Baseball's New Pitch

The National Pastime Finally Reaches Out To Its International Fan Base

In 1994, Richard Kraft, then New York Yankee vice president of community relations, made headlines after New York magazine quoted him referring to the kids playing in Macombs Dam Park next to Yankee Stadium as "monkeys" and "colored boys." The ensuing controversy caused him to resign and highlighted the Bombers' lack of effort in reaching out to their Bronx neighbors. Five years later, the Yankees are looking to open a new chapter in relations with the

neighborhood that surrounds their home. According to vice president of new business development Joseph M. Perello, the club is hoping to hire a marketing executive this spring to lead its first targeted outreach effort into New York City's Latino community.

"We are looking for someone with experience in both baseball and in the Hispanic community," says Perello. "We want to show we're serious about this. As an organization, we are involved in the Hispanic community, but I think we could and should be doing more."

Local hero: Mexican-born Vinny Castilla proves a big draw at baseball's 1999 opener in Monterrey, Mexico.
AP/Wide World
Local hero: Mexican-born Vinny Castilla proves a big draw at baseball's 1999 opener in Monterrey, Mexico.

With the move, the Yankees will join a handful of major league teams making efforts to increase their profile among minority groups in the cities where they play. For all its diversity on the field— according to Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, 42 percent of big leaguers are people of color, and according to Major League Baseball (MLB), 21.2 percent are foreign-born— the game's audience remains largely lily white.

"In the past, baseball has always been seen as America's game, meaning the United States of America, not the Americas," says José Massó, senior associate director and chief operating officer at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society. "Some call it tradition, others call it racism. In many cities, the game is still marketed to the public the same way it was in the 1940s and '50s, when it was the only game in town. It's not anymore, and baseball is slowly beginning to acknowledge the [minority] market."

In cities such as San Diego, Miami, St. Louis, and Los Angeles, major league clubs have initiated groundbreaking marketing efforts designed to broaden baseball's appeal among people of color, including Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans. Most of these programs include broadcasting all or most of the team's games on Spanish-language TV and/or radio (13 clubs currently do so, Masso says— including the Mets and Yankees) as well as developing advertising campaigns directed at certain demographic groupings. In St. Louis, for instance, the Cardinals have responded to a lack of African American attendance at Busch Stadium by placing billboards throughout the city featuring the team's current and former African American stars such as Ray Lankford, Willie McGee, and Ozzie Smith. According to Ted Savage, the team's director of target marketing, the campaign is supported by an increase in team community involvement.

"We get our players out into the community, speaking to school kids, working with charities," notes Savage, a former player who retired in 1972. "When I played here, I remember seeing a lot of African Americans in the stands and playing ball in parks all over the city. I don't see that anymore. We want to get back to that."

The Florida Marlins, meanwhile, have been active in the city's Cuban community since the team began play in 1993. Using the tagline "Nuestros Marlines"— "Our Marlins"— the team has routinely run ads in local Spanish-language publications as well as on Spanish radio and TV stations, and several team publications, including its Web site, are printed in both Spanish and English. Recently, the organization opened a Marlins en Miami store in the city's Little Havana. There, the team hosts "chats" with Marlins players and coaches and sells tickets and merchandise as well as Cuban coffee. According to John Pierce, the team's director of marketing, the strategy has worked: an estimated 35 to 40 percent of the fans attending Marlins games are of Latino origin.

"Our Hispanic fan base is very important to us," notes Pierce. "We have Spanish-speaking ushers working the stadium to cater to these fans. Latino baseball fans are some of the most passionate fans in the world. We want them to take an ownership in the team and feel welcome at the ballpark. The organization realized from the beginning that it couldn't survive in Miami without appealing to the Hispanic community here."

In San Diego, the Padres took a similar all-encompassing approach after owners Larry Lucchino and John Moores purchased the team in 1994. During the 1995 season, the club hired Enrique Morones, then director of the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and put him in charge of a newly created Hispanic marketing department.

To help Mexican fans overcome the low peso-to-dollar exchange rate and border-crossing delays, the team set up a program called Domingos Padres Tecate, which translates into "Cool Sundays With Tecate"; Tecate is a Mexican brand of beer and the program's sponsor. Under the program, fans that purchase tickets at the team's store in Tijuana receive bus transportation to and from the game every Sunday for the equivalent of $11. The Padres have also played several of their regular-season games in Monterrey, Mexico, including their home opener this year, and the Mexican flag flies at all home games at Qualcomm Stadium. According to Morones, the team's Latino fan base has grown since these programs were instituted, from 5 percent of home fans in 1994 to 23 percent in 1998. (At the same time, average attendance at Qualcomm has increased, from around 1 million fans per season prior to 1994 to more than 2.5 million the last two years.)

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