Going for the Cup

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In late November, David Downs, president of Univision Sports, visited South Africa for the first time. The occasion was the preliminary draw for the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, during which organizers determine which countries will play against each other in the football confederations. During his visit, Downs also attended a broadcasters meeting and began getting acquainted with a place where he will spend a great part of the summer of 2010. Downs, a soccer fan born in the Netherlands, spoke to Hispanic TV Update about Hispanic sports fans, Univision’s coverage plans for the Cup and the monster ratings expected. An edited transcript follows:

Q: As the sole Spanish-language rights holder to the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, what are Univision’s plans for covering the tournament?

A: We will be televising every one of the 64 matches in the tournament on a live basis, with a minimum of 30 minutes pre-game shows. 56 of those matches will be seen on Univision and eight on TeleFutura live. The reason for this is because there are eight pairs of matches that are played simultaneously in the closing stage of the first round, so teams don’t get an unfair advantage by knowing how other teams in their group have performed.

Q: How will the time difference with South Africa affect the cup’s viewership?

A: Actually South Africa is below the Equator, and since the event will take place during their winter months there will be no daylight savings at that time, making the time difference identical to the six hours that we had with Germany [in 2006]. It is certainly a very long plane flight, but the time difference is not huge, and that’s one of the things we’re very happy about. We’re looking at late-morning and mid-afternoon tournaments -- just like it was in Germany. Of course, some of the best matches of the day will be played in mid-afternoon here, which is not great when they happen during the week. But at least you’re not asking viewers to come to the [TV] set at 2 or 3 in the morning -- although they would.

Q: Any plans for primetime coverage?

A: Well, because some of the matches will be played during the day on weekdays, we are going to re-play matches in prime time on TeleFutura and Galavisión, which we have also done in the past. There is an audience in prime time to see these matches over again, and a pretty substantial one, so we’ll provide that service. I think it’s fair to say we will cover the World Cup during that month wall to wall and across all our day parts and all our division. As the day begins, Despierta América will have people live in South Africa. At the end of the afternoon, when the World Cup is wrapping up, Primer Impacto will devote a full half hour of their hour exclusively to World Cup coverage.

Q: Are new platforms becoming more important when it comes to covering a world event such as FIFA’s World Cup?

A: Television is still the big driver. For instance, the world-wide rights market for television for the World Cup is in the $3 billion range. That is up to three times the size of the marketing budget. Is the business becoming more complex? Absolutely; there are more ways for people to view and follow events, but at this point television is the most important platform. And we’re obviously still focused on it -- just as everybody else is.

Q: Is soccer still the main driver? Has Univision seen a shift towards other sports?

A: We still focus primarily on soccer and we still see our audiences growing, both for our regular weekly soccer series but also for all the other major events, such as Copa América. And this is not the case with the English-language networks where audiences have been constantly decreasing. We are clearly still achieving our potential and our audience has not lost their appetite for soccer. We are open to other sports, of course, but soccer is still our main focus.

Q: Still, the National Football League recently partnered with Univision to have its Spanish-language site hosted by Univision.com…

A: All of the traditional American sports leagues are desperately trying to attract Hispanics. If you look at the population trends, by the year 2050 almost 30% of the U.S. population will be Hispanic, so [the leagues] know they’d better have a good performance among this audience. They know that if they want to continue to grow, they have to reach out to this segment and make some inroads.

Q: The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany drew a record-breaking 50 million viewers to the Univision networks. Do you expect similar numbers for South Africa?

A: Because the time difference between the U.S. and South Africa will be identical to that of Germany, there shouldn’t be any dramatic swing in the ratings as a result of that. Of course, in the course of four years, between the two World Cups, the U.S. Hispanic population grows almost 20%, so we expect our deliveries to go up 20% among Hispanics and almost 4% among non-Hispanics. Overall, we are looking at a cumulative audience of 55 million and maybe even approaching 60 million.

Looking at these figures, it is obvious that the World Cup is the most important sports event for our audience, but it is equally significant for us, as it gives us a chance to show our production value in front of a broad U.S. audience every four years; a chance we don’t really get on a regular basis. It is during World Cup coverage when we go side by side simultaneously with arguably the best English-language sports broadcasters, including Disney’s ABC and ESPN. The entire country can see how we compare to them -- and we compare very favorably.