Latino Studies Sports and Consumerism
Jorge Iber
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0083


In 2001, Arlene Dávila’s book Latinos, Inc. (Berkeley: University of California Press) noted that in the early 21st century, Latinos/Latinas were on the radar of major corporations as potential consumers. No longer would these individuals, at least theoretically, be perceived strictly as a specialty market that purchased only the basics for familial survival or products that reminded recent immigrants of “home.” Since the 1980s a fair percentage of this population has moved into the middle (and ever upper) class, creating a substantial amount of disposable income (early-21-century estimates are as high as one trillion dollars of purchasing power) for all manner of goods and services. It is not surprising, therefore, that sporting-goods manufacturers, franchises of various sport leagues (at all levels of competition), and college teams are looking determinedly to get in on the sports “action” tied to the Latino market. Given the dramatic increase in the population’s numbers, and greater dispersal throughout the country, it is considered an absolute must to reach out to this consumer base, even in locales that might not, at first, seem to call for Latino-targeted campaigns. Not surprisingly, soccer, boxing, and baseball are three key athletic undertakings that have aggressively sought to develop this market. Still, sports that would be considered nontraditional, in terms of Latino fan-base interest (such as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing [NASCAR]), have also aggressively moved to capture a slice of the community’s sports-related dollars. One of the key issues relating to this topic is how best to reach and entice this burgeoning economic segment: Should advertisements be in Spanish or English, or both? How can costly missteps be avoided? Do Latinos like only those sports that they know from “back home,” or can they be enticed, in a consistent manner, to attend other events? These questions have been debated by marketers since the late 20th century, and the discussions have generated a substantial number of publications that can serve as a starting point for studying the topic, both from a marketing/business and a historical perspective. Although there is a fair amount of information that relates specifically to Latinos as consumers of sport, it is necessary to begin research on this line of inquiry with a sense of how Spanish speakers came to the attention of corporate America as general consumers (worthy of advertising and marketing expenditures) and of the economic and social benefits and problems associated with this trend. For this, it is imperative to consult the work of scholars such as Arlene Dávila and Marta Tienda (see General Overviews and Related Articles). In addition, researchers should peruse works that deal directly with Latinos as athletes and the role that sport has played in Spanish-speaking communities throughout American history; for example, the work of José Alamillo, Samuel O. Regalado, Arnoldo De León, and Jorge Iber (see General Overviews and Related Articles).

