National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. So it is fitting that La Vida Baseball—a media company dedicated to producing for and delivering to a U.S. Latino audience—closed its $10 million round in late September. The money raised will be used to expand the business into La Vida Sports, a three-pronged holding company that includes La Vida Baseball; a consulting practice for teams, leagues, brands and media companies looking to engage the demo through content; and a La Vida Sports content studio that produces programming at the intersection of sports, lifestyle and culture. TeamWorks Media (La Vida Baseball’s parent) founder and CEO Jay Sharman explained his company is working to help tap a demographic that has traditionally been underserved by mainstream media, at a time when the data finally supports the ambition to do so.
JWS’ Take: La Vida Baseball was born out of a TeamWorks Media client project with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. Sharman said the museum “saw the obvious signs that the growth of baseball [would come] from the U.S. Latino fan base [and] didn’t feel prepared.” It entered into a joint venture with the digital media company to create La Vida Baseball. Encouraged by its success over the first two years, TeamWorks Media acquired full ownership from the Hall at the end of 2019.
The push to amplify Latino culture and connect with the audience via sport is not new to La Vida Baseball. “Quite candidly, it is what we’ve been doing,” Sharman explained. “Now [with La Vida Sports], we are just formalizing [the offerings]—packaging [the services] and putting [them] out there.” The company could have continued to bootstrap their efforts. But by raising capital, the hope is it can hire the personnel needed to expedite their vision.
The motivation to expand the business now is supported by data. The 2020 Census indicated 19% of the current U.S. population is Hispanic (62.3 million people). As La Vida Baseball managing director Jesse Menendez said, the market “is no longer multi-cultural. This is gen-market.”
It is fair to be skeptical that teams, leagues, media companies and brands that have historically undervalued and underserved this demographic will suddenly invest because of the latest census results. As Sharman said: “Those that have been in this market for a long time call it the census bump. Every 10 years, these conversations happen. There is an initial bump in interest, and then things seem to wane.”
But the numbers seem too staggering to ignore this time around, Sharman said. “The highest growth population in every state, and the district of Columbia, was the Latino audience. It is the fastest-growing and it is the youngest [demographic]. [The demo] represents $1.7 trillion in buying power. But, depending on who you source, accounts for less than 3% of advertising dollars. There is a huge opportunity for brands who understand this to positively impact their businesses” from a revenue perspective.
Historically speaking, a check-the-box mentality has largely existed as it relates to the community. Teams, leagues, media companies and brands have believed if they are translating content into Spanish, they are appealing to the demographic. But, as Menendez explained, “if you’re not doing the work to authentically engage this audience, you are missing the chance to establish a deeper, richer connection. It’s only when that connection is established that you can effectively inspire them to take action.”
There is evidence to support the notion that if a company or brand authentically invests in the Latino community, there are positive returns to be had. “Our largest client is Nestlé USA,” said Ingrid Otero-Smart (president, Casanova//McCann). “They have made a significant commitment to marketing to Latinos, and their bottom line has been positively impacted by this. More than a dozen of their brands advertise to our segment and for some brands, Hispanic consumption is what is driving their growth today.” Brands like Chevy and Coke have also gained market share on the back of their community campaigns.
Media companies are starting to take the opportunity in the space more seriously, too. Marquee Sports Network recently invested in original U.S. Latino-focused studio content (with La Vida Baseball) for their social channels and in a primetime Latino Heritage Month Cubs special for the cable channel. Director of programming Allison Bertucci said the RSN exists “to cover the Chicago Cubs story, and the story can’t be told without the tremendous contributions of the Latino community, and the passionate fan base that comes to Wrigley Field every game.” NBC Sports Chicago also just announced it would air Being Guillen (a La Vida Baseball original) throughout the 2021 postseason and into 2022.
But the problem many companies are encountering is a matter of resources. Because “this is the first time they are being forced to pay attention to this [audience], they are realizing they don’t have the people on staff to [execute],” Menendez said. “The inbound calls we were getting were less about, ‘Can we sponsor La Vida Baseball?’ And more about, ‘Can you help us better connect with the Latino audience through sports?’” Sharman explained. The Atlanta Braves, Topps and the Smithsonian Museum are among the companies that contracted La Vida Baseball as a consultant and collaborator. The company helped the Braves create more culturally relevant sponsorship packages; it developed shows targeted to the Latino card collector for Topps; and worked with the Smithsonian on its traveling exhibit projects.
La Vida Baseball raised the $10 million at a $32 million valuation from a collective of private investors. The company is not yet profitable on a year-over-year basis. But Sharman suggested investors saw value in the vision of La Vida Sports and the significant marketplace interest coming from media companies, teams, leagues and brands that want to engage with the U.S. Latino audience. Having the largest non-MLB-owned Latino baseball content library in the world (20,000 hours); relationships and distribution deals with varying media companies in place (see: NBC Sports, Turner Sports, FOX Deportes and Minute Media, MLB and MiLB); and dozens of original content franchises and media properties didn’t hurt. “Almost every Latino Major League Baseball player knows and respects the brand,” Sharman said. The company has developed an influencer network of more than 50 current Major Leaguers, several Hall of Famers and some of the biggest influencers in the sport and in Latino culture.