Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez

(At left, Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11). (AP Photo/John Minchillo))

A basketball team works to expand its Latino fans

BROOKLYN, NY – It’s only the second year for the Brooklyn Nets, but the team has certainly wasted no time capturing headlines. During the offseason the team made the tandem blockbuster moves of acquiring veteran Celtics players Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and promoting future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to his first ever coaching gig.

But outside of those plotlines and behind the scenes, the Nets are in the midst of a unique and more grassroots approach to bringing in a Latino audience. It’s a blueprint the team is proud of and one that could provide strategic insight to other franchises who recognize that Hispanics wield significant influence in the wide world of sports.

In 2012 the Nets promoted Elisa Padilla, a veteran of HBO Sports and AT&T, to vice president of marketing. With the Nets relocation to Brooklyn, the team embraced the diversity of the borough and began their marketing drive to reflect the changing demographics of their location. Padilla summarizes the philosophy of the team as “we think locally but we act globally.”

For the Nets this meant starting with the traditional advertising avenues – the local market Hispanic newspapers and radio stations – even entering into an agreement to provide a Spanish-language broadcast of the games.  The Nets have also appeared on floats in the Puerto Rican and Dominican Republican parades. “It’s important [for a] culture where everybody goes to celebrate their heritage” says Padilla.

Another outreach tool has been the creation of unique content on their website and social media platforms, which falls under the banner “Hola Brooklyn.” According to Padilla,  “one of the things that is truly important to us is how do we develop Spanish-language content.” With 82 games on the schedule and a fierce rivalry brewing with the cross borough Knicks, there’s no shortage of content the Nets can produce. Padilla elaborates, explaining it can’t simply just be a translation from English. “[Our goal is] how do we engage our broadcasters to do a preview and a recap of our games in Spanish?”

One asset for the Nets, Padilla acknowledges, is the player they drafted in 2008: Brook Lopez. The center is Cuban-American but does not speak Spanish. Lopez and his twin brother Robin (currently playing in Portland for the Trailblazers) are a part of a handful of players in the NBA who are U.S.-raised Hispanics.  These players include Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks) and Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks). Lopez provides the opportunity for Padilla and her team to tap into the bicultural audience, which tends to be younger and may speak Spanish at home but consumes content in English.

Padilla believes the NBA is on the right track in working to recruit a Hispanic audience. Noche Latina has become a popular spring celebration for many teams with throwback jerseys that are increasingly prominent throughout the season. Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies and Jose Calderon of the Dallas Mavericks regularly post on social media in both Spanish and English. The two players, along with Marc’s brother Pau of the L.A. Lakers propelled the Spanish Olympics Team to the silver medal in 2012.

Padilla also sees a bright future given the research indicating how much Latinos love basketball. But regardless of the sport, many teams and leagues are increasingly making an effort to reach a Hispanic audience. NASCAR launched an aggressive multi-year campaign to sell their brand to Hispanics and have seen their Latino audience increase 33 percent for the Sprint Series since last year. The current issue of Golf Digest has a lengthy story about the role Latinos play in the sport, both for the professional players and the Hispanics who belong to golf courses around the world.

For the Nets, some of their strategies stem from communicating with other teams. Padilla cites Phoenix and Miami as two organizations that have done great things for their Hispanic outreach.

“The greatest thing about the NBA is that I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have 29 other consultants,” says Padilla.

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