General Overviews and Related Articles

Researching Latinos/Latinas as consumers necessitates an understanding of (1) the development of their purchasing power, (2) how this segment is to be approached, (3) a history of attempts to reach out to this segment, and (4) an accounting of the role of sport in Latino life and early attempts to “sell” sport to Spanish speakers. For a sense of the meaning of sport to the Latino community, it is necessary to read Iber, et al. 2011, which covers a wide array of endeavors and the significance of athletes and teams in challenging stereotypes. With this framework, we then move on to how Latinos came to the attention of vendors. To recognize potential customers, marketers must appreciate the targets’ financial wherewithal and spending habits. Reimers 2006 is an accessible start. This essay tracks differences in income and education and discusses how finances change over generations and by cohabitation/marriage. In general, the passage of time has provided improvement in education and per capita income. A more negative assessment is found in Dávila 2008, which argues that increased recognition does not mean that Latinos are gaining in political clout, acceptance, or circumstances. From a purely marketing perspective, it is instructive to begin with Barnes 1992, in which the author notes the great difficulties faced by Latino athletes looking to serve as spokespersons for corporations. Jill Barnes contends that for those Latino athletes who were fluent in English and who had a certain look, opportunities increased by the early 1990s. For others, the chances to pitch were limited. By the early 21st century a new issue arose: Was it best to approach Latinos using Spanish or English? Can all Latinos be reached simultaneously, or were there significant differences between, say, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans? Rincón 2012 proves instructive as an introduction to this topic. A more extensive consideration of trends in regard to targeting this group effectively can be found in the textbook Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino (Korzenny and Korzenny 2012). An example of a collegiate team’s reaching out to the Latino population can be found in reporting on the Arkansas Razorbacks’ development of a Spanish-language network for football broadcasts, as noted in ESPN 2007. Finally, King 2011a and King 2011b serve as important primers to marketers on enticing Latinos to spend money on sporting goods and tickets. Among the key suggestions is the need to understand that the group is not monolithic. Moreover, Bill King notes that it is important to know when a particular brand resonates across languages. In the years since this article first appeared in 2014, there have been many items (mostly in the nonacademic press) that have appeared and shed further light on how Latinos (many in the field are still using the term “Hispanics”) interact as consumers of American sport, at all levels. In the academic realm, the Korzennys (along with Sindy Chapa) have updated their work from 2012 and put out a third edition of their book. One major disappointment is that this work, as valuable as it is as an overall review of the field, does not spend much time in a specific discussion of sports marketing. Yes, the authors argue, sport is important, but they do little beyond this passing glance at the subject matter. In many cases, the articles noted in this section move the conversation forward, while still others continue to discuss how many marketers still do not “get it” in regard to fine-tuning their approach to this market. An anonymous piece from 2013 (On the Ground: Targeting the Hispanic Sports Market) summarizes some of the incorrect assumptions regarding this market: “Our message has to be very targeted. There’s not one message that fits all.” This idea is further developed in Paese 2015, wherein the author focuses on Paul Gasol and whether he “qualifies” as a Latino/Hispanic (with the answer being “no”). Gasol, a Catalan, may speak Spanish, but he sees himself as a European, not a Latino. This is but one example of the considerations necessary when advertisers try to market to the Spanish-speaking/Spanish-surnamed population within the United States. Another anonymous piece, from 2015 (Tackling the Latino Market in Sport), supports this sense of complexity by visiting with Mario Flores, who heads an LA-based agency focused on this type of marketing. Here again, the professional notes that one of the biggest problems facing advertisers is the tendency to view all Latinos as soccer fans and as speakers of Spanish. Some of the works that move the conversation in a new direction provide a sense of how large and “fanatical” Latinos are in their consumption of sport (as ticket buyers, viewers, and consumers of materials for family get-togethers to watch sports). UCI PR Team 2017 notes that most fans prefer to see soccer in Spanish, but this is not necessarily so for other sports. Further, and this was a key finding, these individuals not only tended to watch televised sports longer, but they also were more likely to buy products advertised on the telecasts. Tagliani 2015 goes even further and notes that Hispanics are more likely to have purchased team-related merchandise in the previous year (75 percent) than non-Hispanics (62 percent). The author particularly cites the success of the NBA in reaching out to this audience. Yet another essay, this one on Convenience Store News (Hispanic Sports Fans Are Key Consumer for Marketers), examines how Latinos perceive NBA players as “role models,” and this contributes to their increased likelihood to purchase items of that team or athlete. Goetzl 2012 discusses how Latinos are fans not only of soccer, but also of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), and the National Football League (NFL). Thus, it is critical to take into account not only the varied backgrounds and language preference but also interest in various types of sport. Ruiz 2014, Stern 2014, King 2011a and King 2011b argue along the same lines.

  • Barnes, Jill. “And Now, a Palabra from Our Sponsor.” Vista 7.13 (1992): 16, 18–19.

    Deals with the possibilities and limitations confronting Latino athletes who are attempting to procure employment as spokespersons for a variety of US corporations.

  • Dávila, Arlene. Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

    This work seeks to examine the social and political significance of the increased interest in the Latino (or Hispanic) consumer market. Dávila continues to build on the themes first presented in her 2001 book Latinos, Inc. Of particular interest are chapters 1 (“Here Comes the Latino Middle Class,” pp. 25–45) and 3 (“The Hispanic Consumer: ‘A Lot of Dollars, Cars, Diapers and Food,’” pp. 71–96).

  • ESPN. “Arkansas Starts Spanish Radio Network for Football Games.” ESPN, 2007.

    Describes the establishment of a radio network, the first in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), to broadcast football games in Spanish. Although the stations may be different from those in 2007, the Razorbacks were broadcasting games in Spanish during the 2012 campaign.

