Apr 26, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As America’s Hispanic population booms, so does televised Spanish-language soccer. A field once dominated by Univision and Telemundo has grown crowded with the addition of Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol, ESPN Deportes, GolTV and others chasing futbol fan ticos around the United States.
The result is a “very competitive push for licenses,” said Jorge Hidalgo, executive VP of Sports for Telemundo. “I’ve been in the business 20 years at both Univision and Telemundo since 1992, when it was a two-horse race. New players like ESPN Deportes and GolTV don’t immediately affect us because they have limited distribution, but the threat still exists.”
Soccer does well with Hispanic viewers, especially males 18 to 49. “It’s the passion for Hispanics,” said Andres Cantor, the world’s best-known soccer announcer. “It’s part of the culture of Latin America and it’s the game we’re brought up with.”
It’s also the backbone of Spanish-language TV in the United States. “Soccer is the cornerstone of our programming and has been since we went on the air in November of 1996,” said David Sternberg, general manager of Fox Sports en Espa ‘ol, one of several titles he holds with the Fox Cable Networks Group. “Soccer is close to 50 percent of our hours, averaging 540 matches a year.”
The network offers top Division One national leagues in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, England, Honduras and the United States as well as competition from six tournaments: InterLiga, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamericana, Recopa, Champions World Series and the Union of European Football Associations Cup.
In addition, from April through early November the network airs a game from the U.S. pro league, Major League Soccer, at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays.
Mr. Sternberg said fees to acquire long-term soccer broadcast licenses are “significant, but when compared with U.S. sports, we’re not talking about the same level of magnitude.” He declined to give precise numbers.
“Among adults 18 to 49, key matches earn a 1.6 national Hispanic household Nielsen rating and a 5 or 6 coverage rating for households in the Fox universe,” said Tom Maney, the network’s senior VP of ad sales.
Six hundred hours of soccer coverage are spread over Univision and its two sister networks, TeleFutura and Galavision. David Downs, president of Univision Sports, said he allocates soccer projects “to the various networks where it makes sense. Sports are a niche on Univision, and we’d never dream of pre-empting a hit novela at night.”
“TeleFutura, which skews slightly more male, will seek attractive sports events even in prime time, and Galavision has the most flexible schedule to accommodate any first-class sports we offer them,” Mr. Downs said.
About 205 games from Liga Mexicana, Mexico’s Division One pro league, are shown on the three networks. Univision owns broadcast rights to 10 of the league’s teams.
“The games vary in performance by the network because of distribution, the competition each network faces and the time period,” said Mr. Downs, who previously spent 21 years with ABC Sports. “Liga Mexicana, arguably the best league in North [America] and Central America, is the No. 1-rated sports property on Univision and TeleFutura and the best-rated program on Galavision.”
The league averages a 6.4 Hispanic household rating on Univision, a 4.0 on TeleFutura and a 1.0 on Galavision, according to Nielsen Media Research, Mr. Downs said.
The numbers pale in comparison with those for the World Cup, which has racked up huge ratings every four years since 1978 on Univision, or the Spanish International Network, as it was originally known. During its 2002 run Univision chalked up an average 10.0 Nielsen rating for the Cup, featuring the United States vs. Mexico. The 1994 Cup earned an average 11.3 rating, according to Nielsen.
Rights for the 64 matches in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups cost Univision $150 million, a figure Mr. Downs said is a U.S. record for either English- or Spanish-language soccer.
Another of Univision’s top draws is the Copa America competition. This summer 17 games will air on TeleFutura, while its older sibling Univision will carry nine contests. “The last time, in 2001, 10 games were on Univision and 16 on Galavision,” Mr. Downs said.
Life for Telemundo to a great extent revolves around this summer’s Olympics in Athens, Greece, when it broadcasts the games in Spanish for the first time. “We have a tremendous responsibility to cover every Hispanic athlete and country because our viewers are from so many different nations,” said Jorge Hidalgo, Telemundo’s executive VP of sports.
Of its 130 hours of Olympics programming, Mr. Hidalgo figures two-thirds will be soccer. And with the national men’s and women’s teams competing from Mexico, the home country of the largest Latino community in the United States, Mr. Hidalgo said he foresees strong ratings here. “Since [Mexico] qualified,” he said, “I sleep better.”
Telemundo airs the Mexican Divison One league and has exclusive broadcast rights to two of its teams, Atlante and Chiapas, and to the Mexican national team. It also has exclusive coverage for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams. Of the 94 matches it carries, 10 are with the U.S. teams.
Mexican teams are the top draws among American viewers. When Telemundo carried Mexico against Costa Rica March 29 the broadcast produced a 5.7 rating among adults 18 to 49 in late fringe. Last year, when Telemundo carried the Mexico-USA match, the numbers rose to 9.8 among men 18 to 49 and 8.2 for adults 18 to 49.
Three-month-old ESPN Deportes, the full-time sports network created out of a four-hour block that ran for 21/2 years on multiuse channels, is offering the UEFA Champions League as its hallmark soccer attraction. “These are the top 32 European teams, which have been narrowed down to England, Spain, France and Portugal, which meet in Germany May 26 for the championship,” said ESPN Deportes General Manager Lino Garcia. The UEFA license allows ESPN2 to also carry some of the games in English.
“We’ll offer some World Cup qualifying matches from Europe as well,” Mr. Garcia said.
In addition, the network attracts soccer fans with its Sunday night version of “SportsCenter” and its three soccer news shows, “F ‘tbol Picante,” which covers Mexican soccer; “Goles de Espa ‘a,” which focuses on Spanish league action; and the twice-weekly recap show “Fuera de Juego.”
The network began its broadcasts Jan. 7 and is currently available in 1 million cable households.
GolTV Director of Business Development Constantino Voulgaris said the network launched Feb. 14, 2003, with almost 3 million subs from DISH TV, and is now approaching 5 million homes. “We’re focused on the 40 percent of the Hispanic population in this country that is not Mexican,” Mr. Voulgaris said, “and we’re the only network to broadcast in both English and Spanish.
“Our main objective is to be a reference for soccer regardless of nationality.”
The company has nine narrators-four speaking in English, five in Spanish-working out of its North Bay Village headquarters in the Miami area. Spanish voice-overs and on-screen graphics are added to the “clean feed” GolTV obtains overseas from a source in the host country.
“We do try to carry original content games so that people from Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala can hear their native accents,” Mr. Voulgaris said.
In an agreement with Telemundo, GolTV carries 40 Mexican League World Cup qualifying matches. It also carries what Mr. Voulgaris called “the countries with the best soccer: Italy and Spain.”
Azteca America, the year-old network spun off from Mexico’s TV Azteca, specializes in local competition. “[Our] 180 broadcasts are the most Mexican soccer matches on any network,” said David Faitelson, Azteca America’s sports director and on-air commentator for several sports news shows.
The over-the-air network currently has 33 affiliates representing 73 percent coverage of the nation’s Hispanic households. As of April 4 the network has aired 59 matches
of the Mexican League, versus 18 for TeleFutura, 12 for Univision and nine for Telemundo, according to network official Daniel McCosh.