Attend a Miami Heat game at the American Airlines Arena, and you’ll quickly forget you’re in the US. Fans dress more for a party than a sporting event, and time-outs are filled with the sounds of the Miami Cuban rhythm section. At the last two minutes of every quarter, the announcer screams “Twoooooooo minutes to go, and the crowd responds dutifully “Dooooos minutos!!!!!!”. You’re in Miami, but it feels like you’re in Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, or Brazil. And that’s exactly what the Heat franchise and the NBA as a whole wants.
“It would be silly to have “Latin nights” or something like that. It’s Latino night every night, because that’s who our community is. It’s organic to the Heat brand. It’s who are fans are, they come from Miami-Dade,” says Steve Weber, Executive Vice President of Sales for the Miami Heat since 1997.
Over ten years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers began to reach out to their community with a yearly festival called Fiesta Lakers to celebrate the Latino community. A city wide party/event that began in 2001 when former Laker Mark Madsen addressed a predominately Latino crowd in Spanish, following the Lakers' 2001 Championship Parade.
Most recently the NBA has made even more concerted efforts to embrace their Latino fans. Inventing events like Noche Latina in 2008. Essentially a “Latin” night, put on by the NBA in cities with the highest numbers of Latino fans—Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York. Teams from these cities wear special jerseys to commemorate the night in which the team names are translated into Spanish, offering specific cultural music and food--A big step for this predominately white run league.
On Oct 30th the Heat arena unveiled a nightclub and supper-club under the existing arena called Hyde American Airlines. An exclusive space, able to accommodate an average of 250 people for a pre-game dinner, and transforming into an after-game nightclub--the club has already booked Pit Bull for their post game New Year’s Eve bash.
It would be silly to have “Latin nights” or something like that. It’s Latino night every night, because that’s who our community is.
- Steve Weber, Executive Vice President of Sales for the Miami Heat
The Heat didn’t always have as much buzz with their fan base as they do today. According to Warren Shaw, who’s based in Miami and works as the NBA Contributor to Dime Magazine, “It’s only been the last couple of years and since the acquisition of Lebron James that Heat fans come to the games in record numbers. Miami sports fans aren’t like other cities, Boston or New York for example, Miami fans won’t come unless the teams are winning. The Heat’s 2011 NBA Championship win, absolutely does a lot for ticket sales,” Shaw says.
The NBA’s cultural makeup seems is starting to also reflect the makeup of the US. As the population of Latinos rises, so have the numbers of Latino players. In addition to more well known names like San Antonio Spurs player from Argentina, Manu Ginobili, Lakers player from Spain, Pao Gasol, and his brother Marc, who plays for the Grizzlies, there’s also the hugely anticipated Spanish player Ricky Rubio, now playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Also, Brazilians Nene of the Denver Nuggets and Leandro Barbosa of the Toronto Raptors are representing their country as well.
Sports like baseball and of course soccer have always been an easy sell to the Latino community, but the NBA--not so much. “David Stern was really responsible for the globalization of the NBA brand. It’s only been the last twenty years the NBA was seen live—before that it was seen via tape delay. Today the game has a much more international presence; that included Europe, Asia, and all through South America—people have begun to follow basketball and feel apart of the game. Making an impact worldwide. Something the NFL for example, has yet to do,” says Lang Whitaker Editor-at-Large to Slam Magazine and NBA TV.
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.