Identity is how one defines themselves, and can include characteristics related to gender, personality, religious beliefs, and an attachment to cultural traditions and its history. From September 15 – October 15 those of Latin/Hispanic origins celebrate and are celebrated in the US with National Hispanic Heritage Month, and increasingly in some places Latinx Heritage Month, a time to highlight the influence and contributions of Latinx people to the world.
The San Francisco 49ers recently started their own Latinx Heritage Month programming, and they are focused on not only the football product on Sundays, but reaching out and highlighting the Latinx fans and community. We had the opportunity to speak to the Chief Marketing Officer for the San Francisco 49ers Alex Chang, who is in charge of all areas of marketing for the team, and were able to dive into the different aspects of the teams’ approach to their programming related to Latinx Heritage Month, which includes how they’re celebrating and helping educate others and why specifically they went with the term ‘Latinx’.
The ‘Porque’ y ‘Como’
Although the 49ers do focus on Latinx communities throughout the year, they have a dedicated year-round Spanish news section on their website and provide color commentary for their games in Spanish, Chang says the focus on a whole month of celebrating the uniqueness of the Latinx community was important to get right.
“I think for us at the 49ers specifically, we’re really lucky to have such a diverse fan base. We have one of the most diverse fan bases in the NFL, and people who identify as Latinx or Hispanic are a big part of that. And so for us, being able to celebrate the month, bring awareness to it, help provide content that’s in a 49ers lens, but relevant to the Latinx community is pretty cool.”
Across the league, and throughout sports in general the push for equalizing celebrations of different communities and cultures in America has been amplified with the racial reckoning and self-reflection of the past year, stemming from the Black Lives Matter protests which spurred people to speak about race and prejudices, and which ultimately led to more than just African-Americans voices gaining a spotlight.
“I think now [it] is probably getting more attention because frankly, I think over the past year our country has opened their eyes up to understand the importance of valuing diversity and inclusion. And so hopefully people are starting to recognize it more.”
So, to build an equitable celebration of history and culture for Latinx Heritage Month, Chang worked within the 49ers organization and its Latinx members to create the best programming and events to highlight the history, traditions, and most importantly, the fans and local community.
Last year, the 49ers created an employee resource group called L.E.A.D., which stands for Latinx Empowerment, Advancement, and Development. The main purpose for L.E.A.D. was to create a space for those who identify as Latinx and their allies to congregate and have conversations, share advice and help with community initiatives together, like developing the ongoing Latinx Heritage Month celebrations.
“When it came to this initiative for this month, they had a huge voice in the room in terms of helping shape our strategy as well as our execution for it. And several members from L.E.A.D. also actually created content for us and created pieces for us. We have people in our group, who are really skilled as designers, as writers, photographers, as music curators, etc. and so all that expertise that they have actually went and played a big role in bringing our campaign to life for this month.”
Hispanic or Latinx? Or Both?
Chang says the organization did a lot of research and talked internally with their L.E.A.D. employee group to land on using the term Latinx, which is a gender-neutral term to denote Latin American heritage, but differs from the term Hispanic in one significant way: that term includes people from Spain AND Latin American Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx focuses on all the Latin American countries, even those that do not speak Spanish.
“You’re seeing a shift now where you’re seeing some mix of Latinx Heritage Month or Hispanic Heritage Month. And I’ve looked a lot into it myself, and we’ve talked to a lot of people about it. I know there is definitely kind of a case to be made on both sides of what it should be called and what’s the most inclusive and ultimately there isn’t a perfect answer, is kind of the conclusion I came to,” adds Chang.
According to Chang, getting down to the business of choosing which term to go with really did take some time, but in the end, it was a decision that came from outreach across the league and talking it out with their own Latinx employees who were the connection to the local community.
“It was really then taking the advice of our team internally to say, ‘what makes you most comfortable.’ But also, let’s acknowledge the fact that both terms have merit and both terms apply. It isn’t one in exclusion of the other.”
Football & Celebrations
The main focal point of the 49ers Latinx Heritage Month was the home opening game on Sunday, September 26th against the Green Bay Packers on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Things such as on-field graphics and stadium wall banners proclaiming “¡Siempre 49ers!”, video board graphics, in-game entertainment, and social media content highlighted the rollout of the celebrations.
A pre-game award ceremony included one of the 49ers’ employees from L.E.A.D. presenting Daniel Soto, a local student athlete, with the 49ers Latinx Youth Award. This award was given to Daniel after being recommended by his teammates and coaches for his leadership within the 49ers PREP Flag Football program.
Alongside the NFL and its teams, the theme of the month is “Por La Cultura” (For the Culture), and for Chang, this effort serves to build on the work they’ve done over the years to help highlight Latinx communities.
“We’ve already put regular [Spanish] content out for years now, but a lot of it is kind of amplifying that content as well as adding new content to it. So this is things like profiles of our players who may have Latinx Hispanic background. This is talking to fans from the community as well. Some is educational and talking a little bit about our community and kind of what the fan base from that community means to us as a team.”
Also included in this celebration is a new color analyst for the Spanish radio broadcasts of the games, Carlos Yustin, who joins play-by-play announcer Jesus Zarate. All 49ers games are broadcast in Spanish through Telemundo 48.
A Spotify music playlist which includes local Latinx artists is also out for people to dive into a taste of Latinx music.
Education materials were also created to help readers understand the historical context of Latinx Heritage Month, from why the dates for Latinx Heritage Month came to be and the difference between Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo and the September 16th Mexican Independence Day. This content is available at 49ers.com.
“If you’re going to recognize something and celebrate it, you should at least know kind of the reasons why you’re doing that,” says Chang.
Last year the 49ers launched a new slogan, “Faithful to the Bay”, which Chang says encompasses pursuits like the Latinx Heritage Month activation as well as all the other ethnic and group celebrations they do throughout the year.
“Things like this are all part of that living up to that idea of being faithful to the Bay. Being faithful to the Bay is yes, of course, putting out an amazing product on Sundays. Make sure we do well on the field, but also means supporting the community in other ways off the field on the other week.”
And for Chang, his overall takeaway from the work done to highlight the Latinx community is this:
“I think it’s hopefully just building pride in the community and hopefully a recognition that we’re part of that community and we support that community. I think we as the 49ers take our role here in the Bay Area very seriously. We’re not just a football team. We’re also part of the community, and we all live and work in this community. And we also know that we’re important part of people’s lives. We’re something that people care about quite a bit.”
“And so we take that commitment very seriously.”
More information can be found at 49ers.com