What: Prospects for the growth of Hispanic involvement in the sport of golf are looking better than ever.
Why it matters: Increased accessibility to the sport in the U.S. and the work of organizations like The First Tee means more opportunities and potential business expansion.

Monterrey The First Tee participant Pedro Ortiz (r) with his father and Pres. Bush

The Ryder Cup (@rydercupis history and most of the U.S. starts preparing for the colder weather and maybe more indoor activities, so we thought it would be good to take a look at the sport of golf. Coming off a marketed increasing upswing led by Tiger Woods (@TigerWoodsresurgence and a host of rising stars, golf looks to be bouncing back. But is the ball moving along with the increasingly savvy Latino participant and consumer? Some numbers appear to say yes, which bodes well for brands like Callaway (@CallawayGolf), Nike (@Nikeand Top Flite (@TopFlite), as well as for emerging technology engagement centers and business like TopGolf (@Topgolf). We took a look.

According to the World Golf Foundation, 32 million participate in golf in the U.S. What is perhaps unexpected is that there are six times more Hispanic golfers in the U.S. than in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world –Latin America’s 200,000 and Spain’s 270,000– combined.

Why? Several elements have contributed to the diversification of golfers in the U.S. For starters, 75 percent of the facilities are open to the public, in contrast with the Southern Hemisphere and Spain, where private country clubs and exclusive courses for foreign tourists remain the norm.

With that business expansion comes more money available for partners like The First Tee to reinvest in the grassroots and rising players of the game.
Keith Dawkins

That steady increase in participation is not the only contribution of Hispanics to the record level of expenditure in golf US $84.1 billion reported in 2016. The expected and better-known fact that Hispanics make up a large portion of the approximately two million jobs in the golf industry also is a nice bonus, so affinity with the game is growing.

At the core of that growth is The First Tee (@TheFirstTee), the youth sports organization whose mission is to grow the game of golf by transforming the experience that kids (and families) have with the sport. Since its inception in 1997, The First Tee has reached more than 15 million kids, positively impacting their lives. Reaching more than five million kids annually, The First Tee offers programs in all 50 states through the National School Program in more than 10,000 elementary schools, 150 chapters at more than 1,200 golf courses and The First Tee DRIVE at 1,300 youth centers. The First Tee is expanding globally and currently offers programs at six international locations.

From 2014 to 2017, The First Tee’s Life Skills Experience (at the chapters) had an increase of 43% among Hispanic females ages 5-18. “There are 50 million kids in the U.S. under the age of 11. That’s roughly 15% of the population making them the largest cohort of kids in our nation’s history,” said Keith Dawkins, The First Tee CEO. “Over half of those kids are kids of color. That growth is driven largely by the Hispanic audience. So, having the largest and most diverse group of kids EVER provides a wonderful opportunity for The First Tee to have a profound impact on a new pool of kids and the game (and industry) overall.”

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With the current projections, each year close to one million Latinos will join the U.S. golfing ranks, both as fans and players. And consistent with the general increase of women in golf, the largest surge of Hispanic participation will be in junior females.

How can The First Tee and other organizations continue to fuel that growth? “We have a variety of programs around the country that are successful,” Dawkins added. “In East Salinas [Calif.], The First Tee of Monterey County in partnership with the school district of Alisal provides transportation for elementary school students to the chapter as part of their school day. There are similar programs in San Diego, Silicon Valley and other markets around the country.”

And central to that growth and game affinity for life are brand partners. The yin and yang of equipment sales in sports always fluctuates with what is hot and what is not in sports. Woods’ front page success certainly has more people thinking and watching golf again, and that bodes well for the brands that need the interest to expand business. With that business expansion comes more money available for partners like The First Tee to reinvest in the grassroots and rising players of the game. Then the cycle moves ahead. More investment means more affordability for inner-city youth or Latinos anywhere who want to pick up a club, and that investment leads to affordable opportunity in a game thought by many to be cost prohibitive.

“The First Tee (as a National/international) organization has always worked to provide an affordable program for its kids and their families,” Dawkins concluded. “We are able to do this because of the great support that we get from our partners.”

That support is good news for all.

Cover image: credit Keith Allison

What: MLB announced a slate of games as it returns to Mexico next year with regular-season and spring-training contests.
Why it matters: Spreading the participation across multiple markets and multiple months will give MLB it’s most consistent on the ground presence in Mexico ever.

While much is made of the NFL in London and the NBA going to China, the greatest immediate impact professional sports can have outside the United States (with the exception of Canada), still lies just south.

The NFL and NBA have earmarked Mexico as their key growth market, given the influx of population, the commonality of many sporting traditions, the success of Liga MX (@LIGABancomerMXin the mainstream here, and the ability for fans and brands to traverse the border in a multilingual exchange of activity.

So it makes sense that MLB (@MLB), with its continued eye toward expansion of the brand, plans to enhance its commitment to Mexico (@MLB_Mexico, which they did on Wednesday in announcing three series in the country as a key part of their 2019 schedule.

