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Volume 21 No. 1
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Univision speaks ‘futbol’ via tech, talent, logistics and programming

A few months ago I received some media attention for a little outburst I made about the power of live sports during our upfront presentation. It was nothing controversial … I was just overcome and shouted, “I freaking love sports!”

After 31 days of live World Cup action, including heart-stopping matches like U.S. vs. Belgium and Mexico vs. Netherlands, most Americans know better than ever what I meant: Nothing beats the communal, unifying experience of live, big-time sports.

U.S. soccer viewership has grown steadily but exploded over the last month. In cubicle-lined office suites, fast-food joints and upscale restaurants, big-screen TVs were rolled in to allow patrons and staff to watch. I’m told the employees of less-understanding bosses secretly watched our free live streams on the job. At one Midwestern couple’s 50th anniversary party, I heard there was a TV tent with the World Cup playing. And, of course, pubs everywhere were packed with men and women enjoying matches.

Many of these fans watched on Univision and Univision Deportes Network, perhaps tuning into our networks and digital platforms for the first time.

As a result, Univision’s coverage broke viewership records: Nearly 81 million in America watched the World Cup with us, up 34 percent from 2010. Our non-Hispanic World Cup viewership increased two-thirds from 2010 and viewership was up 53 percent among those 12 to 17. 

Months in advance, we launched a promotional campaign to attract women and it worked: The number of female viewers rose 38 percent. June-July on UDN was the most-watched month ever for a Spanish-language sports network and advertisers took note. Madison Avenue spent nearly as much on World Cup social media campaigns as on Super Bowl ads.

We know many Univision viewers tuned in despite the fact that they don’t speak a word of Spanish. And they didn’t tune in just because we were shouting “goooal” louder and longer. They tuned in because we had the right strategy — our “white glove approach” to covering soccer.

Our logistics, talent, on-air technology and programming strategy all aligned to provide a winning balance between sports, news and entertainment. 

In the end, UDN delivered live coverage around the clock. As a result, we averaged 1.2 million digital live streams per match, a 244 percent increase from 2010.

Even if you didn’t speak Univision’s native language, our coverage translated the drama and emotion of this beautiful game to millions of new viewers. As Spencer Hall from SB Nation put it, we were “the network where you don’t understand every word with your brain, but feel every syllable with your heart.” For a month we all spoke the same language, the one we have spoken for 44 years — “futbol.”

And here’s the headline: We have a plan to keep as many of those new viewers as possible. As I have said, “Beware our competitors, because I know exactly what we’re going to do.”

We’re going to take the model we used during the 2014 World Cup — complete integration of digital and social media, the best soccer app, the augmented reality graphics never before seen on soccer coverage in the U.S. and the passionate call by our announcers — and ride the new American futbol wave. We’ll apply this approach to the more than 500 Mexican national team, U.S. men’s national team, Liga MX, Major League Soccer and CONCACAF matches we’ll air over the next two years and to the Copa America Centenario in 2016.

We’ll also partner with our competitors to broaden the soccer landscape in America and increase the value proposition of the MLS and the U.S. and Mexico national teams. We hope to surprise the soccer world in the near future with details, so stay tuned.

To fans of live sports and live soccer, we say the excitement didn’t end with Germany’s dramatic win. The World Cup isn’t the Olympics: You don’t have to wait four years to see your favorite athletes in action again. You can see them again soon, on Univision, because we don’t do big-time soccer every four years — we do it every single week.

In the meantime, pull up a bar stool or get under the tent with your family, because we freaking love live sports, and more great soccer is on the way at Univision — the real home of soccer in America.

Juan Carlos Rodriguez is the president of Univision Deportes at Univision Communications Inc., the leading media company serving Hispanic America.