tampabay.com

Fox aims to draw in Latino fans

By SHARON GINN
Published March 3, 2006


While there are Hispanic drivers in NASCAR - including Busch series drivers Carlos Contreras and Adrian Fernandez - it would be a stretch to say the sport has a significant Latin flavor.

But racing analyst Miguel Angel Morales is hoping to take a small step in that direction Sunday with Fox Sports' coverage of the Busch race from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. The network announced Thursday that Morales and announcer Ruben Valentin will call the race in Spanish, a broadcast that will be accessible to those who have televisions with an SAP (second audio programming) component.

It will be the first time a NASCAR race is broadcast in Spanish with second audio programming. While no one from Fox was available to say whether the network plans to continue producing dual audio broadcasts, Morales said he expects to be on board with the network throughout the first half of the season.

"Fox wanted to be a pioneer," Morales said from his home in Riverside, Calif. "I'm looking forward to doing this until July. This will be something exciting.

"It is about time. (NASCAR is) very appealing to Latinos. Many Latinos have television sets with SAP included, and they would love to see another sport."

Morales said he and Valentin will concentrate on the Mexican and Latino drivers, but added that "70 to 80 percent of Latinos are familiar" with bigger named drivers such as Michael Waltrip, so they will make it a point to cover everything that is happening on the track.

Although a lot of them don't fully understand it yet, "lots of Latinos love the sport," said Morales, who has long covered races on radio for the Motor Racing Network. "At the California Speedway in Fontana, you see about 150,000 (people), but more than 40,000 of those are Latino."

Fox's announcement came on the same day that ESPN's Spanish-language network, ESPN Deportes, kicked off its coverage of the World Baseball Classic. All 39 games in the three-week tournament will be aired by ESPN Deportes, starting with Thursday's Korea-Chinese Taipei matchup. Beginning Tuesday, ESPN and ESPN2 will air 16 World Baseball Classic games, with the semifinals and final aired March 18 and 20 on ESPN.

Because it is a new event, the network has no idea what kind of ratings to expect, producer Tim Scanlan said. ESPN is looking at it as a "terrific platform for ESPN Deportes, and that growing service under the ESPN network," Scanlan said. "We look at this tournament really as an ESPN Deportes event, that we would supplement by fitting (English-language broadcasts) into our (ESPN and ESPN2) schedule."

ESPN Deportes launched in January 2004 and is in about 2-million Latino households, though it is not available to local Bright House subscribers. But the network sees plenty of growth potential. So does Morales, who expects the Sunday broadcast might reveal a new world to many Latino sports fans.

"This is not an experiment," Morales said. "This is not a test."