The National Football League played its first regular-season game outside the U.S. on Oct. 2, 2005, at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. The Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers tilt attracted 103,467 people, setting an attendance record for an NFL regular-season game. From then on, the league has stepped up efforts to court Latinos on and off the TV screen. Leading up to the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Arizona, Peter O’Reilly, director of marketing of the NFL, spoke to Hispanic Television Update about the league’s efforts to increase its Hispanic fan base, a series of partnerships in place for this year’s football bash and a brand new partnership with Univision.com. An edited transcript follows:
Q: When -- and why -- did the NFL begin targeting Hispanics?
A: [Our efforts] go back a while and pre-dates my time here [2.5 years] but what really jumpstarted these efforts over the past two seasons was the Mexico City game in 2005. It was a very successful event at the Azteca Stadium; I’d say it was almost more than full. That was a great moment for us, and it has had a real positive impact here in the U.S. as well. Our strategy kicked in aggressively around that time; really looking at the growth of our audience fan base and how much more interest and depth of engagement we got from our Hispanic fan base. We started going out delivering the NFL in custom ways, in the places and channels where Hispanics are engaged. But [NFL] efforts go beyond just media: but we are implementing outreach programs on television, online, on radio and even video gaming.
Q: What does this means in terms of marketing budget?
A: If you look at it from a marketing communications stand point, over the past year and a half our investment in the Hispanic market has grown three times. This investment includes both English-language and Spanish-language media targeting Hispanics. But what are critically important are the partnerships in the marketplace that allow us to reach a larger percentage of Hispanics on a regular basis across the entirety of the NFL calendar. You have to forge to deliver your message in a relevant way, and that’s where we focus our efforts in these partnerships.
Q: How has your Hispanic fan base grown?
A: Over the last two years, we looked at levels of engagement defined as time spent with the NFL. This research showed that 72% of U.S. Hispanics ages 12 and older spend some time with the NFL and are engaged with the NFL. Those numbers are only slightly below our general-market numbers, that are around 75%. Those are terrific numbers; but also where we’ve seen the biggest growth is in the acculturated, bilingual or English-dominant segment, in which 68% of bicultural Hispanics express interest in the NFL. That’s our core target. Besides our own data, we complement our research with syndicated work done by people including ESPN Deportes, Scarborough and Nielsen.
Q: NFLatino.com launched prior to the 2006 season. How has the all Spanish-language Web page performed among your Hispanic fan base?
A: We continue to see growth month after month. But the interesting news is that starting this month [Jan. 2008] our site will be powered by Univision.com. This means that the site will still be a standalone site but it will also be placed within Univision.com as their official American Football section. This will increase our distribution significantly, because they are the dominant portal and will be promoting it across their different platforms (TV, online, radio, etc.). Univision will be selling the advertising inventory on the site, as the deal is a revenue sharing partnership.
Q: What would you say are the most significant efforts being done in anticipation of Sunday, Feb. 3?
A: In television we have an ongoing partnership with ESPN Deportes, which continues to broadcast all our Monday night football games. They have expanded that relationship this year with additional NFL programming; and have been airing a series of educational vignettes with nuggets of information for Latinos to understand the sport much better. We are also on our second year working with Telemundo with three special events. One is [celebrity football game] Tazón Latino, which will be broadcast on the Telemundo network; the other one in its second year is Pepsi Música Super Bowl Fiesta, featuring an RBD concert and also airing as a one-hour special on the network.
Telemundo doesn’t have game broadcast rights, but it plugs in the NFL in its Titulares y más show; they’ve been doing more and more NFL features, including highlights of the games and features of players off the field. With Univision, besides online and radio, we are working with them in incorporating more NFL in Sunday’s República Deportiva, [sports show]. Also on the TV front, Fox Sports en Español will be on site, and doing more programming leading up to the Super Bowl.
Q: What other efforts besides special events are there in sight?
A: We are extending our advertising campaign through The Vidal Partnership, which developed the Júntense campaign based on the insight that there is a growing number of Hispanic fans out there who want to stand up and show their pride and love for the NFL.
Other significant firsts that we’re excited about is that for the first time [in December] we released NFL Madden 2008 videogame totally in Spanish. It’s a hugely popular title but also a terrific entry point for emerging Hispanic fans to understand the game better.
Overall, we are continuing to increase efforts at a team and club level. This is not only a national effort but it includes a number of local NFL franchises. The idea is to engage your fan bases not necessarily just on the top 10 markets but by creating the media partnerships online, radio, events, and programs in the community.
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