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Inside the NBA’s Multicultural Play

The National Basketball Association is looking to score with its multicultural fans through a series of campaigns and initiatives intended to increase attendance and viewership among a group that represents nearly half of its fan base.

From showcasing specialized Lat ino-themed uniforms to developing a schoolbased curriculum focusing on African-American history, to the deployment of special Chinese New Year’s team warm-up shirts, the league is aggressively catering to multicultural fans across platforms.

“If you’re not speaking to a multicultural audience, your business is not going to grow,” Saskia Sorrosa, NBA vice president of multicultural targeted marketing, said. “If you look at the makeup of the NBA fan base, 46% of our fans are multicultural, so if we were not speaking to this audience, we would not be speaking an audience that represents half of our business.”

The percentage of multicultural Americans in the NBA’s fan base is higher than that of the National Football League (31%), Major League Baseball (28%), the National Hockey League (28%) or NASCAR (24%), making it a priority for the league to reach those audiences both in the arena and at home. In recent years, most of the growth has come within the Hispanic marketplace, which represents 18% of fans, the NBA said.

Since 2009, when the league revamped its Hispanic-targeted “énebéa” page on its website, Hispanic fan growth has outpaced the growth of the Hispanic population by 38%, according to Sorrosa.

The site, which offers league stories and profiles in Spanish but video highlights and commentary in English, provides the right balance for the league’s mostly bilingual Hispanic audience.

“Hispanics like to be recognized but they don’t like to be singled out … the bulk of our fans were bicultural and bilingual, and we were primarily targeting the audience with a language play,” said Sorrosa of the site prior to its 2009 revamping. “We found that the Hispanic consumer likes to follow stories in Spanish, but they like to view our game in English as part of the authenticity of the sport.”

While Hispanic fans certainly indentify with the increasing number of Latino-born players like the Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol, Sorrosa said, the group enthusiastically follows the sport’s most popular players regardless of ethic background. “We don’t use the players to get Hispanics to like the sport, but rather as emotional ambassadors to the game — to tell stories and connect with fans on a more emotional level.”

Next month, the NBA will deploy its fifth annual version of Hispanic Heritage Month. Select teams will wear in-game uniforms or shooting shirts during select games that feature a Spanish-themed version of the team’s name, such as El Heat for the NBA champion Miami Heat. While not a direct English-to-Spanish translation, Sorrosa said the uniform names reflect the way Latino fans refer to the teams in casual conversation.

In addition, there’s an entire theme night inside the arena that will include themed food, music and mascots are customized to celebrate Latino culture.

While not as large as its Hispanic fan base, the NBA has nevertheless also reached out to its 5% Asian fan base with campaigns revolving around Chinese New Year. To signify the Chinese year of the horse, 14 teams earlier this month promoted commemorative shooting shirts with a horse insignia, according to Sorrosa. The league also broadcast 27 games to China during the weeklong celebration, which last year reached more than 107 million viewers in that country, according to league officials.

Even though African-Americans make up 21% of NBA fans, 2014 will mark the fi rst time the league has employed a multi-faceted marketing effort to reach that audience, said Sorrosa.

During Black History Month, the network will partner with technology company EverFi to create a digital African-American history educational curriculum that will launch in 30 schools across all NBA team markets, said Sorrosa. Also in February, players from each team will wear limited-edition shooting shirts for select games that will feature images of African-American historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, as well as NBA icon Bill Russell, the league said.


The NBA is shooting to grow its multicultural audience with promotions tailored for specific groups.