Soccer may be the sport most commonly associated with Hispanics, but it’s far from the only one that captures their interest. Almost one-third of all professional baseball players in the United States are Hispanic, so it’s little surprise that the sport’s Latino fan base is continuing to grow.
What’s the reason for this growth? Simmons, a consumer intelligence firm, suggests that one of the main reasons for increased Hispanic engagement and interest in the sport is that tickets have become more affordable. According to its research, Hispanic MLB fans are more than twice as likely to say that their involvement in the sport this season is the result of cheaper game tickets. But just because something is cheap doesn’t mean that people will become more interested in it — so it’s more likely that the reason for the growing popularity of baseball amongst Hispanic audiences lies elsewhere.
As I mentioned above, Latinos make up a significant percentage of the MLB’s player roster. This isn’t an insignificant fact. For other Latinos, the ability to see someone from a similar background perform at such a high level is the perfect way to give a baseball game some added stakes — as well as a reason to follow their performance over the course of the season.
Lately, MLB teams have been keen to nurture the connection between Hispanics and baseball, not only because they see the potential of this large, engaged audience, but also because of the decline in the sport’s popularity amongst black and Millennial audiences. In fact, in the study by Simmons mentioned earlier, even current non-Hispanic MLB fans say they are likely to be less engaged this season compared to last. As a result, the MLB has stepped up in its efforts to reach Hispanic audiences, launching ads in both English and Spanish and tapping into events such as Hispanic Heritage Month.
A study conducted by ThinkNow Research found that baseball appeals to Hispanics “for reasons that appear to be culturally based,” with Hispanics more likely to see the sport as a way to spend time with family and friends and interact with other people. It is the social aspect of baseball, the time spent chatting or eating or taking selfies between pitches and batters and innings, that gives it emotional heft for Hispanics.
For a large part of its history in the United States, baseball has been seen as the sport played between fathers and sons in the white picket-fenced lawns of suburbia. As the demographics of the country continue to transform, however, that image of baseball no longer holds true for the majority of its fans. Thinking of baseball in an antiquated fashion ignores the contributions that Latinos and other minorities have made to America’s Pastime.
MLB’s #PonleAcento (“Put An Accent On It”) campaign is just one of the ways that the organization is trying to change the perception of baseball amongst Hispanics and show cultural appreciation to those already in its ranks. Latino players were given the ability to put accents and tildes on the names emblazoned on the back of their jerseys, so that they could be written (and pronounced) properly.
Gabriel García, executive creative director of LatinWorks, the agency behind the campaign, says that the goal was “to ignite Hispanic passion for the game” by “[demonstrating] that they’ve played an important role in its past, are contributing to the game’s present, and will continue to influence its evolution moving forward.”
Brands should see the rise of baseball’s popularity amongst Hispanics as an opportunity. For instance, recruiting prominent Latino stars to feature in campaigns would be a great way to raise one’s profile. Even incorporating baseball imagery into an ad might be an effective way of getting Hispanic audiences to pay attention; or companies could attempt to insert themselves into the baseball-watching experience (for example, by positioning themselves beer of choice for Hispanics enjoying a baseball game).
The success of #PonleAcento goes far beyond baseball. Players from other sports, including basketball and boxing, have demanded that accents be added to their uniforms. Some actors have even asked for accents to be included in their stars on the Walk of Fame. As García notes, “Through an idea that is irrefutably Hispanic, we showed how something as simple as an accent could be embraced by Latinos as a thoughtful invitation to participate in a game that in many ways they’ve already helped make great.” Now, America’s Pastime can truly become the pastime of all Americans.