MLB turns up spotlight on its Latino ballplayers

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Sammy Sosa's home runs have landed him on the front page of newspapers across the country, while Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's pitching prowess has brought him fame.

Although Hispanic ballplayers rose to prominence in the past, today's Spanish-speaking stars are ubiquitous. And Major League Baseball hopes that by celebrating players such as "El Duque," it can draw a broader base of fans.

MLB has launched a variety of sports marketing initiatives such as March's "Month of the Americas" that commemorate players' Latino heritage. To get its message out, MLB has teamed with media outlets such as New York's Daily News as well as NBC and Univision.

The Daily News is one of seven major-market newspapers that on March 19 debuted the insert Major League Baseball en Espanol. Others include La Opinion in Los Angeles, and El Nuevo Herald in Miami. The bilingual publication features stories and in-depth interviews with Latino baseball players. Total circulation is estimated at 1 million.

MORE ADVERTISER INTEREST

While this first insert has just two mainstream advertisers -- Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser and Century 21 Real Estate Corp. -- MLB Exec VP Tim Brosnan said at least four more have signed on for future editions.

"Our corporate sponsors showed an intense interest in [programs] like this," he said.

This month, MLB also hosts an exhibition baseball series in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela. In a first-time agreement, those games will be aired in the U.S. through a deal with Univision and Galavision TV networks.

As a wrap-up to the "Month of the Americas," NBC will broadcast "Baseball Latino Style" on April 8. The program will feature stories on Latino baseball stars such as the Chicago Cubs' Mr. Sosa, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox's Pedro Martinez. Pepsi-Cola Co., which recently signed Mr. Sosa as an endorser, is a major sponsor of the TV program.

"Latino ballplayers are becoming a larger and larger part . . . and a more influential part of Major League Baseball," said Jim Scott, MLB VP-programming and sales. An estimated 20% of Major League Baseball team rosters are composed of Latino ballplayers.

MLB also took a cue from the recent explosion of Latin music in the U.S., and created a CD titled "MLB Caliente." The CD, issued by Sony Music Entertainment, features songs from recording stars such as Marc Anthony, Elvis Crespo and Cypress Hill.

MLB's upcoming advertising, from Vigilante, New York, also will reach out to the Hispanic community. One of the nine spots was taped in Spanish and stars Hispanic actors.

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