BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The visiting Florida Panthers score and Barclays Center falls quiet.
Well, everyone except the guy screaming “gggggoooaaaalllll!!” as if his life depended on it.
Meet Arley Londono, the original play-by-play voice of hockey in Spanish and the man at the heart of an initiative by the Panthers designed to reach new fans. Along with broadcast partner Octavio Sequera, he called all 41 regular-season home games at BB&T Center this season before getting a chance to hit the road during the playoffs.
That meant broadcasting games from a table set up in the lower bowl at the New York Islanders new arena in Brooklyn. They stood out among the crowd.
“(In Game 3) we scored three consecutive goals and I said a long ‘goooooallllll’ each time,” said Londono. “The people looked at me like ‘Hey, what happened to this guy?”’
There might not be a livelier broadcast tandem in the NHL.
Londono and Sequera put serious emotion into their calls, bringing the kind of energy you might expect from a World Cup soccer game. It’s helped the Panthers connect with new fans – many of whom started uniting around a phrase Sequera belted out after every goal by the local team.
“When we started to do the broadcast this season, I was like ‘I need to come up with one word that gets the people going’ so I created ‘tomalo,”’ said Sequera. “It means in English ‘take that.’ So every time the Panthers score a goal I say ‘tomalo’ – meaning ‘take that’ to the other team.
“Now everybody in Spanish, they tweet and say ‘tomalo, tomalo.”’
Prior to this season, it had been almost two decades since the Panthers regularly had home games broadcast in Spanish on ESPN Deportes radio. Londono was actually part of the team’s original play-by-play crew for its first three years of existence, but the Spanish broadcast stopped when he moved to Atlanta to take a job with CNN.
He was asked to return two years ago for a handful of games with Sequera – an excitable 32-year-old who has covered everything from the World Baseball Classic to the NBA final – and it went so well that they were retained for the entire home schedule in 2015-16.
Now there is talk about having them do all 82 games.
“I think it will morph into that,” said Panthers president Peter Luukko.
There is an obvious benefit here to the organization, which set team records for wins (47) and points (103) before having its season end with a 2-1 double overtime loss to the Islanders in Game 6 on Sunday night.
They’ve made big gains at the box office under owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu, but are still aggressively trying to grow their business. And by the Panthers own estimates, approximately 35 per cent of the population in their market is Hispanic.
“If you’ve got a million and a half people of Latin descent you’ve got to be chasing them,” said Luukko. “I mean that’s a small city.”
Londono’s own son and daughter have grown up with the sport and love it. He hails from Colombia and initially learned about hockey by reading everything he could once he found out he would be calling games during the inaugural season.
He was even there for the franchise’s first-ever game at the old Chicago Stadium – a 4-4 tie with the Blackhawks on Oct. 6, 1993.
Sequera’s hockey roots date back to a childhood split between Queens, N.Y., and Venezuela. He was a frequent visitor to Madison Square Garden during his years in the U.S.
“When I was a kid my Dad took me to all the Rangers games,” he said. “I was a Gretzky fan.”
Both men believe an important part of how they call the game is explaining things in a way that can be understood by listeners who may never have even stepped foot inside an arena. That helps increase the odds they eventually will.
Sequera even dedicated segments on his daily radio show to discussing the rules or finer points of the game. He took an increasing number of calls on the Panthers as the season went along, with backup goalie Al Montoya always a popular topic (Montoya is of Cuban descent and did a pre-game interview entirely in Spanish during the playoffs).
“After the 30th game of the season, they sound like experts,” said Sequera. “People are saying ‘I don’t understand that coach. Why doesn’t he put in Montoya? Montoya’s doing better than (Roberto) Luongo, man, I’m so mad.’ They’re like that.
“The Hispanics are so passionate.”
The Panthers are taking the long view with this project, but Luukko described the ratings on the Spanish broadcasts as “really good.”
Like the team on the ice, they are just taking the initial steps on a journey they hope will lead to better things somewhere down the road.
“We are a little thing, but we have something,” said Londono. “The Spanish population, the Spanish community, the people love soccer for example. … Our mission is trying to please them and explain to them how much passion there is in hockey.”
It’s nearly game time when our interview comes to an end. The arena has already started filling up with fans and there’s a buzz in the air.
As I’m leaving, Sequera motions me over and asks me to turn my tape recorder back on. He’s got one more message to relay.
“I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, so I’m the first Venezuelan in the NHL,” he says with a laugh.