ESPN Plans 24-Hour 'Deportes'

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ESPN will expand its block of Spanish-language sports programming into a 24-hour network next year, launching ESPN Deportes as a standalone channel in third-quarter 2003.

Presently, ESPN Deportes is a separately produced program block, incorporating Spanish-language commentary and graphics, that runs on Sunday nights. The syndicated block is now distributed to 13 million subscribers, largely on local-origination channels, and has presented full seasons of ESPN's Major League Baseball Sunday Night Baseball
and National Football League Sunday Night Football
telecasts.

ESPN enters the fray as the U.S. Hispanic population booms and as programmers aim more dedicated and Spanish-language feeds of extant channels at this group.

The new network will report to Russell Wolff, senior vice president and managing director of ESPN International.

As for pricing, ESPN executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Sean Bratches did not provide specifics. "The product will be priced reflective of its value," he said.

The network would be targeted hard to the "5 to 6 million multichannel Hispanic homes in the U.S.," he noted.

ESPN envisions the network as a "driver of Spanish digital tiers, or as digital basic," said Bratches. "We'll be crafting deals that will fill our affiliates needs."

Bratches said affiliates will receive 2 minutes of local ad time per hour, and they will be encouraged to run the spots in Spanish — something ESPN will do on the national level. He said ESPN Deportes would allow affiliates to grab a piece of a growing advertising pie.

"Newspapers receive the lion's share of local Hispanic ad revenues. This will add value for affiliates," he said.

Roots in block

ESPN Deportes, which translates to "ESPN Sports," traces its roots back to 2000, when ESPN and Major League Baseball agreed to provide ESPN's affiliates the right to carry a limited number of Spanish-language Sunday Night Baseball
telecasts. ESPN Deportes launched as a weekly block in April 2001.

In addition to MLB and NFL games, ESPN Deportes will offer National Basketball Association contests, European soccer matches, Pacific League baseball,

ONEFA college football from Mexico, the Copa America Volleyball tournament, and both the U.S. and Latin American summer and winter X Games.

A separately produced SportsCenter
will be a key part of the lineup, which will also include Gol ESPN: Fuera de Juego, a roundtable discussion of soccer, and ESPN Perfiles, a half-hour interview show.

The principal competitor for ESPN Deportes is Fox Sports World Español, a six-year-old service that reaches 5 million homes, half of which are multichannel Hispanic households.

"We welcome the competition, but they're a little late to the party," said Fox Sports World Español general manager David Sternberg. "We've made gains in distribution and advertising sales, and our programming is strong and features a diversity that appeals to many different Hispanic viewers."

Sternberg said the service receives "a license fee" from carriers, but wouldn't disclose a rate card.

Fox Sports World Español offers 1,100 hours of first-run soccer programming, including league action from Brazil, Argentina and El Salvador. It also holds the rights to Copa Panamericanas and Copa Libertadores, the club-tournament championship of Latin America, which is the service's most popular program.

Boxing and baseball are its next two strongest sports, said Sternberg, with the latter having particular appeal among Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans.

Via a sub-license deal with the Fox broadcast network, the service also holds the rights to Major League Baseball's post-season action through 2006, which Sternberg also believes gives his network "a leg up."

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