a successful tournament that ended in March, the next competition will be in early 2008. "Our sponsors are integral to bringing this to market," Wright said. He declined to discuss costs, only saying, "it's significant."

Likewise, La Alianza de Fútbol's 2007 kicked off its local and regional soccer amateur tournament June 9 in New York and will run through December. Formerly known as Copa Lowe's, the series boasts national sponsors such as Verizon Wireless, Adidas, Univision, Dr Pepper, EuroSport and BRC Group.

Aligning with a reputable group has its advantages. Blue Demon might get the best deal of all with new Dodgers partner Aeroméxico. As with other airlines, he may not have to take off his mask before boarding.