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The Giants have an inexcusable discrimination problem

John Shea writes for the San Francisco Chronicle that the team has a history of discriminating against their Spanish language broadcasters.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, John Shea wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle that the San Francisco Giants have been discriminating against their Spanish language broadcasters for the past 25 years.

It starts with reach. The team does not travel their Spanish language crew (Tito Fuentes, Erwin Higueros, and producer Carlos Orellana) for all 81 road games. 35 games receive no Spanish language broadcast at all. This is a unique arrangement compared to the rest of the division:

In the National League West, the Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks have their Spanish broadcast crews travel to all 81 road games, assuring all 162 games will be on the air in that language, something the Giants haven’t had since 1998.

Then there’s the matter of pay, which the 81-year old Fuentes reveals to John Shea in the piece, but which Shea only says is “a fraction” of what the English language broadcasters make; and then it flows into managementspeak about cost:

“Tito is awesome, a Giants legend, and Erwin is our captain in the booth who cares deeply about the product,” Pearl said. “I would love to see us do 162 games. The goal is to find advertisers to offset that expense. We’re not looking to make money, but we’ve got to be careful with how much we’re losing.”

This sounds like something Gabe Kapler would say about a player right before he got benched. It’s a great quote for Shea to include, though, because the piece is largely about naming and shaming the Giants into correcting this issue.

I’ve been listening to the Spanish language broadcasts this season because the MLB At Bat app, previously one of the best apps ever made, has slipped into being an awful experience, starting with the 2-3 minute delay on the English language audio feed. No idea what’s causing it, but I suspected that whatever was going on there wasn’t happening on the Spanish language side, and that’s proven to be the case, so Tito, Erwin, and Carlos have gotten me through some games while I’m washing dishes.

I’m not bilingual, but I remember enough of my high school Spanish classes and whatever I’ve picked up osmotically by living in Los Angeles for 20 years, so the games are easy enough to follow, the broadcasters are smooth, and you can tell they’re really having a good time calling the games. It’s a perfect extension of the Giants’ top notch English language broadcasts and I would think that being the best would be a sufficient business reason for an organization in the entertainment business.

There are no doubt fancy metrics that show conversion rates for ads and broadcasts into in-game attendance, but I can’t help but feel that a full slate of broadcasts with a push through those games to get people to come to Oracle Park would wind up offsetting some of that increased “expense.” Shea’s next paragraph after quoting the Giants’ VP who oversees their Spanish language broadcasts, Jason Pearl, adds a key thought on this:

Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in California, according to the 2020 census. While the percentage of Hispanics in the Bay Area isn’t close to that of Los Angeles, it’s still significant: San Francisco is 15.7%, Oakland 27.2% and San Jose 31%.

The article spends as much time talking about the A’s side of this debacle (they only broadcast 71 games total in Spanish) and my cynical heart believes it’s in there as some sort of “balance” insisted upon by the Giants or an editor who gets pressured by the Giants. Shea does a really nice job of presenting the possibility, “Hey, the Giants aren’t perfect, but at least they’re not the A’s” before smacking it down with his closing quote.

What the article makes clear is that the two most important sports franchises in the Bay Area — based on the long season, I think MLB teams are more important fixtures in a community, even if they’re not as competitive on field as other franchises in the market — are simply not interested in investing in this facet of their business. Call it marketing, call it community outreach, it’s a choice to discriminate against a key demographic because they speak a different language. There’s not enough money in it for them to communicate.

Since the Giants are supposed to be rational actors in the marketplace, driven solely by data, I’ll use this information to finish the thought. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a 2021 survey found that there were 10,434,308 people in California 5 or older whose primary household language was Spanish. 61% of that population spoke English “very well,” 39% spoke it less than “very well.” That amounts to 4,065,731 people 5 or older.

The population of California in 2021 was 39.24 million, meaning 10.36% of the state are Spanish speakers who speak English less than “very well.” Look, people might want to jump in here to say that there might be a greater concentration of Spanish speakers in other parts of the state that are in other team’s territories, but that’s a willful misread of the situation.

The Giants aren’t saying that Spanish language broadcasts aren’t important, they’re saying they’re not valuable. Pearl uses words like “product” and “offset” because to him radio broadcasts are the same as a licensed jersey or season ticket. That doesn’t seem like very much insight into the difference between an item and a person or the parasocial relationship audiences form with broadcasters, but I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about because I’m a blogger and he’s being interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. I’m sure he’s thought of all that and has managed the Spanish language talent so that they don’t feel like second-class citizens in their own organization.

Given all the available information, though, it’s clear the team decided to cut corners with their Spanish language broadcasts. Not traveling broadcasters is the move of a cheap team (the Angels, Blue Jays, and Orioles are already doing this with their English language broadcasters) and it’s unfathomable to me that a team trying to get fans would create obstacles to attracting and holding onto fans; but again, maybe there’s a really good business reason for discrimination and alienation — after all, this has been going on for 25 years. This is a deeply held belief by the organization. Maybe inconsistent messaging is a market inefficiency the Giants have been exploiting. Without those missing 35 games, maybe Oracle Park’s attendance since 2017 would’ve cratered even more.

But I still think they should broadcast all 162 games in Spanish. That just makes sense; so, hopefully, naming and shaming works. Hopefully, Jason Pearl considers why he inherited the traveling situation from his predecessor (which, again, has been happening since 1998) and decided to maintain the status quo. Hopefully, the Giants get some questions from the region not only directed at Pearl or Larry Baer, but also Dave Flemming and Jon Miller. Let’s hear what they have to say. Aren’t they all on the same team?

The Giants might very well be Northern California’s only Major League Baseball team in the next few years. Is the plan just to continue to cut costs to goose profits? That’s what every other firm is doing these days, of course, but in this case the team has the chance to flip some hearts and minds — in any language — and the rank liberalism of letting market forces guide them away from diversity is a choice worth criticizing.