  • Goetzl, David. “Hispanic Sports Fans Rising, Sports Advertising Up.” MediaDailyNews, 21 May 2012.

    Reviews information on the growth of the number of Latinos who watch certain sports and leagues.

  • Hispanic Sports Fans Are Key Consumer for Marketers.” Convenience Store News, 21 October 2013.

    Discusses how highly engaged Latino sports fans are, and how loyal they are to specific athletes whom they view as role models.

  • Iber, Jorge, Samuel O. Regalado, José Alamillo, and Arnoldo De León. Latinos in U.S. Sport: A History of Isolation, Cultural Identity, and Acceptance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011.

    Of particular importance here are segments on how the Dodgers reached out to Spanish speakers upon their arrival in Los Angeles, as well as a summary of attempts by various entities (such as Major League Soccer [MLS] and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing [NASCAR]) to attract Latino consumers.

  • King, Bill. “Tips for Reaching Hispanics.” Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 18 July 2011a: 20.

    This article serves as a primer on the complexity of reaching out to the Latino sporting-goods and ticket-buying public.

  • King, Bill. “The Story behind the Numbers.” Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 18 July 2011b: 1.

    This articles fleshes out the demographics relating to King 2011a.

  • Korzenny, Felipe, and Betty Ann Korzenny. Hispanic Marketing: Connecting with the New Latino Consumer. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2012.

    Explores the complexities involved in targeting this particular market segment in an informed and appreciative way. Third edition, with coauthor Chapa (Hispanic Marketing: The Power of the New Latino Consumer), published in 2017.

  • On the Ground: Targeting the Hispanic Sports Market.” Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 29 May 2013.

    Discusses the need to target sports-related advertising to specific ethnic groups. Not all Latinos can be appealed to in the same way.

  • Paese, Gabrielle. “Is Paul Gasol Hispanic or Latino? Neither.” ESPN, 25 March 2015.

    A cautionary tale about how it is necessary to take certain factors into account when discussing/marketing to Latinos (or non-Latinos who happen to speak Spanish).

  • Reimers, Cordelia. “Economic Well-Being.” In Hispanics and the Future of America. Edited by Marta Tienda and Faith Mitchell, 291–362. Washington, DC: National Academies, 2006.

    This essay not only tracks the differences in income and educational levels among the various Latino subgroups but also presents a discussion on how each segment’s income level is affected by various factors.

  • Rincón, Edward T. “Univision in English? Finally It Gets in Step with the Hispanic Market: Trends Show That Spanish Is Not the Best Way to Reach Most U.S. Latinos.” Advertising Age, 8 June 2012.

    The author asserts that it is time for marketers to reconsider the extensive use of Spanish as the principal way to reach Latino consumers, given that the majority of this population is native born and that it uses mostly English-language media.

  • Ruiz, Roberto. “Fanaticos are the ‘More’ Consumer.” Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 13 October 2014: 42.

    Discusses how even English-dominant Hispanics are still attracted to watching certain sports (soccer) in Spanish.

  • Stern, Adam. “In the Trenches of Hispanic Marketing.” Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 16 June 2014.

    Examines the work being done by experts in Hispanic marketing to promote sports (and other products) in an appropriate and culturally sensitive manner.

  • Tackling the Latino Market in Sport.” Sports Marketing & PR Roundup, 11 January 2015.

    Discusses some of the incorrect assumptions that many advertisers still adhere to in regard to marketing products via sports to a Latino/Latina customer base.

  • Tagliani, Hernan. “Hispanics and Sports: How to Make a Big Business Play.” Orlando Business Journal, 3 April 2015.

    Notes that Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanics to purchase team gear.

  • UCI PR Team. “New Nielsen Research Commissioned by Univision, ‘Los Fanáticos: The Passion and Power of the Hispanic Sports Fan’.” Univision, 20 June 2017.

    Argues that Hispanics are more likely to consume sports (via watching, purchasing items, and hosting game-watch parties) than non-Latinos.

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