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Padres Pitch to Mexican Fans

The San Diego Padres are stepping up their outreach efforts into northern Mexico, hoping to increase the fan base with games played in Mexico and an expanded bus program between Tijuana and Petco Park.

The team announced a series of initiatives on Jan. 13 in Tijuana, including the bus expansion, the extension of its contract with Spanish-language Uniradio and an undisclosed donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Mexico to renovate a facility.

Earlier that day, Major League Baseball said the Padres and the Houston Astros would play a pair of spring training games in Mexico City in March, the first MLB games in the city since 2004. The Padres last played in Mexico in 2002, a spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Hermosillo.

CEO Mike Dee said the team was trying to be more consistent in attracting Mexican fans. Work in 1996 brought the Padres to Monterrey for their first regular season game. The team’s bus program, which took fans from Tijuana to San Diego for some games, also launched that year. But Dee said the Padres failed to effectively follow through since the early 2000s.

“Fifteen years ago we had that effort, but we may have lost our way a little,” Dee said. “We needed to find our footing again and get back into the rhythm of activities here.”

Television Coverage

Improving outreach is a key priority for the team’s owners, led by Ron Fowler, who bought the team from John Moores in 2012. The ownership group also includes billionaire Alfredo Harp Helú, believed to be the only Mexican citizen among the league’s owners, according to the MLB.

Dee hinted that an exhibition game against the Tijuana Toros, the city’s minor league team, might be in the works, though it would require MLB approval. And he’s pushing for the Padres to return to Mexican TV, which stopped carrying games after FOX Sports San Diego took over broadcast rights from Cox Channel 4. Fox has been unable to reach a deal with Cablemás for Mexican broadcasts, though Dee said he was committed to advocating for greater exposure.

“We have to work to get our games back on television, that’s a top priority,” Dee said. “We can be the squeaky wheel. We will be the squeaky wheel.”

Rich Baseball History

The Padres’ announcements come as the MLB works to expand its popularity among Mexican fans. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said a possible league expansion could include a Mexican team and that more Mexican players would help grow the Hispanic market in the U.S. He’s also worked with the Mexican summer league to make it easier for MLB teams to acquire Mexican players.

“Mexico has a rich baseball history and is unique among the larger emerging markets because it combines a deep baseball fan base with a compelling environment for business opportunity,” MLB spokesman John Blundell said in an email. The upcoming spring training games in Mexico City will be “the start of an aggressive future schedule in that region,” he added.

Nearly 2 million Mexicans voted in last year’s All-Star balloting, behind the U.S., Canada and Japan. And Mexico perennially has the highest total TV viewership for the World Series outside the U.S., according to Blundell. The Padres did not have data on how many fans they have in Mexico or how many Mexicans attended a game at Petco Park last season.

Dee, a member of the MLB’s international committee, said he hoped to see a regular season game in Mexico sometime soon. The last regular season event there was the Astros’ 2004 game against the Florida Marlins in Mexico City.

“The Padres have always viewed northern Mexico as being a part of their market and fan base, going back to when the team originally started,” said Andy Strasberg, a former Padres vice president of marketing who worked for the team from 1975 to 1996. “In order to be successful, you’ve got to have continuity. You cannot jump in and out of the market. I’m hoping the Padres’ plan does that.”

Team Bus

The latest iteration of the Padres bus program launched in 2009, allowing fans to buy a ticket at the Padres Team Store in Tijuana for select games with transportation from the store to Petco Park. Last year, about 1,400 fans bought tickets, which cost $48 to $75 and included a hot dog and soda. The team will expand the program this year in a partnership with the Tijuana Toros, which will sell bus tickets at its own stores throughout Tijuana.

The Padres’ store, in the Plaza Rio shopping mall, no longer fit the team’s goal of a larger footprint and will close at the end of the month, Dee said. Details of the deal with the Toros were still being finalized, but Padres merchandise may be available at its stores. The buses will still pick fans up from the mall, and the added stops could include the Toros’ stadium, Estadio Gasmart, and Toros stores, according to Tom Seidler, Padres senior vice president for community and military affairs.

“Expect the Toros to be a part of our efforts,” Seidler said.

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