A Network Popular With Hispanics Reaches Out to Them


April 2, 2012

IT’S been redone nearly 400 times over the last 17 years, but one thing has stayed the same about ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” advertisement: It’s always been in English.

The New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in an ESPN ad.

That will change on Wednesday when ESPN introduces the first Spanish television ad for the network’s signature news program.

The ad follows the Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano as he makes his way around ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters giving high-fives and elaborate handshakes to staff members while unknowingly spreading a cold.

Pegged to Major League Baseball’s opening day, the ad, known as “Handshakes,” is the first time the network will show a Spanish ad on both ESPN Deportes, its Spanish-language sports channel, and its English-language sister channel ESPN2. A slightly modified English version will be broadcast during ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” program.

The Hispanic audience for ESPN has increased by 15 percent over the last five years, outpacing non-Hispanic audience growth.

Each quarter 29 million Hispanics connect with ESPN either through the cable channels, Web sites or apps, according to the network. Some 60 percent of those viewers will watch only ESPN’s English-language channels, while 20 percent watch only ESPN Deportes.

“Amplifying our efforts to reach Hispanic sports fans is one of our priorities for the year,” said Carol Kruse, senior vice president of marketing for ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company. “We want to make sure we’re reaching out across our networks.”

The “Esto es SportsCenter” ad, created by the New York office of Wieden & Kennedy, comes as EPSN Deportes faces increased competition in delivering sports programming to the growing Hispanic audience.

On Saturday, Univision Communications, parent company of the most-watched Spanish language network, will introduce Univision Deportes. The soccer-driven sports channel will make programming available in and outside the home via Dish Network.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal also is ramping up sports on its Spanish-language network Telemundo. Comcast paid roughly $600 million for the Spanish-language rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to viewers in the United States; that’s nearly twice what Univision paid to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments.

On Wednesday Telemundo will introduce an Olympics promotion with the tagline “Vivimos Juntos el Sueño Olímpico” (“Together We Live the Olympic Dream”) alerting viewers to the channel’s coverage of the London Games this summer.

The increasingly crowded marketplace for Spanish-language sports corresponds with the changing makeup of the United States population. More than half of the total population growth in the United States from 2000 to 2010 was a result of the increase in the Hispanic population, according to the 2010 Census. In 2010, according to the census, there were 50.5 million Hispanics living in the United States, up from 35.3 million a decade ago.

Advertisers spent $4.3 billion to reach Hispanics in 2010, up 14 percent from 2009, according to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.

ESPN introduced ESPN Deportes in 2004 after noticing that a growing number of Spanish speakers were watching boxing, Major League baseball and National Football League games on ESPN. Ever since, the network has tried to make the distinction between English and Spanish language programming more fluid.

That means more anchors and analysts who are bilingual, and ads like the “This is SportsCenter” spot that will be broadcast in English and Spanish.

The preponderance of Caribbean and Latin American baseball players like Mr. Cano, who is Dominican, also prompted ESPN to operate on a more bilingual basis, said Lino Garcia, ESPN Deportes’ general manager.

He recalled a broadcast when the Dominican-American outfielder Manny Ramirez transitioned to Spanish during an interview. “He got a lot of laughs,” Mr. Garcia said. “If we didn’t have someone behind the camera who understood, we would’ve had to have had a silent pause.”

Begun in 1995 as a deadpan take on the mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap,” ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” ad portrays popular athletes in uniform participating in everyday events at the network’s headquarters.

Over the years stars like Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Andre Agassi, LeBron James and Michael Phelps have appeared in the commercials. The situations and athletes have changed but the conceit — that the headquarters is “a fantasy world where athletes and mascots lived and worked together with anchors and journalists” — hasn’t.

In “Esto es SportsCenter,” Mr. Cano in his Yankees pinstripes meanders around the office greeting workers with his signature handshake. The “SportsCenter” host Tony Cherchi explains that colds spread very easily in the ESPN office.

“First one person, then two, then 10. We really don’t know how it passes,” Mr. Cherchi says over video of Mr. Cano’s trip through the office.

Rather than dubbing or adding Spanish subtitles, Ms. Kruse, the marketing executive, said it was important to make an entirely new commercial targeted at Hispanics. “If you take a spot that isn’t culturally relevant and just translated it, it wouldn’t work,” she said.


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