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Sports media: Spirited broadcaster helps Kings reach out to Spanish-speaking fans

Sports media: Spirited broadcaster helps Kings reach out to Spanish-speaking fans
Francisco X. Rivera and Nano Cortes will do 10 games in Spanish for the Kings’ 1330-AM KWKW affiliate this season. (Christopher Wohlers / L.A. Kings)

Not much gets lost in translation during a Kings Spanish-language radio broadcast. Especially on a call like the one Francisco X. Rivera delivered on KWKW-AM (1330) during the second period of last Thursday’s Kings-Philadelphia Flyers game from Staples Center:

“Kovalchuk con el pase, el disparo que es interceptado, una vez mas Carter, otra vez Carter y el gol! Gol … Gooooool … Gooooool … anotado por Jeff Carter … Y que bonito se siente cantar el gol de los Kings!”

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Got it? In the span of a couple of seconds, Ilya Kovalchuk takes a pass, a shot is blocked, Jeff Carter shoots again, then another shot, and Carter … puts the biscuit in the basket, right?

So there’s no confusion, Rivera holds that final note in an extended primal punctuation that mirrors Andres Cantor during a World Cup soccer match.

“My plan was to make it just sound like a hockey goal — he shoots and scores!” said Rivera, a 36-year-old native of Mexico City who studied broadcasting at Long Beach State.

“Before the game, everyone seemed to be asking, ‘How you going to call a goal?’ I know how Andres has his goal call for soccer in the U.S., but to be honest, I wanted to try something different. But I guess I decided to give the people what they wanted to hear. There was so much demand for it, I went with loud and screamed from the top of my lungs.”

Then there was Rivera’s personal tagline: “And it feels so good to call a Kings goal!”

The immediate goal for the Kings’ 10-game experiment with a Spanish-language package on Los Angeles’ ESPN Deportes affiliate is expanding its brand in a major media market. The latest demographic research shows 38%, accounting for 3.3 million people, speak Spanish as a primary language in L.A. County. Nearly 50% of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.

Still, the timing can come off as odd. There’s a 20-year gap between this attempt and the last Kings Spanish-language radio feed, when Rodolfo Hernandez and Fernando Gonzalez did it for KWIZ-FM (96.7). The Kings allowed that deal, as well as one with English-language XTRA-AM (690), to expire as the dynamics changed in the couple of seasons after Wayne Gretzky’s departure from L.A.

And if you buy into the research presented last August, the Spanish-only sports cable channel Spectrum Deportes decided to cease operation after a six-year run when it cited that Spanish-speaking viewers were content watching the English-language feeds of the Lakers, Galaxy and other live events with secondary audio programming providing a Spanish option.

The Kings are almost five seasons removed from their last Stanley Cup run. Yet the franchise rebooted an idea championed for several seasons by Jonathan Lowe, the AEG Sports senior VP of business development and brand strategy.

Mike Altieri, the team’s head of communications and broadcasting, recently decided to disconnect from terrestrial radio and establish the English-speaking Kings feed on the iHeartRadio app and online stream. He said the immediate way to measure success of this Spanish-language reintroduction is by digital feedback on social media. Especially if Rivera’s calls keep going viral.

“God love him, he’s into it,” Altieri said of Rivera. “He’ll have his own style. I thought his play-by-play was smooth and enthusiastic even if someone like me didn’t completely understand Spanish.

“Hockey is still being introduced to the Hispanic community in some ways after all these years. With all we have going, this guarantees we can penetrate into the Hispanic market on this platform.”

The Dodgers have the deepest connection to a Spanish-language carrier, going back to 1953 in Brooklyn. They have alternated mostly between ESPN’s KWKW-AM (1330) and Univision’s KTNQ-AM (1020) since coming to L.A. in ’58.

KWKW currently has the Lakers, Rams, Clippers, Angels and Galaxy. KFWB-AM (980) has the LAFC and Chargers, who have kept three other Spanish-language affiliates in San Diego and Mexico.

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USC football tried Spanish language for some home games starting in 2000 and kept it for 11 seasons, but hasn’t had it since 2013. UCLA football or basketball tried online versions of Spanish-language games from 2008-2010, but that was it. In their 25 seasons, the Ducks have never tried a Spanish-language partner. In the NHL, only Vegas, Chicago, Florida and San Jose have expanded their Spanish-language reach.

Rivera, who has worked for Spanish-language Spectrum, Fox TV and the Galaxy, and is the Spanish-language radio man for LAFC, will rejoin partner Nano Cortes next on the Nov. 24 Kings-Vancouver game.

Rivera said he has anecdotally heard that the Kings’ first broadcast was a way to bridge the enjoyment of a game between younger Hispanic and Latino sports fans and older family members.

“Our main target should be people of Latino descent, first- or second-generation, who also watch soccer and love a Spanish-language call,” said Rivera, who said his father in Mexico City was able to listen to his call last week on the 1330 Internet stream.

“With all due respect, I think there’s a need and hunger for anything Spanish language. A puck is still a puck but a puck that’s flying can be a ‘disco volador.’ A lot of words and phrases I don’t think need direct translation. Not even cross checking or icing. It can be challenging, but I’m comfortable knowing the listeners are often bilingual and communicate well in English but understand and follow Spanish. It’s incredible. I think this will just keep building.”

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