Diversifying demographics: How outdoor sports and industry can reach more people

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Sitting on a diversity panel at the Outdoor Writer’s Association’s conference in McAllen, Texas, in 2014, I was prepared to talk about engaging Hispanics in the outdoors. I was armed with research and numbers, but it was a personal story of a fellow panelist that hit home the hardest.

The panelist talked about an older relative having the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time during a driving trip between Texas and California. Yet he decided to pass, basically saying “That’s a place for white people.”

For those of us in the outdoor industry, or for those of who care about future preservation of outdoor places, this is alarming. The Latino population is growing in the United States and they are a group with not only growing economic power, but also a voice in outdoor recreation. They are also a demographic that might not have tried some of our most beloved outdoor activities.

At the National Shooting Sports Foundation, we are working to introduce people from all backgrounds to the recreational benefits and personal defense aspects of firearms ownership. We and others who promote outdoor activities are learning how to better understand and communicate with diverse audiences. We’re working on developing tools to help industry, marketers and media share the activities we enjoy with others in a changing America.

According to a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, one of every five Americans is Hispanic.

About two-thirds of those are naturalborn Americans who have a higher level of education and income potential than Hispanics and other ethnic groups less familiar with English and American culture. The Hispanic population is estimated to be 57 million, carrying $825 billion in consumer buying power.

The 1,265 Hispanics who participated in the survey indicated a high level of interest in firearms ownership and use: 30 percent would like to own a firearm and 40 percent would go to a firearms retailer or shooting range if invited by friends or family to give target shooting a try. Of those who said they had previously visited such establishments, a remarkable 91 percent came away with a positive impression. Why? Top reasons were being in a safe, controlled environment and being assisted by knowledgeable staff.

One of the most interesting findings in the report is that language does not appear to be a barrier. Surprisingly, the majority of Hispanics surveyed (79 percent) indicated a preference for obtaining information about firearms in English. One reason Hispanics prefer English is because of the number of varied cultures labeled Hispanics, including Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Salvadoran and others, all who might have different dialects or languages.

If you are in the business of promoting your sports, products or services to a Hispanic audience, you’ll need to craft messaging and use appropriate imagery to appeal to the local Hispanic population. According to Rick Tobin, who heads up the Tobintel agency, developer of the report for NSSF, soccer analogies may not play well to audiences of Caribbean ancestry, while baseball references may not be understood by South American Hispanics.

“When marketing messages or imagery are not understood or related to by the target audience, the normal human reaction is to reject the marketer at some level,” he said. In short, you can very quickly alienate the audience you’re trying to win over.

Two other noteworthy discoveries from the report were that 61 percent of Hispanics are aware of their state wildlife agency, and 82 percent have a very positive image of that agency. These high scores imply a positive opinion regarding outdoor activities in general and an opportunity to coordinate outreach efforts with your state wildlife agency.

Five states report the highest Hispanic populations, representing approximately 70 percent of the U.S. Hispanic total: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois. Additionally, projected population estimates for the year 2020 show up to 40 percent of the populations of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado will be Hispanic. If you want to interest more Hispanics in everything from your products to ideas, developing or expanding outreach directed toward Hispanic cultures in those states should be on your radar.

“A Hispanic Market Study: Firearms and the Shooting Sports” is available to media on request. If you are an NSSF media member, access it via nssf.org/research, otherwise send an email to me at bbrassard@ nssf.org for a PDF copy. ♦

Bill Brassard is a former newspaper editor and reporter and now in his 18th year as a senior communications director and media spokesman with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. He is a target shooter, bird hunter and general outdoors enthusiast.

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