Univision Deportes is making a quiet move to become the U.S. soccer broadcasting power.
The sports network, started in 2012, was the third-most viewed sports network this January in the key 18-to-49 demographic, behind ESPN and ESPN2, and is projected to attract 51 percent of the all U.S. soccer viewership.
“We found there was a huge niche that was an opportunity, and we seized the opportunity,” said Univision Deportes President Juan Carlos Rodriguez. “We didn’t have the ability to grab the big four sports, and we decided soccer would be our main bet.”
There are more than 27 outlets that air soccer in the U.S., but few have positioned the sport like Univision. By holding rights for the MLS, Liga MX, and a variety of European leagues, including the Champions League, Univision Deportes can air soccer during the daytime and primetime all week long.
“We have a very robust programming schedule for our audience,” Rodriguez said.
He said the initial goal for Univision Deportes was to become a “CNN of sports for Hispanics,” but the pivot came early because of the available niche to grow a sport with great U.S. potential and become the “ultimate home of soccer.”
Univision Deportes’ relative dominance in soccer viewership has helped grow the number of soccer minutes viewed in the U.S., up 68.9 billion minutes, or 191 percent, the past six years. The vast amount of broadcast rights owned by Univision Deportes is the way the network expects to keep the growth moving forward.
“Our investment in soccer has proven to be very smart,” said Steve Mandala, Univision president of advertising sales and marketing. “When we launched Univision Deportes, it was our vision to become the undisputed home of soccer in the U.S., because we felt it was one of the few sports at the time with the ability to break out. There was a clear need in the market and we seized the opportunity to bring the best leagues and tournaments to our air, serving a passionate and engaged audience.”
“It truly is the only professional sport that is 365 days a year, and we have proven to be dedicated to giving soccer a home year-round with the best portfolio in the country, irrespective of language.”
Univision Deportes is celebrating its first full year with the UEFA broadcasting rights with this month’s Champions League knock-out stage matches. Rodriguez said the rights for UEFA were secured because there was a need for a relevant daytime property.
An interesting quirk has developed as well with the UEFA rights, as new viewers are turning in. Liga MX is the most-watched club soccer league in the U.S., but 43 percent of Univision Deportes’ audience watching the Champions League had never watched a single prior match on the network.
Also exciting to Rodriguez is the runway ahead of the sport.
“The beauty of soccer is the globalization and accessibility,” Rodriguez said. “Someone will like their national team from where they come from, they’ll have a team they like in Europe, a team in the U.S., and they’ll watch players for entertainment. There are opportunities for fans of soccer to watch the best in the world.”
Rodriguez said there are four key pieces to continuing to build Univision’s soccer empire.
Univision Keys to Soccer Growth
- The network will continue its investment into soccer broadcast rights.
- Investments will also be made into technology to make the broadcasts appealing regardless of language.
- Univision will continue to work to bring together the best on-air talent in soccer.
- A desire to drive new properties in the soccer landscape, from professional to recreational.
Rodriguez also noted the network will continue investments in MMA and boxing, and it hopes to continue to develop a relationship with the big four leagues, even if it doesn’t secure the relevance or deep pockets to secure broadcast rights.
“Soccer continues to be the only major sport in the U.S. with a growing audience, and in a day and age where media rights are incredibly fragmented, we have positioned ourselves to own the majority of viewership for a sport gaining in popularity,” Mandala said.
But with soccer having massive global popularity and an audience that skews young, Rodriguez said the focus will remain on the sport.
With soccer transcending beyond language, Rodriguez said he’s happy the network is continuing its posturing to be the number-one U.S. soccer destination regardless of language.
“We’re very proud our bet on soccer has succeeded,” Rodriguez said. “We’re clearly winners to this point.”