The Florida Panthers have announced that they will be broadcasting three games during the 2014-15 season in Spanish. These broadcasts will be heard on 1210 AM ESPN Deportes in Miami and ESPN Deportes 760 AM in West Palm Beach. Arley Londono will do the play-by-play, while Octavio Sequera will host and handle color.
The Cats are not breaking new ground in this regard, as they were the first NHL team to broadcast in Spanish back in the 1993-94 inaugural season. Unfortunately, the club decided to not continue this practice after 1996.
Here are the three games that will be aired in Spanish:
1. Arizona Coyotes on October 30
2. Colorado Avalanche on January 15
3. Boston Bruins on March 21
This news, along with the Panthers hosting Hispanic Heritage Night at the BB&T Center during the aforementioned game against Arizona, looks to be the first of a concerted effort by the team to tap into the massive Hispanic population spread across South Florida's three counties.
The hockey world's most ignorant of supporters, who do not believe that the Hispanic population will embrace the sport in South Florida, let alone the rest of the 29 other markets, are simply wrong. There was a time that Hispanics were just painted as fans of either baseball or soccer, but times have changed along with the country's demographics and the growth of sports programming on the internet. Looking at the inroads the NFL and NBA have made in attracting Hispanic fans, it would be illogical for the NHL and their franchises to concede that potential segment to rival sports. Much like with the push to grow hockey in the Sunbelt, the NHL cannot let an opportunity to capture even a small fraction of the Latino community go to waste.
Think about it this way, South Florida, especially Miami, is known as the "Gateway to Latin America." Cubans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Argentinians, and so much more, all tightly packed inside three counties. The Hispanic population in South Florida as of the 2010 U.S. Census is 2,312,929. That huge number is one that the Panthers have largely ignored for the past eighteen years. In that time frame, the franchise has lost a generation of fans that are or have already spurred on a new generation of people. In that time frame the Marlins, Heat, and Dolphins have all done something to appeal to Latinos. And now, those fans have kids who will grow up as fans of those three teams.
To take this "Gateway to Latin America" idea one step further, this large population of over two million people in South Florida have been traveling and taking their love for sports with them back to their homeland or land of ancestral origin. With that comes interest by friends and family in another country, which may lead to new fans being made for a franchise or a sport, or at the very least, a chance to sell some extra merchandise. Las Panteras are perfectly situated to become Latin America's hockey team.
The Panthers merely broadcasting in Spanish will certainly not be the be-all and end-all to correct the long neglect of the area's Hispanic population. Much like with everything else, the club has to give these potential fans a reason to tune in and come back for more. However, this move may finally be a sign that the hockey club is starting to become the FLORIDA Panthers rather than the Panthers hockey club that just happens to be in Florida.