Latinx Heritage Month Spotlight: Gracie Mercado
In the third installment of our Kings.com series for Latinx Heritage Month Spotlight, we sat down with Gracie Mercado, leader of CONEXIÓN ÉNE-BÉ-A, an employee resource team for Latinx team members at the NBA.
Why did the NBA decide to create a ERT solely dedicated to Latinx communities? When was CONEXIÓN ÉNE-BÉ-A started and what was the driving force behind its creation?
The NBA has been actively engaged with the Hispanic community for more than a decade with Spanish-language TV and radio broadcasts, dedicated digital platforms and a variety of community events.
In 2009, in an effort to develop an even deeper connection, we extended our season-long efforts to more effectively connect with our Latinx fans and staff in culturally relevant ways. Through extensive consumer research, we were able to better understand how our Hispanic fans and staff consume and experience our game. This is when we learned of éne•bé•a – the moniker that had been used by Latinx fans for years as the unofficial name of the league.
During the 2009-10 season – as part of a comprehensive initiative to grow the game of basketball throughout the expanding U.S. Hispanic market – Éne•Bé•A launched as an official brand of the NBA.
Conexión éne-bé-a launched shortly thereafter and is one of seven NBA Employee Resource Teams (ERTs) designed to welcome and value the ideas and contributions of all employees. We aim to promote and celebrate Hispanic/Latin cultures within the company while contributing to the league’s success and business objectives through professional development, education, recruitment and retention, social responsibility, and connectivity with external Hispanic/Latin professional networks.
ERTs such as Conexión éne-bé-a provide an opportunity to facilitate connections between employees with shared interests or backgrounds who are committed to furthering the NBA's Calling, supporting the league's strategic priorities and providing networking and professional development opportunities year-round.
Internally, Conexión éne-bé-a is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with a series of activities that promote our core values of equality, diversity and inclusion, including a book club discussion around Marisel Vera’s The Taste of Sugar: A Novel, a Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon on our Orlando campus catered by Sofrito Latin Café, and a virtual cooking class with Kelvin Fernandez, winner of the cooking show “Beat Bobby Flay” and a Forbes 30 Under 30 chef, as well as leveraging educational and inclusion resources like the Smithsonian Latino Center. Additionally, employees and fans are encouraged to use #NBAVoices and #HispanicHeritageMonth on social media to share ways they’re uplifting their communities.
What is the NBA doing specifically in Latinx markets to drive engagement and connection?
The NBA is fully committed to connecting with our Latinx fans in meaningful ways through programs that impact their community and speak to their diverse backgrounds.
Earlier this year, the league celebrated its 14th annual Noches Éne•Bé•A Latin nights program with celebratory warmup shirts, merchandise, original content on the league’s English and Spanish-language social media pages and in-arena festivities at select games in March – including a Sacramento Kings home game on March 1st. As part of the initiative, all 30 NBA teams wore specially designed Fanatics branded Noches Éne•Bé•A warmup shirts during the first two weeks of March. Since the launch of the campaign, we have added close to 3 million fans and the campaign continues to be successful in engaging and growing our U.S. Hispanic fan base.
In June – as public health data made clear that the coronavirus pandemic is hitting historically marginalized communities of color the hardest – the NBA and UnidosUS collaborated on an NBA Together PSA featuring Philadelphia 76ers forward Al Horford, emphasizing a continued commitment to ensuring that the Hispanic community has the information, resources, and support it needs in response to the coronavirus. Around that time, NBA Champion and 13-year veteran J.J. Barea and President and CEO of UnidosUS Janet Murguía were among those who participated in the NBA Together Virtual Roundtable Series exploring COVID-19’s impact on the Hispanic and Latinx community and the roots of systemic inequality that have exacerbated its effects.
As an NBA Cares ambassador, former NBA player Felipe Lopez hosts in-language community and social justice events, emphasizing core values of respect, diversity and inclusion, helping drive connection with Latinx fans.
The Hispanic community is also at the center of the league’s ongoing efforts to promote greater civic engagement and raise awareness around voter access and opportunity.
As the League continues to expand globally, how important is Latin America to its overall growth?
The NBA has a long history in Latin America and it’s a market that we value significantly.
The NBA has a three-pronged strategy to help grow the game of basketball in Latin America. This approach centers around creating opportunities for boys and girls to play the game; bringing the NBA experience to fans around the world through live games and interactive fan events and making the game more accessible and delivering localized content to Latin American fans.
Underscoring our commitment to delivering live experiences for fans across the region, the NBA has played 40 games in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1991, and since 1992, 23 NBA teams – more than 75% of the league – have played in Mexico. The league played its 29th and 30th games in Mexico earlier this season, and the country has hosted more NBA games than any country outside of U.S. and Canada.
Building on the momentum of the international games, the NBA develops in-language localized content for Latin American fans to enjoy throughout the season. NBA games and programming reach fans across Latin America in four languages, including pan-regional networks such as ESPN and Direct TV and local media partners such as Televisa (Mexico) and Globo (Brazil). The 88 seeding games during the NBA Restart included 41 games that aired in primetime in Latin America on the NBA’s broadcast partners in the region and NBA League Pass. Throughout the NBA Playoffs, Álvaro Martin, Enrique Garay, Nicolás Casalánguida and Fabricio Oberto have been calling select games in Spanish via NBA League Pass. Fans can also check out an array of unique content on our NBA Brasil, NBA Mexico and NBA LatAm social handles.
On the basketball development front, we currently offer the Jr. NBA – the league’s global youth basketball program for boys and girls – across Latin America, including in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. In July 2019, the first-ever Jr. NBA Camp in the Dominican Republic with Al Horford of the Philadelphia 76ers took place in Santo Domingo and reached over 100 local youth during the three-day event. Last year, we hosted our third season of the Jr. NBA League for more than 840 boys and girls in Mexico. In 2019 the NBA also launched the first NBA Basketball School program in Brazil - a network of tuition-based basketball development programs open to male and female players. The program includes 108 schools in 18 states across the country and has impacted more than 6,000 boys and girls (ages 6-18). Basketball Without Borders (BWB), the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, has held camps in Argentina (2005, 2013), Brazil (2004, 2007, 2011), Dominican Republic (2015), Mexico (2009), Puerto Rico (2006) and The Bahamas (2017).
Lastly, in 2017 we announced the opening of the NBA Academy Latin America, an elite basketball training center that provides top high school-age prospects from throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America with a holistic approach to player development. The program focuses on health and wellness, character development and life skills, and gives prospects the opportunity to learn the game from outside coaches who the NBA hires with professional, collegiate and international coaching experience. Six players from The NBA Academy Latin America have received scholarships to attend NCAA D-1 schools and several others will be playing at junior colleges in the U.S. next year.
How important is it to acknowledge and celebrate the NBA's diverse fan base?
We are extremely proud to have such a diverse fan base, bringing together so many beautiful cultures from around the world. Diversity is among our core values and we embrace the passion and enthusiasm of all of our fans.
We will continue celebrating our Latinx fans throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month, while highlighting the excitement they bring to our league.