- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

PORTLAND, Ore. — The bait is a universal love of soccer and, for U.S. companies, the stakes are enormous.

The quadrennial World Cup tournament begins on June 9 in Germany, and businesses in this country see the event as a chance to make inroads in the Hispanic market in the United States.

Adidas and Nike Inc. sell $1.5 billion a year in soccer shoes, apparel and related items, and competition for Hispanic soccer fans in America is keen, even though soccer continues to lag far behind baseball, football and basketball in the affections of most American sports fans.

“We consider that we have two national teams: Mexico and the United States,” said Nike spokesman Nate Tobecksen. Nike, which has contracts with both teams, sells more jerseys in this country for the Mexican team than for the American squad.

Nike pre-cup activities have included a 70-foot-high replica of a Mexican team jersey in Los Angeles, with fans invited to sign it and wish the team luck. Members of Mexico’s national team are made available to meet with American fans.

Nike has partnered with Google for a 14-language initiative, “Jogo Bonito” — “Play Beautiful” in Portuguese — a campaign that highlights defending champion Brazil and Eric Cantona, Manchester United’s “player of the century” in 2000.

Tens of millions of fans have logged on; online Jogo tournaments began in February.

Many advertisers chasing the Hispanic market in the United States are saving their best shots for the games themselves.

On the Spanish-language television network Univision, which will broadcast the entire World Cup, a player inside a glass of Miller Lite kicks a soccer ball that arcs gracefully among the bubbles. A Home Depot ad reminds viewers that “Your house is your playing field” and advises getting it fixed up for a summer of soccer.

The window is brief, the stakes are huge, the target is fast moving, and those who follow it say, in effect, that people who want to reach today’s Hispanic market had better not try it in an outmoded way.

There are roughly 42 million Hispanics in the United States. Advertisers spent $3.3 billion going after $800 billion worth of Hispanic spending power last year, and the World Cup concentrates that market. Advertising Age predicts Hispanic online spending in the United States will grow by 32 percent this year, compared with 25 percent for the larger population.

Exploiting this increasingly diverse segment of the population is not easy. Hispanics mirror an expanding and sophisticated demographic, a mix of farm owners, farmworkers, doctors, businessmen, construction workers, educators, lawyers, labor leaders who vote Democratic, evangelicals who vote Republican and a large bloc that doesn’t vote.

David Carter, president of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, says that while soccer is a common bond, it doesn’t bundle up a monolithic market. Advertisers need to know that.

“There is a sports demographic,” Mr. Carter said. “But if you look at the faces, you understand the reach soccer has, and [you] had better appreciate the nuances.”

Six teams from Latin America — Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Mexico — and Spain have World Cup slots, leaving most Hispanic countries on the outside. But that doesn’t matter, according to Juan Guillermo, who tracks Hispanic trends for Wizard of Ads in Houston.

“It’s a primal thing. It’s cultural. And if you are bilingual or Spanish-dominant, you will want to hear the games in Spanish. It’s in the Latin blood that runs through our veins. The guys at [U.S. TV networks] do a heck of a job, but they lack the emotion, they don’t talk at 100 mph and describe every move.”

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