Mun2 Nets Win With U.S.-Mexico World Cup Qualifier

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Updated: Today, mun2 kicks itself onto the sports pitch, with exclusive English-language coverage of the World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Mexico.

Telemundo  — which will simulcast the match in Spanish and assigned the Anglo-coverage rights to cable cousin mun2 –at first negotiated to pass the game off to ESPN2. But it was a good thing the negotiations failed and mun2, aimed at bicultural Latinos ages 18 to 34 and currently counting 32 million subscribers, ultimately got to carry the ball itself.

It has been reported that the transfer fee to send the match to ESPN2 was exorbitant. And perhaps it was considering the momentum that Sam’s Army has garnered in the wake of its surprising second-place finish in the Confederations Cup from South Africa, site of the 2010 World Cup.

During the competition, the Americans took down top-ranked and defending Euro 2008 champion Spain and led traditional power Brazil 2-0 at the half before succumbing to the talent of the practitioners of jogo bonita. ESPN’s coverage on June 28 drew 3.95 million watchers, the most ever for the men’s national team for a non-World Cup match.

The U.S., which halfway through qualifying sits in second place in the CONCACAF group, has never won a World Cup qualifier in Mexico (0-12-1), which is in fourth place. The top three sides from CONCACAF qualify for the 2010 World Cup, with the fourth-place finisher squaring off against the fifth-place team from South America for another spot.

The Feb. 11 CONCACAF qualifier, won 2-0 by the Americans in Columbus, Ohio, tallied 1.2 million viewers on ESPN2, making it the network’s most-watched World Cup qualifier to date. On Univision, the same match drew some 5.9 million, according to Nielsen data.

No wonder, the sides in Bristol and Chicago, home to the U.S. Soccer Federation, wanted the game to go to the programmer with the richer futbol history, not to mention 95 million-plus homes.

Well, I’m not privy to how many pesos were asked for, but Telemundo did well to retain the rights and assign them to mun2, as the cable network has attracted lots of attention on sports and business pages. mun2 has lifted its profile as parent NBCU secured a free preview with AT&T U-verse TV, Charter, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable, among other distributors. It will enter match day in some 67 million homes for the one-day preview.

Of course with those carriers in tow, plus its positioning on Cablevision and Verizon FiOS, which both give the service wide distribution, mun2 not only will present the game, but it has a forum to promote its other original programming over the 24-hour period.That exposure could lead to viewers to ringing up their distributor and giving voice to asking for full-time carriage of the service.

Whether coincidental to the match or not, RCN has also struck a carriage deal for mun2 on its Signature (expanded basic) level of service in New York, Philly, Boston, D.C. and Chicago, as well as positioning on different packages in other markets, beginning Aug. 12.

In all likelihood, the expanded footprint should also lead to a solid, if not record ratings performance, which the network set with an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw on Dec. 12, 2007.

Working against the Nielsens — like the American team facing the heat and smog of Mexico City, not to mention the 100,000-plus who will cheer for El Tricolore — is the 3:55 pm. (ET) kickoff. However, network insiders indicate the match will be encored sometime later tomorrow, depending on the score and quality of the contest. On a cume basis, the match should dethrone the aforementioned grappling fare as mun2’s most-watched program.

Still, it hasn’t all gone smoothly.

Marcelo Balboa, mun2 analyst for the match and a former defender of the U.S. national team, was not granted an interview by U.S. coach Bob Bradley. Balboa also was denied access to the team’s practice in Miami, according to network insiders, but later managed to reach some of the players.

That likely saved mun2 from having to report on-air that the Americans would not comment for the match, shielding it from looking at best, unprofessional, and, at worst, perhaps as being perceived as leaning toward the Mexican side.

[For its part, U.S. Soccer put a different face on the proceedings, as a spokesman indicated that Balboa was given the same access to the team — the last 15 minutes of its practice session Monday at Barry University in Miami as other media. He also spoke to Bradley, as well as some players. Subsequently, a number of team members, including captain Landon Donovan, and the assistant coach, sat for interviews at a hotel. Balboa and crew did not attend the second practice session in Miami, according to US Soccer.]

Given the altitude, heat and their all-time 0-22-1 mark on Mexican soil, the odds are against the U.S. men’s national team. But upsets (or draws) do happen in soccer.

For its part, mun2 has already put a couple in the net with its futbol-preview gambit.

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