ARUN RATH, HOST:
The Los Angeles Lakers have played just nine games so far, but it's already their worst start ever. They're just 1-8. There is one thing, though, the Lakers are doing right, and that's winning Latino fans. The media research company Nielsen says 12 percent of the NBA's overall fan base is Hispanic. But according to the website FiveThirtyEight, the Lakers have almost double that. NPR's Becky Sullivan has the story.
BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Before tipoff at the Staples Center, the Lakers' home-court in downtown Los Angeles, the lights are bright and the music is loud.
(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME ANNOUNCEMENT)
SULLIVAN: More than half of the 30 NBA teams broadcast at least some of their games in Spanish, but they're radio only. Only the Lakers have a dedicated TV broadcast crew and channel all about the Lakers, all in Spanish. And it is the real deal.
ADRIAN GARCIA MARQUEZ: Pre-game, talk to the producer and then we're up for pre-game Lakers...
SULLIVAN: This is Adrian Garcia Marquez, la voz de los Lakers. We're standing courtside near the basket, next to a full-blown camera and lights set-up. This is the third season where Garcia Marquez and color commentator Francisco Pinto have gotten to call almost every Lakers' game. A few minutes later, the teams are on the court, ready for tipoff, and Garcia Marquez goes on.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SULLIVAN: In 2011, the Lakers signed a deal with Time Warner Cable, the first of its kind. It set up two TV channels for Lakers' games instead of just one. Along with the English-language SportsNet, there'd also be the Spanish-language Time Warner Cable Deportes. They immediately hired Adrian Garcia Marques. He grew up in San Diego, the American-born kid of Mexican immigrants.
ADRIAN GARCIA MARQUEZ: My dad was kind of strict with habla espanol, you know, speak Spanish. But we were allowed to say Padres and Chargers, even though Padres is technically a word in español, padres, right? But, you know, Padres, Chargers, sports stuff, we could speak in English.
SULLIVAN: The result is a Spanish-language broadcast that is clearly bicultural. Garcia Marquez uses words like jumpercito - a little jump shot, four, five feet from the basket - or this call from the game recap on Deportes.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
SULLIVAN: Kobe Bryant from threepotitlan (ph). That's a play on the phrase three-point land and Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital where Mexico City is today.
Heidi Pellerano is a Hispanic marketing expert and she says this bicultural sound is totally on purpose. She says a lot of companies make a mistake when they say let's reach out to Hispanics. There's no nuance. But basketball's efforts are more targeted.
HEIDI PELLERANO: The NBA really did a lot of homework and research, and honed in that their sweet spot was going to be the more bicultural and acculturated Hispanic consumer.
SULLIVAN: One famous example of this bicultural marketing are those jerseys that say El Heat or Los Lakers. Some Latino fans take offense at this. They say do you really think we wouldn't understand El Calor as The Heat or Los Lagadores are The Lakers?
NELSON GUEVARA: A lot of companies go straight to the stereotype.
SULLIVAN: Nelson Guevara is a 23-year-old Lakers' fan.
GUEVARA: And they didn't do that. They just took the language, which is how we say 'Los Lakers' anyways, and they ran with that.
SULLIVAN: Nelson's lived in L.A. County his whole life. He's the kid of immigrants, too - these ones from El Salvador - and he grew up speaking Spanish at home and English in school. So in other words, he's exactly who the NBA is after. And he can tell.
It feels a little weird, he says, but he's benefiting from it, too. His family used to have to listen to the games on the Spanish radio or just watch the English broadcast on mute. But now they can watch the games together in Spanish on Deportes. On the other hand, Nelson says, it wasn't the marketing that hooked his parents on Laker basketball. It was all the winning the team was doing when his folks immigrated back in the '70s. But now that the Lakers are so bad, he says...
GUEVARA: I guess, it's going to be interesting to see how many fans become Clipper fans now.
SULLIVAN: That's the Los Angeles Clippers. And maybe Nelson is on to something. For the first time in years, more people are going to see the Clippers at home games and away than the 16-time champs - the Lakers. Becky Sullivan, NPR News.
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