Mark Sanchez: The Great Latino Hope?

JESSICA BADER: When I saw this piece last weekend about the meaning of Mark Sanchez, I was more than a little bit puzzled by the fixation on Sanchez as the key to the NFL attracting more Hispanic fans. Then again, I’m not sure how many football fans realize that Sanchez wasn’t even the only Mexican-American quarterback to win a playoff game this month.

In some ways, Tony Romo might even be better suited to marketing the NFL to the Hispanic community. Romo, a three-time Pro Bowler, is more of an established star player than the rookie Sanchez, and while Sanchez plays for a New York team, Romo’s Dallas Cowboys are one of the premier franchises in all of professional sports. (It’s also worth noting that Dallas’s Hispanic population is primarily of Mexican descent, whereas Hispanics living in the New York city metro area are more likely to trace their roots back to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.)

But will a star quarterback (or two) of Mexican descent be enough to significantly increase Hispanic interest in the NFL? I would tend not to think so, especially among recent immigrants. Most Central American countries already have a beloved sport that they call futbol – the United States calls it soccer. As recent immigrants and their children become more assimilated, it’s possible that Hispanics could become bigger fans of the NFL. In the meantime, the presence of a talented and exciting player at football’s glamor position who happens to be part of the US’s fastest-growing ethnic group can’t hurt – but he might not be the first one who comes to mind.

JASON CLINKSCALES: When Mark Sanchez got drafted by the New York Jets last April, advertising and publicity analysts immediate salivated over his prospects. They were less interested in his prospects on the field, rather than endorsement and sponsorship opportunities if he essentially becomes the Mexican-American version of Joe Willie Namath.

Yet, despite admirable performances in three postseason games, the suggestion that he will be the one that takes the NFL into apparent unchartered territory with the Latino populous has a bit of problem; Sanchez has to win and win beautifully.

It is not that he is incapable. His rollercoaster rookie season showed that while there is plenty to learn, the Jets have someone who is the unquestioned leader of the offense for the next decade, barring they are patient (a foreign concept for the franchise) with his development for the next few years. He has a very good defense that has the chance to become great along with one of the better running games in the league and three big play receiving options in Dustin Keller, Braylon Edwards and Jericho Cotchery.

While having covered the other NFL team in the New York area for the last four+ years, I witnessed the Giants’ Eli Manning grow from the unfortunate moniker of ‘game manager’ that caught lightning in the bottle during the run to Super Bowl XLII to one of the top ten signal-callers in the game while the rest of the team fell apart this past season. The Super Bowl win opened up a few local and national endorsement deals while allowing him the chance to work with brother (and best-marketed athlete today) Peyton for Oreo. Yet, while he’ll never be his brother, he can at least stand on his own because his play has improved year after year.

We don’t know this about Sanchez yet. He’s a good-looking guy with the Southern California mystique and runs the offense of a team located just miles away from Madison Avenue. We’ve come to accept that he has to win games; you don’t stick long enough in the league if you don’t win. However, Jim McMahon, Phil Simms, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson were quarterbacks that won championships because they were told to hand off the ball, don’t throw too much and let the defense do the rest.

None of those guys became infinitely better after those wins and none became superstars in the so-called mainstream (read: white & somewhat affluent) market in the way that some expect Sanchez to become for Latino fans across the country.

Beyond Sanchez or any individual Latino player in the league, what the NFL could use is a broadcasting contract with any of the Spanish-language networks. There is no more dominant content provider in television today than the NFL, to the point that any news that breaks is Election Night-like in its coverage (this writer is admittedly a microscopic part of that). Yes, there’s the SAP option from the networks and Spanish-language radio. Yet, they’re not going to reach the desired market without a unique, stand-alone contract with any of the Spanish-language networks here in the States, notably Univision and NBC Universal-owned Telemundo.

It will be interesting what kind of player Mark Sanchez becomes in the next few years. Since he has much to learn about just playing the game at this elite level, we should be fair enough to hold off on making him the NFL’s biggest Latino star.

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