Baseball's New Pitch

The National Pastime Finally Reaches Out To Its International Fan Base

"The Latin community is the fastest growing segment on the field and the fastest growing market off the field," says Morones, who was promoted to vice president of Hispanic and international marketing prior to the start of the season. "It's an untapped gold mine." But as his title indicates, Morones is also looking to approach other ethnic minorities in the San Diego area. He has formed both African American and Native American advisory groups to improve the Padres' relationships with those communities.

Just up the freeway in Los Angeles, the Dodgers (the first team to broadcast its games in Spanish) have also taken a multicultural approach, printing their schedules in five languages— English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese — and hosting "family nights" for people of these and other ethnic groups. As baseball's most diverse franchise (according to MLB, the Dodgers lead the majors with 11 foreign-born players), L.A. has placed billboards in each of the city's ethnic neighborhoods, targeted to the local population. A sign in the city's Koreatown, for example, features Korean-born pitcher Chan Ho Park and a Korean tagline.

"We are trying to focus on communities where English is not the primary language and break through any barriers that exist because of language," notes Barry Stockhamer, the Dodgers' vice president of marketing. "We want to make them feel welcome about coming to Dodger stadium. On the special family nights, we give them an opportunity to show off their culture, hold events like native dance demonstrations outside the ballpark, but ultimately they want to blend in and enjoy the game and enjoy an American tradition."

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.

Back in New York, the Mets initiated a similar program in 1997, holding special "nights" for their Italian, Hispanic, Irish, Jewish, Asian, and African American fans that included aspects of each group's culture. The program— which is seen as patronizing at best by many in the targeted communities— enters its third year this season, and will be augmented by a special "Meringue Night," scheduled for a game against the Cubs and Dominican star Sammy Sosa later in the year. Despite the mixed feelings about the team's attempts at outreach, the club puts a big- picture philosophy into its efforts. "We're not looking at what we do as minority marketing," says Mark Bingham, the Mets' senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting. "We are looking at the people who make up New Yorkers. If you want to market to New Yorkers, you have to market to all groups."

Reaching out to— and bringing in— different demographic groups is not necessarily a smooth process, however. In Boston, when Northeastern University sociology professor and baseball author Alan Klein took a close look at the "Pedromania" phenomenon— the throng of Dominican American fans who came out to watch the Red Sox when newly signed Cy Young Award­winner Pedro Martinez pitched— he found a less-than-integrated experience. "The coverage was primarily hype about Martinez and Dominicans. There was this self-congratulatory tone to all of it," says Klein. "I thought, 'That's really horseshit.' As anyone who has been to Fenway Park knows, you can count the people of color there on two hands."

To get a sense of the real impact of Pedromania, Klein surveyed Dominican and Caucasian fans over the course of last season. Of the Dominicans surveyed, only 8 percent said they had attended a Red Sox game prior to Martinez's arrival. And while 95 percent of the Caucasian fans approved of the Martinez signing, 48 percent did not approve of the new influx of Dominican fans that resulted, complaining that they "waved flags" and were "too noisy."

Unfortunately, the Boston experience seems to be the rule rather than the exception in major league baseball— despite the seemingly sincere efforts of a few clubs. Even as teams play in largely empty stadiums, owners and executives have largely been hesitant to reach out to people of color. Masso believes, however, that this will change as more minorities are hired into key positions within baseball.

The Padres' Morones agrees, adding, "Baseball has been too much of an old boys' network for too long. But regardless of the level of ignorance, the one color everyone is attracted to is green. Marketing to minorities and getting them to come out to the ballpark makes good financial sense. Baseball needs to wake up to that fact."

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