Pop quiz: what stadium held the second-largest crowd for a regular-season NFL game? Giants Stadium? Nope. The Los Angeles Coliseum? Wrong again. Green Bay’s Lambeau Field? Not even close.
To find the answer, you have to venture outside the United States. In 2005, 103,467 people flocked to the Cardinals-49ers game in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. That regular-season attendance record stood until the Cowboys moved into AT&T Stadium and played the Giants in 2009.
The Mexico City game was part of a league-wide effort to build a Hispanic fan base. In 2002, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue asked the league to learn more about its Latino fans. Teams know that reaching the growing population is critical to long-term success, and no franchise is doing a better job engaging its Hispanic fans than the Chicago Bears. The Monsters of the Midway have partnered with La Ley 107.9 FM to broadcast all games in Spanish and have also launched a Hispanic engagement platform known as ¡Vamos Bears! Here, Bears’ director of fan marketing and research Elaine Delos Reyes shares what it takes to connect with the team’s Latino fan base.
From our Chicago-based viewpoint, it seems that Bears fans are so obsessive, it should be easy to build a fan base. Is it?
We do have great and loyal fans, but we can never take them for granted. Yes, we’re sold out with 62,000 people in Soldier Field for 10 home games a year, but think about the national and international fans. Our job is to find authentic ways to engage as many of them as possible.
And how do you do that?
For us, it’s all about the fan pipeline. Chicagoans are born Bears fans, and our research shows they become fans of the team before age 13. We want to engage them at every stage of life through various touch points— events, content, and other unique experiences.
The Bears are leading the way when it comes to Hispanic fan outreach. Why?
We noticed a spike in Hispanic Bears fans. We saw a 50 percent increase since 2005, and we asked ourselves, “How can we best engage?” We started talking to Hispanic media contacts and organizations like the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to understand more. We do about 30 fan surveys per year, so we started doing some in Spanish to get a pulse on what Latino fans think about the Bears. We wanted to learn how best to serve them.
What did you learn?
We learned that of all the professional sports teams in Chicago, the Bears have the largest Hispanic fan base, but that we had underserved them. In response, we spent a lot of time planning, and in 2012 we launched ¡Vamos Bears!, our official platform for Hispanic engagement and outreach.
What is ¡Vamos Bears! all about?
We wanted to bring the game and the league to Chicago’s Latinos in the form of a year-round platform to engage those fans and grow the game within the Hispanic community. We have a football curriculum, offer youth clinics, participate in community events, and host fan parties. In 2014, we did about 15 events, and that number will increase next year. We also broadcast every game in Spanish on La Ley radio and partner with La Raza newspaper to provide content.
Hispanics are avid Web and smartphone users. What are you doing online?
We’re ramping up digital and social media efforts. Our media partners give us unique content on the radio and in print, but we also launched VamosBears.com with Spanish content. Some assume it’s enough to simply translate ChicagoBears.com, but we learned that bilingual users would like their Spanish content to be unique. In 2015, we’ll do much more digitally. We’re planning quarterly e-newsletters, sweepstakes, and contests. We’re also looking into a Bears vehicle that will drive around in different communities with interactive fan displays.
Do you consider all of this “Hispanic” marketing?
Not really because it’s more of an outreach platform. We have partners who want to reach Latino fans, and we can add value there. The fan marketing and research department spearheads the effort, but it’s an organization-wide initiative.
Do Latinos embrace the culture and history of the team differently?
The NFL is all about family, tradition, and food. These core values also resonate with Hispanics. People in Chicago love the Bears, period. There are some ways we can market differently, but we want to be true to the team.
Less than 2 percent of the league’s players have Hispanic roots. It must help that the Bears have players like Roberto Garza (in Chicago since 2005).
Roberto is very involved in the community. Our Hispanic fans identify with him, but we’ve noticed that our fans also feel a connection to other players as well. It doesn’t hurt to have someone like Roberto support our efforts, but our goal is to ensure ¡Vamos Bears! connects our Latino fan base with the whole team, not just one player.
What are the Bears doing in the Hispanic outreach space that other teams are missing out on?
Major league teams are actually really open with each other and call each other to share best practices. Some were surprised that we’re doing so much data capture. A lot of teams aren’t currently doing that. For us, it’s about year-round fan engagement, not just during Hispanic Heritage Month. Also, a segment of our annual brand campaign is in Spanish. As we strategize about serving our fan base better, we want to make sure that ¡Vamos Bears! is a part of the larger plan.