Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 22 News List

NFL going all out to win over Hispanics

FOOTBALL OR `FUTBOL'? Next Sunday's Super Bowl is being played in Miami-Dade County, whose population is largely Hispanic, a group the NFL is trying to attract

AP , MIAMI

For 14-year-old Emanuel Arrosa, life is about playing or watching futbol. Like millions of Hispanics whose passion is soccer, the son of Argentine parents can't remember a time when he couldn't dribble a ball with his feet.

About American football, Arrosa is less enthusiastic. "It's OK, but it doesn't take the same agility. You just hit people."

Yet if the NFL can work its Super Bowl magic next Sunday, Arrosa might join the growing legion of Hispanic fans who love the choreographed violence of football as much as the fancy footwork of soccer. The NFL has stepped up efforts to market the sport to the children of Latin American immigrants, and as the Super Bowl approaches, the league is going all out in its bid to win over the Hispanic community.

In the days running up to the Chicago Bears-Indianapolis Colts matchup at Dolphin Stadium, NFL players will take on Hispanic celebrities and TV personalities in a touch football game. Telemundo, one of the US' largest Spanish-language broadcasters, will telecast a pre-game concert on Friday from Miami featuring Puerto Rican reggaeton singer Don Omar and New York City-based Dominican boy band Aventura.

Even Coors Light, the game's official beer sponsor, is promoting the game with the bilingual tagline, "One game. One Dream," or "Un juego. Un sueno."

In part the push represents a nod to the demographics of Super Bowl host Miami-Dade County, where more than 50 percent of residents are Hispanic, many of them first-generation immigrants. But it's also part of the league's recognition that to remain the country's dominant sports league, it's got to keep up with its changing demographics -- Hispanics are the US' fastest growing minority group.

"I saw a little bit of outreach beginning in Houston a few years ago, but this is definitely the most I've seen, especially in terms of the city, and it's more on the NFL's radar as part of their long-term initiative," said Michael Kelly, president of the Super Bowl's South Florida Host Committee.

In the last year, the league also revamped its Spanish-language Web site, NFLatino.com, with a basic guide to football and profiles of the league's 23 Hispanic players, and it signed a contract with Telemundo to air more NFL ads on its radio stations across the US.

Despite the push, the NFL maintains that drawing Hispanic fans hasn't been hard.

"Football is the most American of sports, and people who come to this country, that's something they want to be a part of," said Beth Coleton, the NFL's director of community ventures.

Alfonso Cueto, 30, who works in sales for ESPN Latin America, agrees. The son of Cuban immigrants, he grew up playing basketball but was always a football fan, in part because of how big the sport is in Miami, where the Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes dominate the sports landscape.

"It's a football town here," Cueto said. "I loved the action, the excitement, the hits, the big plays. I was a Hurricane fan when they won the five championships."

But with the increasing influx of new immigrants, and David Beckham about to make Los Angeles his home, it's no surprise the NFL is going the extra yard to win over fans.

The question is how best to reach them.

Cueto said it's important for the league to recognize the distinctions between Hispanic groups in the US. Second-generation Americans like himself might want to read about other Hispanics in the league but prefer to do so in English.

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