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Soccer, studio shows herald Univision Deportes' entry into cable sports world

Soccer, studio shows herald Univision Deportes' entry into cable sports world

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Univision’s entry into the cable sports world was set to become official over the weekend as the broadcaster launched a Spanish-language sports network called Univision Deportes. The 24/7 network’s programming lineup will be anchored by rights to several soccer leagues, including La Liga Mexicana. It also is investing in studio programming that will be produced from Miami. The network would not reveal how many homes in which it will launch, but David Neal, a senior vice president with Univision, spoke to SportsBusiness Journal’s John Ourand about how the new channel will look and what it will do to stand out.

What should viewers expect from the channel?
Neal: We’re going to deliver a heavy dose of soccer, in particular La Liga Mexicana. But we’re also going to deliver sports studio shows that give depth and dimension to coverage that has not been done for this audience. In particular, our new one-hour flagship sports show, “Univision Deportes Extra,” will air every night from Miami. We will endeavor to be the go-to source for our viewers who want the very best in news, highlights, scores and analysis from all sports. We’ll have a focus on soccer, but we’ll cover all sports. We’ll cover the NBA, we’ll cover the NFL, we’ll cover Major League Baseball, we’ll cover Olympic sports — we’ll cover it all.

“Univision Deportes Extra” is a new nightly, hourlong show with scores, highlights and analysis.
Photo by: UNIVISION INTERACTIVE MEDIA
The channel was scheduled to launch on Saturday with an hourlong pregame show called “Futbol Central.” Why did you decide to start with that?
Neal
: I’ve been involved in Univision for about 14 months, watching the coverage of soccer. The formula generally is that the on-air talent and production teams who do the games also do the pregames and the halftimes. We should treat our coverage of soccer the same way that Fox or CBS treats the NFL on a Sunday afternoon. We’re starting with a one-hour version of the pregame show hosted by Fernando Fiore, who is the signature on-air talent here at Univision.

Your group is investing in a nightly studio news show. Why is this type of studio programming so important to you?
Neal
: I think it’s essential. We intend to be the go-to source for viewers who want to get the kind of news, the kind of informed opinion, that they can get on other outlets about the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. We’re going to be uniquely positioned to bring them that kind of opinion about the sports that really resonate with our audience.

There’s lots of competition in the Spanish sports market with ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, Gol TV and others. How will Univision Deportes stand out?
Neal
: It goes back to Univision’s long-standing relationship — 50 years — of serving Spanish-speaking viewers in the United States. There’s a loyalty that this audience has to Univision that, to me, is just breathtaking. I spent 30 years at NBC. The loyalty that this audience has to the things that Univision puts on the air, to me, has been a revelation. At the same time, it’s been a responsibility, because when you have viewers who out of habit come to you first, you want to make sure that you don’t under-serve them.

Right now, you only have a deal with Dish Network. How are other negotiations going?
Neal
: Our distribution team continues to have talks with various other potential partners.

What advertisers will you have at launch?
Neal
: In autos, we’ve got VW, Toyota, General Motors and Ford. In beers, we have A-B, Coors and Corona. Wireless we have Verizon and T-Mobile. And in home improvement, we’ve got Home Depot. Those are some premium advertisers. They are mainstream sports advertisers. That speaks extremely well to the potential that they see.

Are those channel-specific deals or tied in with deals at the bigger broadcast network?
Neal
: There are some of both. One of the things that has been gratifying to see is “Futbol Central” has a title sponsor deal with Burger King for halftime. We are selling virtual advertising with our Liga Mexicana games. We’ll have more of that.

Sandy Brown, former president of Univision’s sports division, left the company unexpectedly in March. How did that affect launch plans?
Neal
: There’s such a strong team in place here. We all just doubled down and worked even harder to get to the goal line. We’re all doubly inspired now to make this launch a spectacular success.