The NBA proves that hard work on and off the court pays off. After significant research into what resonates with Hispanics, the NBA has found a winning combination. Evidence of their success includes growth of the NBA’s U. S. Hispanic fan base by 9% during the 2008-09 season. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Hispanic population grew by only 4% during that same period indicating that the NBA is growing 125% faster than the Hispanic population. Add to that, promising figures such as the 57% rise in viewership of the NBA on ESPN Deportes and the growing éne•bé•a Facebook page that now has over 240,000 fans.

“Our success can be attributed to a winning combination of all of our marketing programs,” says Saskia Sorrosa, Senior Director of U.S. Hispanic Marketing at the NBA during our interview in October. “But most importantly, the NBA has great basketball.”

So how does the NBA market to Hispanics? Let’s review keys to their success:

éne•bé•a Campaign:
The NBA’s latest marketing campaign, éne•bé•a, is part of a comprehensive initiative to grow the game of basketball throughout the expanding U.S. Hispanic market. The NBA brings initiatives focused exclusively on Hispanic fans under a platform that includes media, events, grassroots, and merchandising programs.

In October the NBA announced a partnership with Univision Interactive Media, Inc. to bring the website to life on Univision Interactive Media’s online platform. The co-branded site includes blogs by Latino NBA players, video highlights, the latest news, photo galleries, interactive fan content, and other offerings.

Internal Operations:
Key to their success in marketing to Hispanics is the structure of their internal operations. The Hispanic Marketing department headed by Ms. Sorrosa is structured in a way which ensures the NBA’s commitment to the Hispanic market. Each department of the NBA has a Hispanic lead who acts as the liaison between their groups and the Hispanic Marketing department. This person drives activations within their discipline, which ultimately ensures the Hispanic fan base is considered for every marketing endeavor.

Language Preferences:
After significant market research, the league determined how best to present the NBA to different Hispanic groups including acculturated Hispanics, bilinguals, and Spanish-dominant Hispanics. Acculturated Hispanics, as can be expected, generally prefer to consume all of their NBA related media in English. However, bilingual Hispanics prefer to watch games in English but would rather read about the NBA in Spanish. This was suspected by the NBA as it was found that more bilingual Hispanics were watching English-language broadcasts instead of Spanish-language game broadcasts on Telemundo a couple seasons back. In the 2nd part of this NBA Marketing feature, we will discuss the impact of this realization to the éne•bé•a Facebook page.

Another product of their research was how Hispanics referred to their favorite NBA teams. From their study they found that Hispanic fans used the words “los” or “el” in front of the names when referring to NBA teams instead of translating the team name. For example the Phoenix Suns are not the “Soles”, they are referred to as “Los Suns”. This combination was used as it was a true representation of how Hispanics related to their teams.

Individual Teams’ Marketing Efforts:
The NBA also is highly involved in coordinating with individual teams’ Hispanic marketing efforts. This includes the 11 teams with Spanish-language websites such as the newest one, el Orlando Magic. For the 2006-2007 season, the NBA began the “Noche Latina” program with 4 teams. “Noche Latina” is a night to appreciate Hispanic fans and players. Teams wear their celebratory jersey decaled with “El Heat” or “Los Suns” for example. But the jerseys are not the only things that feature a Latin theme. The music, dancer routines, food, and overall ambience are heavily influenced by Hispanic culture during select games throughout the month of March.

Grassroots Efforts:
Not all of the NBA’s Hispanic programs are centered on marketing. The NBA holds their grassroots programs to the utmost importance. “éne•bé•a Fit” and “Es tu Cancha” are programs designed to help Hispanic families. Current and former NBA stars such as Al Horford and Felipe Lopez have been instrumental in these efforts.

“éne•bé•a Fit is our health and wellness program, one of the pillars of our NBA cares platform and our Hispanic efforts,” states Ms. Sorrosa. “Hispanics have a high incidence of childhood obesity in the U.S., the highest in the country; and this program strives to educate kids and families about the importance of active lifestyles and proper nutrition.” As part of the program, NBA players work with children to encourage exercise and parents are educated on the importance of healthy eating habits, nutritional value in meals and grocery shopping on a budget. Another program, “Es tu Cancha” (It’s your court) builds and/or refurbishes basketball courts in Hispanic communities across the Nation in an effort to create a safe place for kids to play and be active. Mascots and current/former NBA players participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony of these basketball courts.

Final Thought:
We at DK wholeheartedly agree that a good product (i.e. good basketball) is a key factor in achieving success as the NBA has. What could other U.S. sports leagues do to achieve similar appreciation from Hispanics?

In addition to his firm, Mr. Diaz publishes the blog Social Media Spanish.

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