One of the reasons for the growth of the MLS is its ability to appeal to Hispanic Americans, as the league excels in reaching out to the community.
Across major leagues, the issue of how to diversify sports comes up in several areas, including fan bases. Many leagues are still trying to broaden the cultural appeal of their product, but it seems that the MLS is outpacing other United States leagues in this regard.
The league not only employs Spanish language social media channels, but frequently televises games in Spanish. Earlier this summer, ESPN reported higher ratings across the board for MLS matches with both Spanish-language broadcasts on WatchESPN and ESPN Deportes showing increases.
Soccer has a broad international appeal that outweighs other sports, but the MLS has tapped into a few trends that allow the league to grow among Hispanic Americans. It has been aggressive in reaching out to Hispanic American communities as they grow within the league’s markets, and the league’s outreach to millennials has also influenced the trend. Furthermore, the MLS is an exceptionally diverse sport when it comes to on-field talent, evidenced by a statistic from The Guardian that shows that 101 Hispanic and Latin players in the league were born outside of the Untied States.
The ability to recruit international talent is key, but perhaps more important is outreach done by individual teams, something that The Guardian noted in a recent story on the trend:
“When DC United first came to the area, we had a very good connection with the Latino community,” says Victor Melara, the team’s director of community relations. “We had prominent players who the community could identify with. Players like Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry from Bolivia, and Raúl Díaz Arce from El Salvador, really helped build a close tie with the community as some of the biggest Hispanic demographics here in the DC area are from these countries. Once those players left, the team began losing some of that connection and we kept hearing constantly that we weren’t doing enough to attract the Hispanic fan.”
DC United listened, and through the years they have made efforts to strengthen the relationship. One includes a partnership with DC Scores, a non-profit organization that offers free after-school programs and summer camps to children from low-income areas. “They are our official charity partner where we funnel all our charity and fundraising events through them,” says Melara, who grew up in a Salvadoran family in the northwest area of DC. “DC Scores serves about 2,000 youths here in the area, and from that number I would say close to 50% are Hispanic.”
Melara understands that interaction is an important way of building trust, so much of the work involves sending out players and coaches to meet local Hispanic communities. Another success has been Partido de las Estrellas, an all-star match involving old and current Hispanic players as well local celebrities. The venue is located in Columbia Heights, a part of the city with a notably large Hispanic and Latino population, and aside from the match itself, there’s music, food and other forms of entertainment celebrating the community’s value to the city.
The key takeaway in this case is that while the product matters, the ability of both the league and its teams to reach individual demographics and communities can shape fan bases. With the MLS, the multi-faceted approach gives it an edge through initiatives that drive fans to the stadium, community outreach, and media promotion. Perhaps other leagues will take note.
Photo of 2013 MLS All-Star Game by Brett Flanders via flickr.com.