A home run for Hispanics: DC’s Nationals need a Spanish
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A home run for Hispanics: DC’s Nationals need a Spanish

Aug 12, 2023

As Major League Baseball and ballclubs across America begin to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth noting that baseball is huge in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean. This year’s World Baseball Classic underscored the passion these fans bring to the game.

So, then, why don’t the Washington Nationals broadcast their games in Spanish?

There are 30 Major League Baseball teams, and 22 of them have at least some of their games broadcast in Spanish, an important way to market their teams in the growing Hispanic communities around the country. In fact, of the eight teams that don’t broadcast in Spanish, according to the Nielson Ratings, the Nats have the largest number of Hispanic television homes. This is a tremendous untapped fan-base for the Nats.

As of Opening Day, 30 percent of the players on MLB rosters are Latino. These include many of the game’s biggest rising stars, such as Ronald Acuna, (Venezuela), Yordan Alvarez (Cuba) and Julio Urias (Mexico), to name a few. Twelve of the players on the Nats’ current 40-man roster are from four countries in Latin America: Víctor Robles, Jose Ferrer, Joan Adon and Jeremy De La Rosa hail from the Dominican Republic; Keibert Ruiz, Israel Pineda and Ildemaro Vargas from Venezuela; Jeter Downs is from Colombia; and Joey Meneses and Víctor Arano are from Mexico. Luis Garcia was born in New York to parents from the Dominican Republic and Nats manager Dave Martinez was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents.

The Latin American roots in D.C. baseball run deep. The Washington Senators were trailblazers in the 1930s, with a roster that included nine Cuban players.

In the late 1990s, Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, arranged for the Cuban National Team to play a game in the U.S. and for the Orioles to play a game in Cuba.

Since the Nats arrived in D.C. in 2005, the team has been loaded with Latin American ballplayers. There were no fewer than 12 Latin-American-born players on the 2019 World Champion Nationals’ roster, led by Juan Soto (Dominican Republic), Anibal Sanchez (Venezuela), Victor Robles (Dominican Republic), “Baby Shark” Gerardo Parra (Venezuela), Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela) and Yan Gomes (Brazil).

And the Nats’ highly regarded training academy in the Dominican Republic guarantees a pipeline of talented Latino players to the big-league club for years to come.

Given the Angelos family history, it is ironic that their Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts the Nats and Orioles games, is without Spanish-language broadcasts for both teams.

Like all other major league teams, the Nats will hold an annual Hispanic Heritage Day at the ballpark this year, on Sept. 21. This symbolic gesture is welcome, but is no substitute for making Nats’ games more accessible to the region’s Spanish-speaking population.

Attendance at Nats’ games has been on the decline. According to BaseballReference.com, the team averaged about 30,000 fans per game between 2013 and 2018, but that’s dropped precipitously in recent years to 25,017 in 2022 and 21,892 thus far in 2023. Even during the 2019 championship season, attendance was down (27,899) compared to previous years.

Is there any doubt that broadcasting Nats’ games in Spanish would increase interest in the team within the Hispanic community and help drive new fans to the ballpark?

The Los Angeles Dodgers recognized this in 1958 when they moved to California. That year, the Dodgers created MLB’s first Spanish-language broadcast. The Dodgers have cultivated the relationship ever since. Jaime Jarrín, the Spanish-language voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers between 1959 and 2022, was as beloved a public figure as his English-language counterpart, Vin Scully. Today, the Dodgers report that “43 percent of their fan base this season was made up of Latinos. Twenty-eight percent speak English only, and 19 percent speak Spanish only.” Granted, the Los Angeles media market has a larger Latino population than D.C., but shouldn’t the Nats be cultivating the relationship to scale?

Major League Baseball has been trying to figure out how to attract more young fans for years. According to AdWeek, the average age of viewers of MLB games increased from 52 years old to 57 years old over the past decade. Only 7 percent of viewers are under age 18. According to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, 62.5 million Latinos in the U.S., are currently making up 19 percent of the population. They estimate that by 2060, there will be 111.2 million Latinos in the U.S., comprising 28 percent of the population.

The median age among Hispanic Americans is 29.8, and 31 percent are under 18. This is a younger, growing potential audience. AdWeek estimates Latino buying power at $2 trillion. Twenty-two MLB teams understand that. It’s time for the Nats to get on board and build their fan base, starting with a Spanish-language broadcast.

Steve Rosenthal is a consultant to labor unions and progressive organizations. He lives in Maryland and writes an occasional blog called Nats Notes on FaceBook. Daniel Chavez is a longtime California Latino organizer and a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. Albert Morales is a seasoned political operative living in the D.C. area with a deep affinity for the game of baseball.

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