Fox Deportes at 20: Beyond ‘Fútbol’

Diverse schedule is a major part of network’s equation, GM Sanchez says
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Twenty years ago, Fox emerged as a fourth major broadcast network — finally big enough to challenge the “Big Three” of ABC, NBC, and CBS. It was also two years into a game-changing contract with the National Football League.

Among its core primetime shows were The Simpsons; The X-Files; Melrose Place; Beverly Hills, 90210; Party of Five; Martin; America’s Most Wanted and Married … With Children.

With Fox in a major growth mode, Fox News Channel was born. So was an entire collection of Fox Sports-branded regional sports networks, thanks to a 50/50 partnership between Fox parent News Corporation and Liberty Media.

Among these nascent cable TV sports channels was a Spanish-language offering targeted specifically to U.S. viewers, named “Fox Sports en Español.”

Today, this network is known as Fox Deportes and continues to be a trend-setter in a marketplace that’s vastly more competitive than when the channel was born out of “Prime Deportiva” and its successor, “Fox Sports Américas,” as a channel expressly devoted to the growing base of U.S. Hispanic sports fans and their unique interests.

Carlos A. Sanchez is executive vice president and general manager of Fox Deportes, helming the network from an office on Sepulveda Boulevard in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood, overlooking Bad News Bears Field and the San Diego Freeway. He joined Fox Deportes in March 2014 after six years as president and general manager of WNJU, the Telemundo-owned TV station in New York. He also spent several years as an executive at Entravision Communications, the largest owner of Univision affiliates.

“This network first launched as a multilingual channel, before Fox purchased 50% of Prime Networks in 1996,” Sanchez recalled. “Today, we are five years in to our Fox Deportes branding, and we are continuing to evolve as our audience has.”

Fox Deportes must stay ahead of not just 24/7 networks ESPN Deportes, beIN Sports en Español, and Univision Deportes, but also Telemundo and sibling NBCUniverso, as well as a host of niche networks from across Latin America.

What defines Fox Deportes as unique?  “The Super Bowl,” Sanchez said.

Soccer has been the biggest sport, but what has been a differentiation point is that Fox has taken risks,” Sanchez noted. “Fox Sports has provided us with alternative sports to soccer.”

That’s helped diversify Fox Deportes’ programming while giving advertisers highly rated options that go beyond a kick and a ¡Goool! to market around.

“Three years ago, Fox Deportes aired the Super Bowl [in Spanish] for the first time,” Sanchez said. “To this day, we have the record for the biggest audience in Spanish for the game.”

Super Bowl XLVIII in 2013 saw the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Denver Broncos 43-8 in a game played at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Despite the lopsided victory, the game featured big stars and a halftime show starring Bruno Mars. The 2016-17 NFL season has been a ratings disappointment for CBS and NBC, and the trade press has fixated on reasons as to why. Could Fox Deportes see a similar decline in viewership?

“I don’t think so,” Sanchez said. “The NFL is a unique property for our viewers and we are still introducing the NFL to many of our viewers.”

One way Fox Deportes is bringing an “NFL 101” approach to its viewers, which include less-acculturated Latinos from across Latin America, is with the recently launched studio program NFLEROS.

Initially an early Friday prime offering when launched in Week 1 of the NFL season, NFLEROS now airs on Sunday nights. This allows host Pablo Alsina and a team of commentators, including former NFL player Brady Poppinga, veteran broadcaster John Laguna and reporters Valeria Marin and Jessi Losada, to discuss Sunday’s matchups rather than offering a preview of what’s to come.

“We realized that there was an opportunity,” Sanchez said of the new night for NFLEROS. “It just made more sense to recap than to preview the week’s games. With our social-media focus, there is lots of interaction. We also see social media influencers and celebrities involved with the discussion.”

The shift to Sundays for NFLEROS puts a Los Angeles-produced program in front of viewers in a timeslot where the Mexico City-produced NFL Impacto had aired. That move was made because the U.S. Hispanic sports viewer is different than those in Mexico or points south and east across the Caribbean.

GLOBAL COMPANY, WORLDLY OFFERINGS

Aside from Fútbol Americano, Fox Deportes has found its groove with two Mexico City-produced studio shows — Central Fox and La Ultima Palabra. News and highlights show Central Fox and airs five times daily, while La Ultima Palabra is the network’s “flagship debate show,” Sanchez said. “It does very well for us, and boasts big-name talent.” Among its talent is Daniel “El Ruso” Brailovsky.

Meanwhile, the two-year-old Fox Deportes en Vivo has been an important connector for marketers who wish to get involved with major sporting events to which Fox Deportes might not have rights. The program’s hosts and production shift across the globe to the sports world’s hot spots, giving viewers and advertisers shoulder programming for such events as the FIFA World Cup. (Though Fox Sports holds English-language U.S. rights to the quadrennial men’s and women’s tournaments, NBCUniversal’s Telemundo is the Spanish-language U.S. rightsholder.) 

There are, of course, events where Fox Deportes is the rightsholder. Fox Deportes en Vivo has gone to Germany for Bundesliga matches and travels throughout the U.S. for NASCAR, UFC and Major League Baseball events.

Fox Deportes is currently enjoying the riches from this year’s eagerly anticipated World Series between the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t taken home a title since 1908, and the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won a world championship since 1948. “The ratings have been record-breaking so far,” Sanchez said. “For Game 2 in Cleveland, we had 87% more viewers aged 18-49 than we did in 2015.”

Game 1 yielded similar growth for the network, he adds.

Then there is NASCAR, a sport that is growing in popularity with Fox Deportes viewers.

“Motor sports are important to our audience, and obviously Hispanics love cars,” Sanchez said. “There is [Mexican driver] Daniel Suarez, a driver important to Hispanics. The Daytona 500 is now a big event for Fox Deportes. NASCAR is definitely not one of those sports that people think about when they think of Hispanic sports, but we’ve been able to introduce a lot of these sports to our audience. We see ourselves as a global company, and that extends to how we view our programming. The world is getting smaller.”

With an audience that is 70% bilingual and technologically savvy, Fox Deportes seeks to be at the forefront of the cutting edge approaches to serving Latino consumers. With ATSC 3.0 on the way, OTT unleashed and live sports still a huge draw for Latinos, Fox Deportes’ silver anniversary is set to be a bright one. 

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