When Mexico kicks off against Panama at Azteca Stadium on Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. (ET), there will be more than a few nervous glances from Randy Falco and other top Univision Communications executives.
While John Skipper and the rest of ESPN futbol fanatics know the U.S. will at least play in the group stage during the worldwide leader’s coverage from its final World Cup next June-July, the same can’t be said for the U.S. Spanish-language media leader and its Mexican-American audience.
Typically, CONCACAF’s top power, El Tri, has been more than disappointing in the region’s FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying. After eight matches and eight points, Mexico sits tied for fourth with Panama (The Canal Men actually were ahead of goal differential), its journey to Brazil far from certain.
CONCACAF’s top three Hexagonal finishers automatically punch their tickets to the World Cup, with Sam’s Army and Costa Rica having claimed two of the berths for 2014 quadrennial, while Honduras, with 11 points is in third. The fourth-place team would have to knock out New Zealand to make it to Brazil next June.
The Mexico-Panama match, airing on UniMas (the former TeleFutura) and dedicated cable sports network, Univision Deportes, figures to draw a massive audience. Indeed, El Tri’s two most recent WCQ matches -- a 2-0 loss to the neighbors to the north on Sept. 10 and a 2-1 defeat at the feet of Honduras on Sept. 6 -- averaged 4.1 million viewers and 3.9 million watchers on UniMas, respectively.
Many more eyeballs and dollars are at stake should Mexico come up short in its quest for Brazilian passage. Univision's coverage of Mexico’s 3-1 loss to Argentina in the FIFA 2010 round-of-16 match on June 27 of that year was the most-watched Spanish-language sports telecast in U.S. history, garnering 8.7 viewers. The 2010 FIFA final in which Spain topped The Netherlands played before 8.3 million Univision viewers.
The 10th and final match of CONCACAF qualifying will pit Mexico against Costa Rica on Oct. 15. In a piece of media rights irony, many Univision execs will no doubt be tuning in Telemundo, which has secured FiFA World Cup rights from 2015 through 2022, on Tuesday night.