Univision Deportes Poised to Kick In

New Spanish-language sports net pumps up soccer coverage, draws looks from advertisers prior to April launch

As the clock ticks down toward the introduction of its new stand-alone sports network, Spanish-language broadcasting titan Univision is initiating its prelaunch sequence, lining up a roster of blue-chip advertisers and securing the first of the all-important carriage deals. And while the marketplace appears to be getting mighty crowded, analysts say Hispanic-targeted sports and entertainment programming represents one of the few great remaining growth prospects in the TV space.

Once it’s up and running, Univision Deportes will feature more Mexican Primera División soccer matches than any other channel in the U.S. Boasting the exclusive rights to air home games for 12 of the league’s 18 clubs, Univision Deportes will air three exclusive live Primera matches each week. Moreover, it will carry away games for the league’s other six clubs.

Through 2014, Univision Deportes also will deliver live coverage of FIFA events. In October, Comcast‘s Telemundo outbid its rival for the 2015-2022 FIFA World Cup rights, plunking down $600 million for the package—nearly double what Univision paid for its current package. Univision has been a FIFA partner since 1978. While the broadcaster has been vague about its target date, saying only that Deportes will go live sometime in the first half of this year, clients expect the channel will be suited up and on the pitch on or around April 1.

Univision cleared one major hurdle earlier this month when Dish Network announced it had reached a multiyear deal to distribute Univision Deportes and two other new offerings. Set to launch March 1, the Univision tlNovelas lineup will be stuffed with Grupo Televisa’s original telenovela content, while Univision Noticias will provide news from Mexico and Latin America. The third-largest subscription-TV provider in the country, Dish Net serves approximately 13.9 million basic video subs.

Advertisers are enthusiastic about the opportunities afforded by the Deportes network, said David Lawenda, president, advertising sales and marketing for Univision, who confirmed that every client that sponsors the flagship’s sports programming has agreed to support the new venture. Along with beer and insurance, telecom (T-Mobile, SprintNextel, Verizon) and auto (Toyota, Ford) have been particularly robust categories.

“Sales are very, very strong for Univision Deportes. We’re seeing tremendous interest in the network, and I expect the momentum will continue to build as we get closer to launch,” Lawenda said, adding that the spin-off could serve as a gateway for marketers who may have missed the boat on Univision in the past. “The concentration of our sports properties on this platform is going to bring a lot of [holdouts] on board.

”As heroes like Javier Hernández are now making a splash in the Premier League—”Chicharito” is the first Mexican player to sign with Manchester United—Univision is scouting rights deals outside Latin America. “We’re looking at a lot of things, including some soccer properties in Europe,” said Sandy Brown, president, Univision sports.

Given the rise of the demographic—Hispanics now account for 22 percent of the nation’s 18-49 population—Univision would seem to have an unimpeded shot on goal. Still, a few cultural challenges lie ahead. A year ago, Spanish-language networks landed just 9 percent of the $60 billion domestic TV market; clearly, marketers need to wake up to the realities—and the inherent opportunities—of the population shift.

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