High above the field at Arrowhead Stadium, Oscar Monterroso and Kiké Morales sit — stand, really — in a press box suite wearing headphones and shouting into microphones as Chiefs games unfold below.
Observed from afar, the two of them and their Tico Sports production crew could easily be dismissed as just another broadcasting unit housed on the ninth level.
Open up their feed on the Chiefs’ app or tune in on the radio, however, and you’ll quickly be mistaken. They’re not just a run-of-the-mill team. They’re Spanish speakers, immigrants from Costa Rica and Mexico where the only “football” they knew was what Americans call soccer.
And if you know their language, you’ll find they’re not just spewing nonsense about a sport they barely understand. Morales does play-by-play analysis and Monterroso does color commentary, both at high levels of comprehension.
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Chattering enthusiastically and without filter, Monterroso and Morales fill the air waves with the exuberance expected of a soccer broadcast. They cheer, they joke and they prolong touchdown calls (“Anotacioooon!”) like they would goals.
“I find there’s too much conversation that’s not really related to the players or the games with the commentators in English,” longtime listener Robert Galicia, 39, said. “I love the excitement. It’s almost like watching soccer but you’re watching football. They got their own little comedy going back and forth.”
In the midst of all the excitement, they’re teaching a riveted population of Hispanics in Kansas City and Wichita about an American game they might never have hoped to understand.
“It’s more of a culture thing. You want to live the experience in your language,” Morales said. “Kids that are second-generation, that are born in this country, they go to high school and it’s ‘football, football, football.’ They’re playing it but their parents don’t understand. … Hispanics want to be part of this. They feel pride in their city.
“We reach these people. They learn to barbecue before the game, they learn to go to the game and they learn to say Chiefs at the end of the anthem.”
Monterroso and Morales begin their sixth season in the booth together, going back to when the Chiefs first struck a deal to air games in Spanish for the 2011 season. This year is only their second broadcasting as Tico Sports, a division of Monterroso and wife CiCi Rojas’ company Tico Productions, LLC.
The switch from working for radio to producing their own broadcast allowed them to go from a skeleton crew of about three people, to a team big enough such that Morales and Monterroso have the freedom to be completely focused on the game — not troubleshooting dropped broadcast signals or other technical difficulties.
“The Chiefs recognize there are different types of fans,” Monterroso said. “English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, any other language. The majority right now is Spanish. Kansas City is growing. You’ve got a lot of people that are Spanish-speaking, and they’re aware of that.”
Monterroso, who had about two years of experience as a sports anchor for Univision in San Antonio, seemed like a natural fit for the station the Chiefs inked a deal with years ago.
He wasn’t. Not really. He knew football only well enough to give a short recap during a sportscast. Back then, he didn’t know how to explain a screen pass.
After all, Monterroso did not get into journalism to be a Spanish-language broadcaster for the Chiefs. He was a television photojournalist in San Antonio and Dallas before he moved to Kansas City, someone who accidentally landed a gig as a weekend sports anchor for a couple of years when a job came open at his Univision affiliate.
But he queued up some Chiefs clips and recorded a demo for the executives anyway. He got the job.
Later, he armed himself with a “Football for Dummies” guide and a copy of “Take Your Eyes Off the Ball.”
Monterroso is fluent in football now.
And that’s exactly what he wants his Spanish-speaking listeners, who can tune in on Kansas City stations KCTO 1160 AM or KPPZ-LP 100.5 FM (Wichita’s KHLT 99.7 FM).
“It gives me chills, especially with everything going on in this country,” said Tico Sports sideline reporter Leo Prieto said. “It really goes to show recent immigrants really want to be part of what’s happening in the United States. That, to me, when that happens, we’ve done our jobs.”
Alec McChesney contributed to this report.
English-to-Spanish glossary of some football terms
Football (the ball): Ovoide (the Spanish word for oval)
Quarterback: Mariscal de campo (the Spanish phrase for field marshal)
Running back: Corredor
Wide receiver: Ala abierta
Tight end: Ala cerrada
Safety: Profundo (the Spanish word for deep)
Sack: Captura de mariscal