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As the 2021 MLB season starts, a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult reveals that only 15% of Gen Z respondents named MLB as their favorite professional sports league, compared to 28% for the NBA and 35% for the NFL. In fact, the Sports Business Journal reports that over the past decade, the average audience age for America’s pastime has increased from 52 to 57, while only 7% are under the age of 18.
Facing an aging audience bench combined with declining interest from the generation warming up in the bullpen, the MLB, like many businesses, needs to attract younger and more diverse audiences to remain viable.
The good news is that the league—and the marketers who invest their ad dollars with it—can revitalize and expand its fan and customer bases by making the game more relevant to one of the youngest and largest U.S. multicultural segments, not to mention an audience with an organic connection to the sport: Hispanics.
With Hispanics wielding almost $2 trillion in buying power and contributing over 60% of the U.S. population growth within the next five years, this market should be table stakes for any business plan. But even more so for the MLB, an organization with a unique cultural affinity to this population.
Waiting to be captured
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, today almost one in three MLB players are of Latin American ancestry, and baseball has overtaken soccer as the top showcase for professional Hispanic athletes. In the 2019 season, of the 251 players who were born outside the U.S., 75% came from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba alone. Indeed, Latin America has become the biggest source of MLB talent, making it almost common to hear Spanish spoken in clubhouses across all 30 teams in the league.
Yet this has not translated into a scaled Hispanic fanbase. While Hispanics represent almost 20% of the U.S. population, according to Nielsen they account for only 9% of MLB viewership. Add in the fact that a whopping 61% of the Hispanic population is under the age of 35, and the growth opportunity within this segment comes into even sharper focus.
Here are a few winning plays that can start to make it happen in the 2021 season:
For many Latinos, regardless of team affiliation, seeing a Kiké Hernández, Gleyber Torres or Nolan Arenado take the field is a source of pride. And according to Nielsen research, Hispanics are more responsive to endorsements from celebrities that share their background than the general population. As one of the few mass-reach platforms (along with music) that shines a bright light on Hispanic excellence, baseball offers an opportunity for marketers to amplify—and leverage—positive representation by aligning with established or emerging Hispanic athletes. Such efforts will influence the path to purchase as well as drive interest in the sport.
Un asunto de familia (a family affair)
The Hispanic family dynamic (large, multigenerational families, almost half of which have children under the age of 18) offers many engagement opportunities for the league as well as corporate and team sponsors. From Spanish language media partnerships with the likes of ESPN or Fox Deportes, to digital and social content opportunities that leverage MLB’s official Spanish-language social media presence, @LasMayores, there are various approaches for the league and any marketer to authentically connect with all generations of the Hispanic population.
Think and act local
For teams in Florida, Texas, California, New York and Chicago, the Hispanic community is a force to be reckoned with—but it cannot be approached as a monolith. Offering a plethora of cultural touch points (Mexican, Caribbean and South America) will support conversations that connect with consumers on an entirely new level. Depending on what markets may be of most interest, aligning with key cultural moments in either Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Venezuelan cultures will be of critical significance. With the MLB having already established Hispanic Heritage Month initiatives during September and October in key markets, marketers can tailor turnkey activations to specific Hispanic communities.
Pockets of Hispanic fandom are emerging. In Los Angeles, 30% of Dodgers fans are Hispanic, the highest representation of any MLB team. But considering that Los Angeles’ population is 50% Hispanic, the potential is still under-realized.
Speaking of the Dodgers, the team’s legendary coach Tommy Lasorda once said, “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what happened.” When it comes to converting Hispanic audiences to baseball aficionados, it’s up to marketers and the MLB to make it happen—or be left to wonder what happened.