Sep 14, 2021 - Sports

Minor League Baseball grows con sabor

 A group of hates from Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión.

Lowriders de Fresno, the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio and the Mariachis de Nuevo México are among the teams in Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

A Minor League Baseball campaign targeting U.S. Latinos has amassed widespread community acclaim and engagement as overall baseball fan participation dwindles.

The big picture: The Copa de la Diversión, an initiative that gives 76 teams sabor with Latino-themed logos and names on certain nights, is finishing its fifth season, even after 43 minor league teams lost their MLB affiliation in 2020 after restructuring.

Why it matters: Baseball has amassed widespread popularity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with Latinos currently making up more than 30% of Major League Baseball's talent — a number that has increased in recent years.

  • Before the Copa de la Diversión initiative, the MiLB had struggled to drive Latino fans to attend games. The league began searching for ways to celebrate the influence of Latinos both in the sport and within their respective communities, ultimately resulting in the creation of Copa.

Details: The MiLB unveiled alternate identities for four teams in 2017, temporarily changing the names of teams — like the Albuquerque Isotopes to the Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico — to better reflect the area's Latinos.

  • Since its inception, the program has increased the fan-to-attendee ratio by nearly 2%, amounting to more than a million tickets sold to U.S. Latinos alone, the league said.
  • In the years before the pandemic, Copa-designated games drew a 20% larger crowd than non-Copa games.

How it works: Participating Major League Baseball clubs begin by collaborating with the area's local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other civic leaders to create a name, logo and a program unique to that market.

  • Teams then select certain games when they change their names for special promotions.
  • The Charleston RiverDogs of South Carolina turn into the Perros Santos de Charleston for a few games.
  • The Down East Wood Ducks in North Carolina become the Avocados Luchadores de Down East.
  • The Fresno Grizzlies in California transform into the Lowriders de Fresno and the San Antonio Missions change into the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio.
Two girls stand in fron the Mariachis de Nuevo México logo in Albuquerque, N.M.
Two girls stand in fron the Mariachis de Nuevo México logo in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo: Russell Contreras

What they're saying: "We realized that Hispanic Heritage night, like singular, clearly wasn't resonating. It was just checking a box and not what its intent was supposed to be," Kurt Hunzeker, Major League Baseball's vice president of Minor League business operations, told Axios.

  • Hunzeker, who was involved in the creation of the program, said the league wanted a season-long celebration.
  • "The best way to celebrate these really passionate fans who love baseball is to adopt a culturally relevant moniker that is representative of the local community."

The intrigue: In addition to temporarily alternating the names of participating teams, the initiative also reinvests a portion of the money earned into the surrounding communities, like Latino student scholarships.

  • The initiative has contributed more than $4 million in donations over the last five years, according to Hunzeker.
A jersey of the Chupacabras de Round Rock (Round Rock Express) on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
The Chupacabras de Round Rock (Round Rock Express) jersey is displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios.

The future: Copa de la Diversión has been renewed into 2022, with the number of participating clubs slated to increase.

  • The MiLB is set to make an announcement later this week about the program, though Hunzeker says he hopes the program lasts in "perpetuity."

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