It helps with tourism, with local government relations and in branding, giving companies a chance to activate not just as a one-off but with multiple touch points in multiple U.S. cities.

The Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks will play a pair of Spring Training games on March 9th-10th, the Cincinnati Reds will host the St. Louis Cardinals for a two-game regular season set on April 13th-14th, and the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros will play a two-game series on May 4th-5th. All games will be played at Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey, which is the current home of the Sultanes de Monterrey (@SultanesOficialof the Mexican League.

The Spring Training games in Monterrey will be the first of the 2019 international campaign, with next seasons spanning of the globe the latest example of the continued collaboration between MLB and the MLBPA to promote baseball around the world.

The Rockies, who last appeared in Mexico for a Spring Training contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 in Hermosillo, will be making their third trip south of the border. Colorado also competed against the San Diego Padres on Opening Day in 1999 in Monterrey and again in Culiacan in 2001 during Spring Training. The Diamondbacks will return to Mexico after appearing in ten exhibition games from 1998–2015, all played in Hermosillo. Arizona played the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998 and 1999, the Angels in 2000, the Oakland Athletics in 2001, the Padres in 2002, the Kansas City Royals in 2003, the White Sox in 2008, Team Mexico in 2009 in advance of the WBC and the Rockies in 2010 and 2015. The Diamondbacks previously participated in MLB’s 2014 Opening Series in Australia against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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The Reds and Cardinals will be making their first trips to Mexico for the April regular season series. Cincinnati previously played an international three-game set in 2003 against the Montreal Expos in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Angels will head south of the border for the first time since they hosted the D-backs in Hermosillo for an exhibition game in 2000. The Angels have previously played internationally in Puerto Rico for a three-game series against the Expos in 2003.The reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros will make their third trip to Mexico and their first to the City of Monterrey. Houston previously played two exhibition series in Mexico City, one in 2004 against the Florida Marlins and a second against the Padres in 2016. The Astros also played internationally in 2000 with a two-game exhibition series in the Dominican Republic against the Boston Red Sox and in 2001 with a two-game exhibition set against the Cleveland Indians in Valencia, Venezuela.

This expansion follows the spring series this year, where from May 4-6, 2018, the Dodgers and the Padres played three games in Monterrey, drawing a total of 65,116 fans.

Spreading the participation across multiple markets and multiple months will give MLB it’s most consistent on the ground presence in Mexico ever. It helps with tourism, with local government relations and in branding, giving companies a chance to activate not just as a one off but with multiple touch points in multiple U.S. cities, all tied to programs which can be expanded with a Mexican payoff.

As MLB thinks globally, starting almost locally remains smart. Look for other leagues to follow along this road, as the value for brand and fan engagement in sport starts not that far away, with one of the world’s most engaged markets, Mexico, taking the lead.

What: The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will play three games in the “MLB Mexico Series” this weekend in Monterrey.
Why it matters: Much like the Puerto Rico Series in April, the Mexico games represent an embracing of the Latino influence on baseball and a signal to marketers that the sport is thriving across Latin America.

Fans of a certain age will remember a time, more than 35 years ago, when “Fernandomania” ruled the land. Like a comet out of Navojoa, Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the Major League Baseball (@MLB) scene in 1981, a thousand or so miles north but a million miles away in the sports world, to Los Angeles, where he promptly won a World Series, the hearts of Dodgers (@Dodgers) fans, and a place in baseball lore forever.

It was, for some, the first taste of baseball, South of the Border style. But for legions of Mexicans and others of Hispanic heritage living in Southern California, Fernandomania was the entry point to really feeling like this team, transplanted just over two decades earlier from Brooklyn, was really theirs.

Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan.

Things move slowly in the baseball world, but MLB finally came around to hosting games in Mexico some years later (1996). And this weekend, for the first time in nearly two decades (the Padres hosted the Rockies there in 1999 in the only other series there), the Padres and Dodgers will head south to Monterrey for a three-game set in what the league has dubbed the “MLB Mexico Series,” Friday through Sunday at Estadio de Beisbol. The weekend will include Fan Fest in Macroplaza, a series of youth and community initiatives, special kids ‘Play Ball’ event and Little League games, in an effort to involve everyone. And Valenzuela will throw out the first pitch in Friday’s game.

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Fernando Valenzuela (image: Wikimedia Commons/Jim Accordino)

This, like the Puerto Rico Series last month, is an opportunity to highlight the strong Latino connection to the game. Partners like Toyota, Telcel, Claro, Marriott, Purina and others are on board, with the league hoping to match the atmosphere, excitement and success they experienced in San Juan, when Puerto Rican stars José Berríos of the Twins and Francisco Lindor of the Indians stole the show, each leading his team to a win in the two-game series.

While a second series outside the contiguous U.S. states and Canada in one season may not signal the dawn of full-time baseball in either market, it’s a clear recognition by MLB that embracing its Latino player and fan bases is good for business.

It’s something Fernando and his outsized Dodger fandom could have told you more than a generation ago.

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