Los Lakers know their Hispanic fan base

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most popular teams in the NBA, especially for the sizable Hispanic population of the city.

Julio Manteiga, associate director of media monitoring and Latin America communications for the NBA, provided ESPN information stating Hispanic fan attendance for Lakers games was 42 percent. In the 2015 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population of Los Angeles County was measured at 48.4 percent.

"We don't do a whole lot of advertising," explained John Black, the team's spokesman and vice president.

Instead, the Lakers have benefited from taking the initiative to make their games accessible to a Latino audience, starting with broadcasting games in Spanish.

"We've been doing that for 22 years now," Black said. "We were the first [NBA] team to do that."

The team has continued to be a pioneer in Spanish-language broadcasting, working with their broadcast partners (now Spectrum) to develop a channel where Spanish-speaking fans could get the latest news about the team.

"Starting in 2012, we worked with them to create a dedicated Spanish-language station," Black explained. "This is a completely separate production. It's now Spectrum Deportes. We were the first professional team to do that. The results have been very productive. All of our games are broadcast on radio and TV in Spanish."

The Buss family, which has owned the Lakers since 1979, was a key supporter of the move.

"Ownership was on board and involved with that," Black said.

"We feel very fortunate. We're blessed to have the greatest fans in the world. We want to appeal to all the communities in Los Angeles. The Hispanic community is obviously more important due to sheer numbers." John Black, Lakers Vice President of Public Relations

Digitally, the team has also blazed a trail in Hispanic outreach.

"Initially, it was driven by our Spanish-language radio broadcasters, Pepe Mantilla and Fernando Gonzalez, doing extra standup videos postgame to discuss the game and current topics for the team, with limited written content," stated Nick Kioski, director of new media and technology for the Lakers, via email.

There is one Lakers employee who works exclusively on Spanish site content, explained Kioski.

"The Lakers are entering our third season of having a dedicated Spanish-language content producer who covers the team natively in Spanish and also translates other content, producing Spanish-language articles and videos, and we augment that with graphics as well in Spanish. The NBA hasn't ever provided Spanish-language content that runs on our site; those resources have always come from the team."

The Spanish-language content can be found directly on lakers.com.

Television and internet resources aside, sometimes the greatest ambassadors bringing the game to Hispanics are the Lakers players themselves.

"Kobe Bryant was fluent in Spanish, and that was popular," Black explained. "In his press conferences, he would take questions in Spanish and Italian."

According to the NBA's Manteiga, for the past two seasons Bryant's jersey has been the best-selling one for the Lakers.

Even now, the Lakers have players who can communicate directly to Spanish-speaking fans: Jose Calderon and Marcelo Huertas are from Spain and Brazil, respectively.

"We utilize their ability to speak Spanish," Black said.

There are some specific outreach elements where the team does coordinate with the league, including the Los Lakers jerseys.

"It's part of the NBA program," Black stated. "We do a game every year where we wear those jerseys."

It's a marketing move that apparently resonates well with fans. Mantiega explained that for the past two seasons, the "Los Lakers" jerseys have been the second-best-selling jerseys on NBAStore.com, only behind those of the San Antonio Spurs.

NBA league administration also coordinates if and when the Lakers play abroad, Black explained.

"They tend to do it based on teams having players from those countries. The last time they sent us overseas was to China, because Kobe is the most popular NBA player in China. They sent us to Barcelona when Pau [Gasol] was on our team. If the league sends us next year, that would most likely be dictated by who we have on our roster."

Black also noted that many bilingual Hispanic fans enjoy broadcasts in English, with some explaining they grew up listening to one particular legendary Lakers broadcaster.

"People said they learned English by listening to Chick Hearn," Black said.

The long history the Lakers have cultivated with their fans has created a strong connection, Black maintained.

"We feel very fortunate. We're blessed to have the greatest fans in the world. We want to appeal to all the communities in Los Angeles. The Hispanic community is obviously more important due to sheer numbers."

Now that Bryant has retired, Black anticipates that all Lakers fans will rally around new coach Luke Walton and the younger generation of Lakers players.

"It's the youth," said Black, of the appeal of the current edition of the Lakers, who currently hold a .500 record at 7-7. "It's the freshness. People are excited with the infusion of the new, young players and sort of the unknown. That’s exciting to people."

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