The Blurring Borders of Latinos and Sports

Two things are pretty clear after Super Bowl XLV: the Green Bay Packers were the absolute winners and Latinos are enjoying the Super Bowl more than ever.

This year, Super Bowl XLV boasted 10 million Hispanic viewers, a 21 percent increase over last year’s, making it the most-viewed English-language TV program by Latinos (10 percent of overall audience).

Latinos are heavy sports enthusiasts, with over half of online Hispanics visiting sports websites on a regular basis. Whether an avid soccer fan from Mexico or South America or a baseball aficionado from the Caribbean, they carry their passion for sports with them to the United States and continue to follow their favorite leagues and players from a distance.

Games Without Frontiers

Latinos’ interests in sports seem to grow as they move to the United States. Not only do they keep up with teams from their home countries, but they are open to adopt and gain interest in American sports as well. This is pretty clear in their higher predisposition to have played American football, basketball, and boxed in the past six months. It’s logical to believe that more acculturated Hispanic would have a higher tendency toward American sports – which is true – but even the most acculturated Latinos do not lose interest in sports from their native countries according to research firm Simmons.

While it may be that the more acculturated are naturally gaining an interest in American sports through assimilation, it is not out of the question for American sports to attract the lower-acculturated. The Natinonal Basketball Association has a Spanish-language initiative “éne•bé•a” that has been very successful in growing the Latino fan base by 9 percent in one season and increasing NBA viewership on ESPN Deportes by 57 percent; its Facebook page has around 280,000 fans. The National Football League has also been successful through programming on Spanish-language networks, a Spanish website, sports coverage in Spanish-language newspapers, and programs geared toward youth. According to Nielsen data, the 2010 NFL season was the most-watched season and the most-watched American sports league among Latinos.

The impact of American sports on Latinos is not a one-way street as American sports are also influenced by Latinos. The 2010 World Cup ratings hit a 16-year high in the United States. The game between Mexico and Argentina was the most-watched program ever for a Spanish-speaking network in the U.S., with 9.4 million people watching the match on Univision on June 27. Another 5.5 million people watched the game on ESPN, according to the Associated Press.

Latino sports fans not only have a wider range of sports interests than most Americans, they are also almost 80 percent more likely than the total population to purchase from companies that sponsor sports teams. Many companies are grasping at this opportunity. Toyota now sponsors the ESPN Deportes show “Nación ESPN” while Ford sponsors “Boxeo Telemundo” and Corona Extra will sponsor Chivas USA, lending its Mexican heritage and authenticity to the team.


The Sport of Culture

Between sports from their native countries to American sports in the United States, Latinos have eclectic interests that reflect their bicultural tendencies (i.e., they are more than twice as likely to have played soccer and almost 50 percent more likely to have played baseball than the total population). Instead of giving up one sport for another, they decide to embrace both cultures in a unique way.

And this peculiar culture comes through when referring to advertising. Comparing the best-liked sports by general market population and by Hispanics, we see both similarities and differences.


The Volkswagen and Doritos ads were popular with both the general market and Latinos, showing that the humorous and emotional approaches taken by these brands were affective across all audiences. However, Chrysler’s nationalistic sentiment that tied the brand’s history to deep American roots did not relate well with Latinos. The same holds true with the NFL TV clips showing old and new American TV shows emphasizing tradition surrounding the NFL and Super Bowl as a great American pastime. Paradoxically, aired during the Super Bowl, the NFL spot was one of the less preferred by Latinos.

On the other side of the spectrum, Coca-Cola’s ad, “Border Crossing” was well-received among Latinos, but did not make Ad Age’s top 10 list. The Latino Twittersphere was full of positive comments. The ad showed Coca-Cola as a unifier that brings happiness across nations and borders even when the people on each side should be confined to their respective sides. It did not contain any dialogue, which enabled it to overcome language barriers. While the border in the ad was not specific to any particular country, tweeps were very clear on their interpretation: “The Coca Cola one ‘Border’ I thinks it’s the Mex-Usa” and others said “HISPANIC AND AMERICAN,” “This should be obvious – Illegal aliens trying to sneak across the border!” and “Mexico and the U.S. should see this commercial.”

The Coca-Cola ad resonated with Latinos because it shed light on an everyday reality. Latinos in the United States do not live on one side of a cultural border or another. When it comes to language, food, news, music, and of course sports, biculturalism is getting bigger and bigger, like the Coca-Cola bottle being passed across a cultural border that can be redrawn to accommodate an ever-changing population.

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