October 19, 2009

At the inaugural Tecate Premios Deportes a couple of years ago, Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony stood at the podium and proudly proclaimed in Spanish that his father was Boricua.  Clearly no one from the NBA was in the audience, or watched the telecast on Univision.

In its current Spanish-language campaign, ostensibly designed to reach out to US Hispanics, the NBA seems to have forgotten some of its star Latino players.  NBA, have you ever heard of another famous Boricua who's last name is also Anthony?  Hint: he sung the national anthem at a recent Monday Night Football game in Miami.  And by the way, a Nuyorican just got appointed to the Supreme Court.

The NBA's refurbished Spanish language website, www.nba.com/enebea, includes a listing of "Hispanic players" but it strangely omits Carmelo Anthony and half-Cuban Gilbert Arenas of the Wizards.  I would almost suggest that the NBA is black Latino-challenged for leaving out these two Latino players but to their credit, they do include the Pistons' Queens, NY-bred, Dominican player Charlie Villanueva.

The NBA, in its infinite search for dollars in China and Europe, has for too long neglected its own US Hispanic heritage which in turn has caused it to fall behind the NFL and Major League Baseball in terms of reaching out to US Latinos.  With its new Spanish-language campaign founded on the new tagline "Enebea", I think the NBA missed a great opportunity to be culturally-relevant to its biggest source of Hispanic fans, bicultural, urban, Spanglish-speaking Latinos.  For evidence, wait until next year when the Lakers repeat, and stroll down the downtown Laker victory parade.

In explaining its new strategy, and the format it has chosen, the NBA cited the 15% of its fan base that is Hispanic and the popularity of the San Antonio Spurs.   It seems the NBA chose to ignore the fact that the Spurs' Hispanic fan base is largely English-dominant and bilingual (a reflection of that Texas city's demographics).  Think about that city's favorite daughter, and the Spurs' #1 Latina fan, Eva Longoria.

And back to the Lakers, they are probably the one NBA franchise that appeals equally strongly to both acculturated and unacculturated Hispanics (but its Latino essence is truly urban).  And credit should be given to the Lakers' Spanish player Pau Gasol who has done a lot to reach out to LA's Spanish-language media.  But Kobe Bryant cannot be ignored.  I sometimes wonder whether his huge popularity among Latinos is due to his Latina wife...OK, he's not that bad of a player.

The 1960's radical Abby Hoffman once said "never impose your language on people you wish to reach."  I commend the NBA for its interest in the Hispanic fan but after watching its TV spot I wish it had heeded Hoffman's advice.  But to omit a proud Boricua--arguably your biggest Latino player--on your Spanish-language website is just not right.


As a basketball fan, I’m extremely disappointed with the inaccuracy of this blog. Let's start with the Carmelo Anthony statement. Let's see...who would have booked him at that event? Oh yeah...could it be? Yes! The NBA. While not called out specifically on the website, anyone can review past announcements, and even videos and messages on the league’s social networking sites and find that Carmelo and the other U.S. born Latinos are mentioned time and again as Latino players. Let’s see, there’s Ariza, Arenas, the Lopez Brothers and the list goes on. Did you see the Hisp Heritage Month video on the league’s Latino Facebook page that highlights 'Melo in the introduction? Maybe the league should include all the players on the website, pero to suggest that they don't know who their Latino players are is a bit of a stretch. As for ene*be*a, as an English-dominant Latino, I have to tell you it has cultural relevancy among all Hispanics — whether you prefer to speak English OR Spanish. I'm sure that the bilingual, bicultural consumer is quite familiar with their ABCs? If not, the whole country is in trouble! In case you haven’t read, the campaign will live in both Spanish and English...is that not the beauty of being bilingual/bicultural? As a fan and target consumer, I can assure you this campaign will resonate to the spectrum of consumers that each of the individual teams will encounter. And finally, it seems like you may have been out of the loop on this, but the NBA has been far from neglecting this consumer. They were one of the first, if not the first league to launch a Spanish-language website and have Spanish-language networks broadcast their games! And community and grassroots programs? What about Noche Latina, Centro Latino, Es Tu Cancha, Lee Para Aprender...should I go on? Tell me you've been to an NBA game... And one last thing....while they would LOVE to claim Eva Longoria as the daughter of San Antonio...she was born and raised in Corpus.

I applaud the NBA with it's new program. Hear and see this other leagues, time to update and brush up the old outdated ones. The NBA is doing a better job than Pro Baseball. When it comes to other sports the NBA is breaking the mold going bi-lingual. just 8 years ago everyone had their head in the sand on this. To bad US motorsports has not figured this out yet either...

I have a different view, Manny. I think the NBA has connected with "bicultural, urban, Spanglish-speaking Latinos" even though I don't believe that all urban dwelling, bicultural Latinos speak Spanglish". I see there efforts as an attempt to have the brand come alive on the Latino side of the consumer's identity and lifestyle equation. Seeking greater relevance, leading to deeper relationship, more avid fans and therefore higher television ratings and player Jersey sales in Hispanic population dense DMA's. Also I don't think that the NBA gains Hispanic relevance only because of its Hispanic Players (by the way, I don't care where Carmelo Anthony was born, I don't relate to him as a Latino). I believe Hispanic males can related quicker to Micheal Jordan's "Machismo" on the court, than to Carmelo's Boriqua identity. Tony Ruiz

Tony, I generally agree with your points. My only point is that the NBA may be missing an extra opportunity by not showcasing its US-born Latino players. I'm reminded of a conversation I had a couple of years with a US-based Dominican sports writer (I can't say the newspaper because I'll blow his cover), and I mentioned to him that Charlie Villanueva was Dominican. He was so pleasantly surprised that he said he was going to call his father right away...he said his father would be very happy to know...platano pride (I also got the impression that there was an extra sense of "blatino pride"). And as I suggested before, not all LA Latino fans can afford to attend Laker games but they show their pride in non-Latino players by buying Kobe Bryant jerseys in droves (and watching Laker telecasts). It could very well be that LA Latinos are paying back given the Lakers outreach many years ago. I recall when I joined LA's La Opinion newspaper in 1996, the paper covered the Lakers pretty thoroughly. And I agree with your point about machismo, or in other words, masculinity...this definitely appeals to the Latino male, and Jordan, Kobe, Magic and Carmelo all share this...Carmelo just has the added punch of masculinity with a Latino flavor.

DEAR NBA FAN: Thank you for your comments. I share your love for the NBA....having been raised in LA, I'm a life-long Laker fan (and still have the Sports Illustrated edition with Magic on the cover when he announced he was HIV-positive...every Laker fan was in tears on that day). And who can forget the days of the Larry Bird-Magic rivalry. But I do admire and cheer for non-Laker players too, like Charlie Villanueva, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few. And speaking of Carmelo, I have learned from the NBA itself that they were indeed responsible for facilitating his participation in the Tecate Premios event I attended. Kudos to the NBA for making this possible. All the more reason why I think they should add Carmelo to its list of Hispanic players on their Spanish-language website. I must say he was one of the most gracious athletes I met at Premios. I took a photo with him, which I proudly display in my Facebook photo album. I'll give credit where credit is due, but in many ways I feel like that liberal who always gets blasted by the conservative for being a "blame America first" person. We both have institutions that we love (America, the NBA) and know they could do better. Like challenging its agency to develop more engaging creative. I was contacted directly by a well-known ad agency exec who agreed with me that the NBA's Hispanic campaign could use more of an emotional punch for Hispanics. Just like the Goodby campaign does for the English-speaking segment. That's all.

Leave a reply

Enter the characters shown in the image.