Pedro Vela Almaguer is growing accustomed to the following interaction with members of his growing fan base.
“Hey, are you the Spanish-language guy?” they’ll ask Almaguer, now in his third season as the Spanish-language play-by-play radio announcer for Texas A&M football games.
“Yeah,” he’ll respond.
“Can I get a picture and a signature?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“They say the same thing every time,” Almaguer chuckled. “They say, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying into the microphone, but it’s amazing.'"
Almaguer and color commentator Noel Orellana make up one of two broadcast teams -- the other is at LSU -- that call SEC football games in Spanish. And he’s right: The people who love to hear his signature call -- “Touchdowwwwwwn Aggies. Texas A&M!” -- frequently don’t speak Spanish.
“It’s amazing because I never expected the reception from the people,” said Almaguer, who also serves as sideline reporter for Houston Texans Spanish-language broadcasts. “We have a lot of fans, a lot of people that speak the English language. They love the Spanish broadcast.”
Texas A&M believes it has the nation’s largest Spanish-language college football radio network, with its calls airing in six markets: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, McAllen-Brownsville and Bryan-College Station.
While school officials don’t know exactly how many people are listening, they know that the number seems to be growing. They added two stations to the network this year.
“All we have to go off of is anecdotal, and that’s telling us that we’re receiving feedback from listeners; they are appreciative and impressed with the quality of the broadcast,” said Jason Cook, Texas A&M’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs. “And I think at the end of the day, we haven’t had any stations drop us since we started the broadcast two years ago, and it’s grown by two stations, so I think the results are there.”
Carrying the games in Spanish makes perfect sense in Texas, a state where those of Hispanic and Latino origin make up 38.8 percent of the population, according to a 2015 census, more than twice the national average of 17.6.
“We wanted to make sure that we were serving this growing audience and not missing out on millions of potential fans of Texas A&M football,” Cook said.
But is an interest in football there among these potential fans? If you think not, LSU play-by-play man Mario Jerez says you’re incorrect.
“That’s easy to dispel just because of the magnitude of LSU football,” said Jerez, an LSU student who is now in his fifth season calling Tigers games. “If it was anywhere else, maybe they wouldn’t be as into the game, but it’s not just the game they’re interested in.
“A lot of Latin American people, like my parents, kind of use LSU games as a way to ingrain themselves into the culture since LSU football is such a hot topic. And it’s an awesome sport. Yeah, they don’t know much about it at first, but once they see football being played and just the magnitude of this program, they start to get into it.”
Jerez’s call airs in Baton Rouge and in New Orleans, and station estimates set the audience size for each game at approximately 40,000 listeners. Many of those fans are LSU loyalists who are listening online.
“The majority of our listeners are alumni that live in Latin America or have some type of ties to LSU even if they didn’t come here,” Jerez said.
As Almaguer mentioned, some his fans enjoy his calls because of the novelty. The enthusiasm that explodes from the announcers’ mouths reminds listeners of soccer announcers’ signature calls. Some memorable calls include when Almaguer described the gol de campo bloqueado (blocked field goal) for a touchdown against Auburn in 2014, or when Jerez called Tre'Davious White's punt-return touchdown from El Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) this season.
“Every time LSU scores, I do an elongated 'touchdown.' It’s very similar to announcers calling the game in soccer when they say, ‘Gooooaaaallll’ and drag it out,” Jerez said. “I drag out the first syllable in touchdown. I go, ‘Touuuccchhhh’ and then ‘down,’ and then I put an emphasis on dragging out the L-S-U, just so people know.”
Cook said when the Aggies first started their Spanish-language broadcasts two years ago, most schools had difficulty accommodating another A&M broadcast team when they went on the road, “but now the other schools really roll out the red carpet and have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Although population demographics make A&M an obvious starting point for Spanish-language broadcasts to take root in the SEC, Cook believes the number of such broadcasts will grow as the American population changes.
“If you look around the SEC, there’s a large Spanish-speaking population in the Atlanta area, and then also in Florida, a huge population there,” Cook said. “I think that the SEC schools are very progressive, very innovative in the broadcast area, and it would not surprise me to see more and more Spanish broadcasts as we try to reach new audiences with SEC football.”