NFL’s Latin Music Playbook Includes J Balvin, Grupo Firme and Mixtapes
It was the Kickoff Concert for the 2022 NFL season, that most American of pastimes. But the songs pulsating from the stage last September were in Spanish, not English, courtesy of J Balvin, the first Latin headliner for the league’s yearly free concert for fans preceding the first regular season game of the year.
Thus kicked off not just the start of this year’s professional football games, but also a new stage of the league’s Latin programming strategy, which seeks to use music to pull in and appeal to a growing Latin fanbase. Building off 2019’s all-Latin Super Bowl Halftime Show with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez — the most-watched Halftime Show ever on YouTube — new initiatives will infuse Latin music into NFL advertising and the entire NFL season. That includes a new Por La Cultura mixtape featuring Yandel, Snow Tha Product, will.i.am, Anthony Ramos, El Alfa and Trueno, among others, with music that will be used in other NFL programming, as well as recruiting superstar band Grupo Firme to perform at the halftime show for its annual Mexico City game on Nov. 21 featuring the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL’s play to grow its Latin audience — much like other brands’ — is based on demographics data. Latin music’s influence is booming, with music in Spanish making up 6.25% of the total U.S. market from January to July (up from 5.32% at this point last year), according to Luminate’s midyear report. Meanwhile, U.S. Latinos or Hispanics comprised 18.9% of the U.S. population per the 2020 Census, making it the second largest racial group as well as the youngest and fastest growing — up 23% since 2010, compared to 4.3% growth for the rest of the population.
“When I was hired by the NFL, the edict was very clear: We needed to ensure this league is relevant to our fans today, five years from today and 10 years from today,” says Marissa Solís, senior vp of global brand and consumer marketing for the NFL, who came to the league last year after nearly two decades in PepsiCo and Frito Lay. “As I think about the future and making sure this league is relevant today and tomorrow, the first thing I think about is Latinos.”
The NFL has 31 million Latin fans, tying Major League Baseball for the most Latino fans of any sport, Solís says. They’re also young: 53% are under 35 years old, and their numbers are growing twice as fast as those of any other demographic. “Which is interesting because everyone says soccer, soccer, soccer, but no,” says Solís. “And by the way, they tend to be the most avid fans: They’re very loyal, they get behind the teams, they purchase merchandise.”
Have doubts? Check out a Los Angeles Chargers game, says cornerback Michael Davis. “It’s always kind of been the norm to see a large Latino presence at our games,” he says. “Plus the Chargers, in particular, are known for having one of the loudest, most die-hard Latino fanbases in the NFL. If you look up in the stands, you’ll find fans in Charger-ized ponchos, sombreros and lucha libre masks having a blast. Makes me smile every time.”
The NFL’s 31 million Latin fans make up between 17% and 18% of the NFL’s fanbase, a good number that’s comparable to the overall U.S. Census demographics. But league executives think there’s room for growth — and that music can be a driver.
Javier Farfán, cultural strategist for the NLF, was brought into the league in 2019, charged with expanding the Latino fanbase. “The first thing we did in 2019 and 2020,” he says, “was do research and we dived deep into the consumer and realized there were a few passion points that engaged the fan base and music was at the top of it.” says Farfán.
Music in and of itself is obviously not new as a strategy for the NFL — witness the Halftime show — and overall, the focus on music has increased across all genres in recent years, says Seth Dudowsky, head of music for the NFL. But, he adds, “Over the last year or two, Latin music undeniably became a force across pop music.”
The first major indicator, of course, was the 2019 Super Bowl all-Latin show, which to date, remains the most-consumed Super Bowl halftime show on YouTube, according to Dudowsky. The Shakira-JLo co-headliner almost doubles the next closest show with over 250 million views to date, fueled by global viewers beyond the U.S. in Central and South America, too.
Beyond the international appeal, music allows the NFL to reach a core Latin fandom.
Balvin’s performance at the Kickoff game in September, for example, marked the first time a Latin act headlined that series. “Bringing him really helped us target and market Hispanic fans in Southern California,” says Dudowsky, “but [we also knew] his style of music resonates with the overall fan base.”
The NFL has other programs that focus on lesser-known names, as well. A series of commercial spots launched this year featured emerging acts DJ Adoni and Chimbala and “have been extremely well received,” says Farfán, who was previously in Pepsi, Verizon and marketing firm J Wolf Advisors.
The notion of featuring both emerging and A-list artists dovetails into the idea of having “the sounds of Latin music throughout the season,” says Farfán, part of a recently launched campaign called Por La Cultura (For The Culture), that cuts across all programs. Games around the country have included DJ Livia in California, Piso 21 in Miami and Carmen de León in Texas. And the Por La Cultura mixtape, out later this month on Neon 16, features 10 tracks that largely will be featured NFL content, such as Yandel, will.i.am and El Alfa’s “Rómpele” that’s currently being used in an NFL spot that features Anthony Ramos and is running on Spanish and mainstream media. A second TV and digital spot for the Por La Cultura campaign launched Sunday featuring Anthony Ramos’ “Latino Activo.”
“The idea around the mixtape specifically is to incorporate music across everything we do, in ads and in stadium,” says Farfán.
Solís says this is just the start for NFL’s love affair with Latin music — with more plans already in the works for 2023. “We doubled down in 2022, and Latin music is going to be a core part of our 2023 plan,” she says. “You should expect a volume two of that album. You should expect a continued partnership with Latino artists in main events.”
“And at this point, Latin music and Latin culture are undeniably part of the fabric of America and have a right to be on that stage as well as any other genre,” adds Dudowsky. “It’s not just marketing to one fanbase, but representing American culture and what’s relevant for all our fans.”