An interview with Victor Villalba, of the Dallas Cowboys
The timing was perfect this week for a conversation about NFL Hispanic marketing. With the NFL kicking off full festivities for Hispanic Heritage Month including community events, Hispanic Heritage Leadership awards, and even mariachis performing outside of stadiums, the relevance of Hispanics to the NFL was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to catch up with Victor Villalba, Manager of Spanish Language Broadcasting for the Dallas Cowboys. I approached Villalba, as it was obvious of his qualifications to discuss the team’s marketing and community outreach efforts towards Latinos having worked for the NFL team over 10 years, during two stints.
Villalba most recently returned to the Cowboys in 2002 to work with the Spanish radio broadcast. Soon after, Villalba was given the opportunity to do the Spanish language play by play which he does for every game, including this past Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins.
I wanted to know what we all could learn from the most well known NFL team about marketing to Hispanics, community integration and the importance of knowing your customers. I have laid out my findings in the subsequent categories. Please review and add your comments and questions to the end, and also consider reading a similar article about the NBA’s Hispanic Marketing efforts.
How does the NFL lend itself to the Hispanic community?
In a recent article in the Phoenix Business Journal, Villalba was quoted as having said that, “The NFL product lends itself to popularity among Hispanics in the U.S. because most games are on Sunday, which meshes with traditional Latino family get-togethers and social gatherings.”
When asked to expand on this topic, Villalba added that, “Hispanic fans are very passionate about sports; we can see this passion in other sports they play as well such as soccer and boxing. NFL Sunday brings together the Hispanic experience to American football.”
The Cowboys understand this well, and they embrace Hispanic fans of all levels of American acculturation and Spanish language skills.
“We want to translate that passion that Hispanics, as a colorful group, like to embrace all other cultures regardless if they speak Spanish or not,” notes Villalba.
Interestingly, Villalba noted that his broadcasts are done in proper Spanish, castellano. “This means, we don’t use Spanglish terms during the play by play, such as Touchdown. I say Anotación,” adds Villalba.
The role of Hispanic Marketing with the Dallas Cowboys
When asked about the Dallas Cowboys marketing plan toward US Hispanics over the past few years, Villalba had much to say.
“Hispanic marketing with the Dallas Cowboys goes back to the ‘70’s when president Tex Schramm decided that it would be a good idea to broadcast games in Spanish,” comments Villalba, confirming the Cowboys reputation as having one of the longest running Spanish language broadcast histories of any professional American sports team.
Over the years, the Cowboys Spanish language broadcast has grown to the current position where regular season games are broadcast in 20 markets to reach Hispanic Cowboys fans living outside of Dallas, including those in certain parts of Mexico.
Additionally, the Cowboys can be found on Spanish TV. “There was a decision during the Jerry Jones era (current Cowboys owner), which began in 1989, in which to bolster radio with TV,” comments Villalba about the various TV Spanish programming which can be viewed for the Cowboys. Cowboy’s preseason games currently can be found in 15 markets regionally.
Villalba says that Mexico is also a very important part of their strategy. He concluded by saying that what is most important, is that the Cowboys give their fans an option to view and listen in English or Spanish.
Hispanic Heritage Month with the Dallas Cowboys
This past Monday night football game against the Redskins kicked off NFL Hispanic Heritage Month. We discussed further what activities the Cowboys do during the month which runs from September 15 to October 15.
It seems that for the Monday night victory against archrival Washington, the community relations department was indeed busy. “They had mariachis, bailes folkloricos (folk dances), Los Lonely Boys, and Grupo Intocable whom are huge around here. In addition we had former Cowboys Marco Rivera and Tony Casillas for the coin toss. Even standing room was packed, it was a full house!”
Villalba went on to discuss the Rookie Club, which is a program run by the Cowboys in which rookies on the team perform outreach in the community. The rookies make appearances at community events, hospitals and other locations throughout the season. “Rookies get a chance to learn about the importance of the community,” comments Villalba. “During Hispanic Heritage month there is a focus on interacting with the Hispanic community.”
The Cowboys support other Hispanic community programs during Hispanic Heritage month as well. One of which is the Adelante program in which the Cowboys team up with Miller Lite for the good of the community. “The Adelante program is geared towards guiding students to continue on to college, and pursue higher learning,” mentions Villalba.
