Regardless of income, ethnicity or skin color, sports fans speak a universal language. So says Hugo Balta, senior director of multicultural content at ESPN. The wide world of sports is a unifying force, and Balta sees it as his mission to involve a growing, multicultural audience for the global sports network.
Working at the “worldwide leader in sports” is the perfect marriage of Balta’s professional and personal interests: developing and producing news and sports-related content and educating and informing an increasingly diverse audience.
The West Hartford resident is a first-generation Peruvian-American (his parents hail from Lima). Balta explains that American Hispanic sports lovers “want to be included in the conversation.” In addition to watching Hispanic athletes, they want to see Hispanic “talent”–anchors, editors, reporters and bloggers.
ESPN has two platforms–English and Spanish, Balta notes. In addition to ESPN, there is ESPN Deportes, a digital cable and satellite TV network that provides Spanish language simulcasts. It became a 24-hour sports channel in January 2004.
Although many U.S. Hispanic sports fans love soccer and baseball–popular sports in their native Latino countries–second and third generation Latinos focus more on favored American sports such as football and basketball. The NBA “skews very high,” says Balta, with viewers following what he calls “marquee” basketball players such as American favorites LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.
Balta’s goal is increased inclusiveness of diverse audiences, beyond the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., he explains. He points with pride to his role in having launched “One Nacion,” a bilingual television special that airs on both ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
“One Nacion” has been the ESPN banner celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month from September-October. Recently, this effort expanded digitally to 52 weeks a year with the “One Nacion” web page–“one-stop shopping” for content in English and Spanish from ESPN and ESPN Deportes. (Visit the site at http://espn.go.com/espn/onenacion).
According to the website, “One Nacion’s” mission is “to tell the stories of Latinos and sports from a unique lens in original content relevant to the bilingual/bi-cultural sports fan.”
Big Break at Telemundo
Balta’s resume reflects not only a lengthy career in the media, but also his passion for promoting inclusion and diversity in the workforce.
After graduating from Seton Hall University the Paterson, New Jersey native landed a job at Telemundo in New York and worked his way up to vice president of news/news director at Telemundo 47. He also worked in television news departments in several markets for NBC, CBS and MSNBC. He has won several Emmy Awards, including one for Best Local Newscast.
Balta is a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and served as the association’s president for two years. He is also co-founder of the Latino Multimedia Communications Group, a social media group where professionals and students in the industry can exchange ideas and provide support.
He is always willing and excited to dispense advice, mentor budding sports journalists, and to help recruit and develop talent. Balta’s recommendation is to focus on a goal and develop a road map for how to reach it. “Identify early on what your goals are,” Balta suggests.
Since 2011, Balta has been happily ensconced at ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut headquarters, where he appreciates not only the high-tech platforms, but also the “risk-taking that is in the DNA at ESPN.”
But it’s not all work and no play. Balta enjoys walking around the ESPN campus, bumping into famous people in the sports world such as former Yankees star Robinson Cano and Super Bowl champion coach Mike Ditka. Last year, Balta was selected by the New York Jets as the recipient of the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. He was thrilled to receive the award, but was just as proud he was able to take his father (an avid Jets fan) to the Monday Night Football game that night against the Chicago Bears.
Growing up, he played soccer, and like many young boys, dreamed of playing for the New York Yankees. Married to a Colombia national, the couple is raising their two children to be bilingual, with Spanish their first language. Their son, age 9, and daughter, age 12, both enjoy playing sports.
For now, ESPN is the right place for Balta to continue his work serving as a unifier for los aficionados—the fans.