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Posted: Tuesday July 14, 2009 10:45AM; Updated: Tuesday July 14, 2009 3:10PM
John P. Lopez John P. Lopez >

Jets' Sanchez may be NFL's key to opening Hispanic market

Story Highlights

Sanchez could open new markets, just as Yao and Valenzuela did before him

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States

Football lags behind soccer, boxing and baseball in Spanish-speaking households

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Mark Sanchez could turn Hispanics onto the NFL in the same way Fernando Valenzuela turned many onto baseball in the '80s.
Michael J. LeBrecht II/SI
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The NFL has spent a lot of time and money taking mighty swings at the multi-billion dollar Hispanic market. The result? It's been as if the league has been blindfolded, spun around in circles, and told to hit a piņata with one-hand tied behind its collective back.

Arriba, Mark Sanchez.

Not since Yao Ming, perhaps, has one player been so important to a league's effort at expanding and entrenching itself into virtually un-mined gold. Indeed, this is one of those rare exceptions when the potential value of a player on the field is exceeded only by his value off of it.

Of course, it is huge pressure to heap onto Sanchez' shoulders. And, of course, Sanchez must produce for the New York Jets. He must play well, put up the numbers and win. But if he can handle both demands, put it this way: New York would be only the second-largest market Sanchez would conquer. And it would be a distant second at that.

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States and are growing faster than any other group. The most recent Census figures indicate that by next year Hispanics will account for $670 billion in personal income, with Mexican-American households accounting for $409 billion of that total. Hispanics also are younger and trending upward financially quicker than every other demographic. It truly is the ultimate prize the NFL has yet to win.

The NFL first began to realize the potential more than 25 million Hispanic sports fans could have on the league several years ago. But the plan was disorganized. Marketing the demographic was left mostly to individual teams and, frankly, it was not a front-burner issue. In recent years, the effort has been much more focused and league-driven.

There have been Hispanic Heritage Months, ventures into Hispanic communities and Spanish-language broadcasts of NFL games in several markets. There have been exhibition and regular-season games played in Mexico, the Web site hosted in Spanish and even the Madden Espanol video game, featuring Bears offensive lineman Roberto Garza.

But the mother lode -- in this case a demographic that should number more than 50 million in the 2010 Census and whose buying power should exceed more than $1.2 trillion by 2012 -- has yet to burst wide open.

Can one 22-year-old rookie have that big an impact?

Anyone who remembers Fernando-mania, in 1981, when rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela changed everything in baseball, would tell you, yes, one rookie can.

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