Sports, beyond soccer

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When General Electric Co.'s NBC brought professional boxing back to the network for the first time in 11 years on May 3, it did so with an eye on the fastest-growing population segment in the country.

The two-and-a-half hour card was divided into two segments-the first hour on Spanish-language network Telemundo, the last 90 minutes on NBC, all hosted by bilingual announcer Jessi Losada, one of the standout sportscasters on Spanish-language TV. The bouts also featured several Hispanic fighters from the boxing promotional company Main Events. Both telecasts were sponsored by Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser.

As the event proves, sports teams, leagues, the networks and marketers are waking up to Hispanic sports fans beyond the ever-popular soccer. In addition to Budweiser's sponsorship, Midas, Everlast, Vivendi Universal Entertainment's Universal Pictures, AOL Time Warner's HBO and PespiCo's Gatorade bought time on Telemundo and NBC.

"The Hispanic portion of this was the facilitator," said Jerry Calabrese, the former president of Marvel Comics who formed his own marketing company and helped bring Main Events and NBC together for the May 3, 10 and 17 telecasts. "It helped clarify for everybody that there could be a new model, partly based on current economics but also based on the enormous demographic shifts that are happening in this country."

population explosion

Census data show that Hispanics will make up nearly 19% of the population by 2020, and a study commissioned by Telemundo and conducted by Global Insight, Waltham, Mass., projects increases in Hispanic household disposable income and consumer spending through 2020 will significantly outpace the expected general-market growth rate.

The study, released late last month, concluded that the Hispanic population will continue to grow at an average rate of 2.8% through 2020. Personal-consumption spending by Hispanics will increase at an average annual rate of 9.1%, far exceeding the general-market growth rate of 6%.

Such statistics are changing perceptions. After learning that the population of Hispanics in the state of Washington doubled from 1990 to 2000, baseball's Seattle Mariners this year formed a Spanish-language radio network.

Another baseball team, the Texas Rangers, last month created a Hispanic advisory board to show it how to provide more outreach to the Hispanic community through marketing and community initiatives.

"The 2000 census woke up a lot of people in the media," said Chris Bellitti, manager-international communications for Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN. "People thought they needed to get on the bandwagon."

ESPN did. While rival Fox, a division of News Corp., started Fox Sports en Espanol, ESPN caught up in 2000 with its four-hour Sunday night block of programming called ESPN Deportes, available free to any affiliate that creates the channel space for it. Later this year, ESPN Deportes will become a full-time, 24-hour a day, seven-day a week channel.

ESPN Deportes already has deals in place with Major League Baseball, Mexican baseball leagues, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The NFL last year hired its first multicultural agency, Lumina Americas, New York, to help its Hispanic-marketing effort. The account is in review again, but the NFL plans to further those efforts.

"We laid a tremendous foundation," said Marjorie Rodgers, the NFL's senior director-marketing and entertainment programming. "One of our objectives last year was to understand more about the Hispanic fan base and what their relationship to football was. That's become the strategy for next season."

The league is hoping that all teams, not just franchises in obvious Hispanic markets like New York, Oakland, Miami, Dallas and San Diego, will also further their efforts. Last year, for instance, the Denver Broncos sponsored NFL en Espanol day.

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