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As Minnesota’s demographics change, Twins reach out to minority markets

Miguel Ramos
Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins
Miguel Ramos

Now that the Twins’ season is over,
the team has decided to bolster its pitching staff with veteran Miguel Ramos.

He’s going to make his pitches to Hmong people, to Somalis, to Mexicans, to Russians and to African-Americans.

Ramos, 48, became the Twins’ first manager of “emerging markets,” as the team deals head-on with the whiteness of its front office and of its fan base.

“We’re not this homogeneous Scandinavian place we once were,” said Twins marketing vice president Patrick Klinger. “It’s important that we change with that … We want to diversify our front office. Candidly, we’re too Caucasian and too male. We want to diversify our fan base and begin reaching out to our other communities.”

Ramos has deep local roots as diversity consultant
Into the sports-marketing game here strides Ramos, a longtime diversity consultant in the Twin Cities who has worked with the Twins and other local franchises before, especially in Spanish-language broadcasts to radio stations for the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves.

On the field, about 30 percent of all Major League Baseball players are Latino, and the Twins’ roster is about one-quarter Latino.

But a gaze at fans in the stands at Twins games reveals a remarkably white customer base. Baseball, which integrated before the U.S, military when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, has, over the past 15 years, struggled to attract African-American fans and, more importantly, young people to play the game.

Only 8 percent of Major League players are African-American, trailing by a long shot the numbers of black NBA and NFL players. The game’s domestic talent pool is shrinking and, with it, some natural affinities among customers.

Meanwhile, the Twins are getting ready to move into a new ballpark with 40,000 seats to fill 81 times a year.

Effort aiming more at branding than ticket sales
So Klinger and Twins President Dave St. Peter decided it was time to hire Ramos in what’s more of a branding and relationships play than an overt ticket sales move.

“I’m not worried about selling tickets,” said Ramos, born in Puerto Rico, who has lived in Minnesota for the past 14 years. “I know that sounds crazy. This is a business. But my first priority is that the community understands that the organization is here and is real.”

And so Ramos will reach out to the state’s growing Latino population, its African immigrant groups, the booming Russian population and the longstanding African-American community seeking to partner with them and build trust and, ultimately, business.

Undoubtedly, the Twins logo will be seen more at local community events, in targeted publications, on ethnic radio and TV shows. The Twins want to grow the local “RBI” leagues in various neighborhoods.

RBI stands for “Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.” The game needs that badly as it continues to be more suburban.

Regularly, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida issues report cards on sports leagues. In its most recent measurements,   Major League Baseball saw some improved scores.

With Ramos, the Twins become the first local major-league team to hire a full-time marketing employee specifically dedicated to these “emerging markets.”

Other teams have Spanish-language broadcasts. Other teams, particularly the Vikings and Timberwolves, have a more diverse ticket-buying fan base.

Of course, way back when — 30 years ago — when Calvin Griffith still owned the Twins, there was a major rupture with the Twin Cities African-American population.

In an infamous Lions Club speech in Waseca,  Minn., Griffith, who moved his Washington Senators to Minnesota in 1961,  was quoted by the Minneapolis Tribune’s Nick Coleman as saying, “I’ll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don’t go to ballgames, but they’ll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it’ll scare you to death. We came here because you’ve got good, hard-working white people here.”

Since then, the complexion and languages of Minnesota have changed. Sports franchises need to change, too.

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