U.S .Hispanics make up about 17% of the NBA fan base, according to the NBA Latin America. That’s roughly 15 million Hispanic basketball fans poised to enact significant influence over one of the country’s most revered sports.
Several factors about this thriving demographic make it an attractive target for the League. U.S. Hispanics are younger, concentrated in urban areas, and have been integral to the evolution of popular cultural cornerstones such as hip-hop, which help shape the NBA brand we love today.
Hispanic population defined by its youth. With a median age of 28, Latinos are the nation’s youngest racial or ethnic group. Furthermore, the population of the youngest Latinos, those under 18 years old, grew by 22% from 2006 to 2016, a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data finds. Conversely, during the same time, the under-18 population of Non-Hispanic Whites and African Americans declined by 11% and 7%, respectively.
That means that Latinos accounted for 25% of the nation’s 54 million K-12 students in 2016, up from 16% in 2000.
So why is that important to the NBA? Sports fans are made during their youth. One of the most extensive analyses of passive data on sports fandom, done in 2014 by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, studied fans of baseball and found that sports fandom was cemented between ages 8-12.
For the NBA, those insights fueled an action plan to achieve two of its biggest goals: to better engage the growing number of Hispanic basketball fans in the U.S. and to make basketball more accessible in the countries of origin from which these fans descend.
NBA Latin America, under the leadership of Arnon de Mello, works closely with schools and organizations in Latin America to develop programing for boys and girls interested in basketball, bringing with it the power of the NBA brand, including pro-level curriculum and guest appearances by coaches and players. This program not only teaches kids how to play the sport but also ensures that there will be a larger representation of Latino talent on the court in the future as youth begin to pursue the sport.
Urban areas are becoming more Hispanic. More than half (53%) of the nation’s Hispanics live in 15 metropolitan areas in California (with Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim housing the highest percentage at 6%), New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Wisconsin, and the Washington.D.C. area.
And it is in these areas that hoop dreams take root. Dreams of basketball stardom are birthed on blacktops in the inner city, where basketball hoops with no nets catch the hopes and dreams of young people of color desperate for a way out.
Some of the best players in the League today found their stride running up and down cracked courts at community centers on the “other” side of town. But that flavor helps fuel the lore of the sport, now steeped in the culture of the communities embracing it and played out for millions globally.
As the NBA continues to help shape urban culture, Latinos’ contributions to urban culture has gone beyond its burgeoning population to include its cultural influence, from music to food, and even on the basketball court.
While only 2% of all NBA players are Latino, those who have successfully crossed over — players like Manu Ginoblii, Al Horford, and Carmelo Anthony (of Puerto Rican descent) — have permeated urban culture, finding their way into endorsement deals targeted toward urban audiences and the lyrics of hip-hop music by the likes of Drake and Nicki Minaj.
The impact. Cultivating Hispanic fandom isn’t just about selling more tickets. The most significant play is developing a strategy to make the League more representative of the fans cheering in the stands. To do that, you must tap into what’s important to Hispanics, and that’s a deep love of their culture and their countries of origin.