Posted on Sun, Sep. 05, 2004

Mavs' deal weakens Hispanic appeal

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Fifteen Spanish-language media outlets attended Eduardo Najera's news conference last week introducing him as a new member of the Golden State Warriors. A scheduled half-hour question-and-answer session lasted 2 1/2 hours.

Najera's business manager, Roberto Gonzalez, has already had meetings with Golden State's marketing and promotions executives to discuss how Najera can best reach out to the 1.4 million Hispanics living in Oakland, home of the Warriors, and the rest of the Bay Area. Gonzalez said a Mexican company, El Mexicano foods, and a local car dealership have already called inquiring about endorsement possibilities.

Warriors president Robert Rowell is already looking into playing an exhibition game in Mexico and possibly moving a regular-season game there by 2006.

"The first thing I did was put in a call to the NBA about playing a game in Mexico," Rowell said, acting on his good fortune to have the NBA's only Mexican player on his roster.

The Mavericks traded Najera and others to Golden State recently for center Eric Dampier, a trade the Mavs were compelled to make after years of desperation at center. The swap cost the Mavs a hustling, hard-working player who appealed to all fans. On the business side, Najera enabled the Mavs to reach deep into the ever-growing Mexican and Hispanic markets in the Fort Worth-Dallas area.

For the Warriors, long a struggling team in the standings and at the box office, Najera offers a fresh outlet and a large, virtually untapped market.

"Having him was a huge asset," said Desiree Scott, Mavericks director of Hispanic broadcast sales for the past eight years. "I'm excited for him at Golden State. It's a market that needs to be developed. If Golden State hasn't ramped it up, I'm sure they will."

Scott said the Mavs have not lost any corporate sponsorships since the trade. She said she and the team will carry on with their initiatives in the Hispanic market. They will do so knowing that Najera, with his easygoing personality and refreshing desire to be a role model, is no longer available to drive the process.

The love for Najera among Hispanics is undeniable. Last season, the Mavs played an exhibition game in Mexico City. The game sold out; more than 20,000 fans came to cheer on their native son. In Mexico, Najera ranks with sports legends such as boxer Julio Cesar Chavez and former major league pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

"It was amazing walking into that gym in Mexico City and hearing Mike [Finley], Dirk [Nowitzki] and Steve [Nash] get light applause, but when Eddie walked in it was like Elvis reincarnated," Mavs president Donnie Nelson said.

Najera brought the Mavs to Mexicans and Hispanics, who rate soccer well above basketball as their No. 1 sport. Najera made the Mavs the favored franchise among Hispanics, and not only in Texas, thanks to Spanish-language NBA broadcasts on networks such as Mexico TV Azteca.

"Obviously, this year, they're not going to be transmitting any Dallas Mavericks games unless they are in the finals," Gonzalez said.

The broadened visibility from Spanish television and Najera's wild popularity translated into Mavs ticket sales among Hispanics locally as well as merchandise sales from all over.

The Mexican community remains fiercely loyal to its athletes and entertainers. Najera's move to Golden State likely will change the allegiance of many Mexican and Hispanic fans who followed Najera with the Mavericks, even if the Warriors are not as good a team.

"You have to ask the fans, but, him being gone, there might be a hold pattern in terms of if they are going to pay for [Mavericks] tickets and buy merchandise," Gonzalez said. "If you don't have the player, that's going to hurt you."

Jeff Caplan's column about sports business appears every Sunday.

Jeff Caplan, (817) 390-7760

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