Through the program, Miller Lite donates 25 cents from each case of Miller Lite purchased at participating retailers to the organization. Former Cowboy and two-time Super Bowl champion Tony Casillas serves as a motivational speaker making appearances statewide to inspire parents to make wise choices for their children. All of these actions contribute to the Adelante program, which is dedicated to developing the next generation of Latino leaders.
Spanish Website or Social Media in the Future for America’s Team?
Not unlike most other NFL teams, the Cowboys do not have Spanish language social media forums or a website to cater to Latinos preferring Spanish.
Villalba explained that this is simply a function of not having the specific need for such forums so far. “For us to create these channels there would have to be clear cut demand from our fans as well as support from our internal and external partners. At this point, there is not the business need for these channels,” summarized Villalba.
The NFL itself does have a Spanish language website which is run in partnership with Univision Interactive Media. It will be interesting to see if in the near future the Cowboys do determine there is a valid business reason to establish Spanish language digital forums.
I think that the Cowboys could definitely expand their engagement with their Hispanic fan base through social media activities, as by their extensive broadcasting area we know there are fans that prefer Spanish. Also, Hispanics are on Social Media: we know of the extensive use of Facebook by US Hispanics as well as that there are over 8.1 million US Hispanics on Twitter. Social media marketing to these fans could allow the Cowboys to bring an even more enthusiastic Latino fan to their stadium as they would be connected on an additional level. The Cowboys are no stranger to social media either as the Cowboys own English Facebook page has over 3.6 million fans to date.
Fan Favorites among Hispanics?
There have been many great Hispanic players that have come through Cowboys home stadiums in the past 50 years, including Tony Romo, Marco Rivera and Tony Casillas. I asked Villalba if there are fan favorites among Hispanic fans and the answer was not unexpected.
“Hispanic fans gravitate to excellence,” commented Villalba. “When the Steelers were on top in the 70’s they were very popular among Latinos as they were very good. When you win, you’re going to get fans, including Hispanics.”
Hispanic Fans different from non-Hispanic Cowboy fans?
The most interesting part of our conversation I found was our discussion of differences between Hispanic Cowboys fans, in comparison with the general market fan. Villalba stated that besides cheering in different languages, Cowboys fans are fairly like-minded.
“Being a fan of the NFL or the Cowboys is a very universal thing,” began Villalba. “If you found a fan in Portugal wearing a Cowboys hat, and arranged to have an interview in Portuguese, you’d find he has the same memories, complaints, and thoughts about the Cowboys as the rest of our fans.”
Another interesting point that Villalba mentioned is that when the Cowboys look at their Hispanic fans it is very hard to tell by appearance alone, their level of acculturation. Basically, it seems that acculturated Hispanics in Dallas have similar cheering habits as those season ticket-holders that drive up from Mexico every week for the game.
“Especially when you’re talking about division rivals playing each other. It’s exciting! It doesn’t matter your language (or acculturation level), everyone is on the same page.”
What are your thoughts on the efforts the Dallas Cowboys have taken in the area of Hispanic marketing and community interaction? Are there other teams doing interesting outreach with the Hispanic community as well? Share with us examples and any questions in the comment section below.
Bio of Victor Villalba
Victor Villalba is now serving his second stint in Spanish language broadcast production with the Dallas Cowboys. He was lured back to Texas in 2002 as the club explored ways to bring production and affiliate relations in-house as part of the growing Broadcasting Department for English language properties.
By 2003 Villalba’s role was expanded to executive producer of television and radio properties for the team, affiliate relations with stations in the US and Mexico, as well as an active participant of strategies to reach the growing appetite for Spanish language properties tied to the Dallas Cowboys Football Club.
In 2005 Villalba added Spanish language play-by-play and Hispanic marketing consulting for the Dallas Mavericks, and having been part of the first trip to the NBA Finals in 2006, was part of the 2010-2011 Mavericks team that won it all. Adding to his broadcast activities, Time Warner Cable in association with Fox Sports Southwest broadcasted a select number of Texas Rangers games in 2010, and for 2011, there are another number of games to call, along with color-commentator and former major-leaguer Jose Guzman.
A resident of Coppell, Texas since 2003, the Villalba’s include wife Olga, and daughters Katia Michelle and Kristina Marie.
Personal interview with Victor Villalba on 9/26/2011.