Ted Lewis: Taking stock of potential growing fan segment for Saints during NFL’s Hispanic Heritage Month _lowres

New Orleans Saints fans vie for autographs in front of a Hispanic Heritage banner before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Bill Haber) ORG XMIT: NYOTK

Like all Saints fans, Melvin Duque is upset about the team’s 0-2 start and concerned about the implications for this season and beyond.

But for Duque, it goes beyond the personal. It’s also financial.

Duque and his mother, Maria Barrera, are the owners of El Rinconcito, usually one of the prime gathering places for Latino sports fans in New Orleans.

Except that this season, the turnout for Los Santos games at the North Carrollton taqueria has been down to say the least.

In fact, for the opener against Arizona, there was only one person watching the Saints-Cardinals game in the restaurant area, compared to six taking in international soccer matches at the bar to the accompaniment of Mexican music and five others occupied at the pool table in between.

So especially on this NFL Hispanic Heritage weekend, Duque, who usually has a 3-to-2 split for the Saints on the five TVs in his establishment, is hoping the Saints can get off the schneid at Carolina.

“I think since before the season people have been nervous about how the team was going to do,” he said. “If you go out with your friends to watch the game, you want them to be winning.

“Soccer fans don’t seem to care as much.”

Like Duque said, finding Latino Saints fans can be tricky.

To be sure, there are plenty of Black & Gold lovers out there.

But the surge in the post-Katrina Hispanic population in the area hasn’t necessarily created that many new ones, and even Saints officials admit most outreach efforts have been unsuccessful.

The theory is, that segment is not as assimilated as those who have been here for decades, particularly in the Honduran community, and that theory applies to sports as much as anything else.

“I don’t know much about football, but the people I work with do,” said Jose Avila, a native of Honduras who works at the Mid City Daisy Duke’s. “So I have to join in when they talk about them because you can’t ignore it.”

Maybe that’s part of the reason the longtime Spanish broadcasts of Saints games are now being streamed over the team’s website instead of WFNO, the area’s lone Spanish language station.

That would be unthinkable in cities like Dallas; Houston; Miami; Tampa, Florida; San Diego and Phoenix, where Spanish broadcasts are a big deal.

Locally, though, a small, random sampling of Latinos who said they consider themselves Saints fans revealed that three of the four didn’t know about the broadcasts, either this year or before.

And when the Arizona game wasn’t broadcast in Spanish because everything hadn’t been finalized, according to Saints officials there were no complaints received.

“Most people I know just watch the games on TV,” said Roberto Flores, a native of El Salvador who now lives in Lafayette. “When I came here I didn’t know much about football, but I had a lot of friends that took me to games and I’ve been a fan ever since.

“Latino fans are always pretty wild about their teams. It’s for sure they’re serious about the Saints around here.”

But Worche Socoru, who left Honduras for New Orleans 35 years ago, said that even after all this time, the Spanish language broadcasts help him understand the game better.

“I just know they’re not too good,” Socoru said of the Saints. “They looked confused to me. They need some more experienced guys or someone to train them better.”

Socoru’s syntax may be a little awkward, but his diagnosis is spot on.

That’s why Marco Antonio Garcia, who has been doing the Saints’ Spanish broadcasts for the past two decades, said he feels they provide a service to the community and open doors for the Saints to create new fans, one of the most difficult things to do in sports.

“Lots of people were like me that come here not knowing about much football and just being soccer fans,” said Garcia, who emigrated from Honduras in 1966. “But so many got caught up in the happiness when we won the Super Bowl, and they’ve stayed with the team since then.

“Now we have a lot of newcomers who don’t know much about American football. They want a way to keep in touch with what’s going on Sundays, too.”

Count David Suarez among the converts.

A native of Nicaragua who has lived in Metairie for eight years and played soccer at Bonnabel, Suarez went from football novice to fanatic.

“The only reason I didn’t play football was because I wasn’t big enough,” he said. “But I never miss a Saints game now.

“I just don’t like the way they’re playing. There’s a lot of things they can improve on.”

And as Duque said, the sooner the better.

However, he does see a possible silver lining.

“When the Saints win, everybody’s happy and doing a lot of drinking,” he said. “But when they lose, a lot of them are unhappy and hang around to drink, too. Either way, we usually do pretty well.”