Super Deal Brings Super Bowl to ESPN Deportes

For the third year in a row, U.S. audiences will have a choice of channels on which to watch the National Football League’s title game — they’ll just need to know how to speak Spanish.

Through a sublicensing deal struck with rights-holder CBS, ESPN Deportes will simulcast Super Bowl 50 in Spanish on Feb. 7. The Spanish-language channel has simulcast English-language sibling ESPN’s NFL games, including Monday Night Football, since 2006.  

The deal, which came together in late December, means the biggest event in U.S. television will have a Spanish-language home for the third consecutive season. NBC simulcast its coverage in 2015 with co-owned network NBCUniverso; Fox did the same in 2014 with its Fox Deportes network.

CBS, which doesn’t own a Spanish-language TV network, worked with the NFL to reach terms with ESPN Deportes.

“We’re excited to partner with CBS and ESPN Deportes,” NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp said. “We are committed to delivering our games in customized ways to serve our growing Hispanic fan base, and look forward to connecting with our fans on Super Bowl Sunday on [both of these networks].”

ESPN Deportes already airs postseason games, having televised the Jan. 9 AFC Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, simulcast in English by The Walt Disney Co. corporate siblings ESPN and ABC. It will also pair with ESPN to telecast the Pro Bowl on Jan. 31.

The rest of the NFL playoffs are televised exclusively by English-speaking networks, with Spanish audio available via SAP.

This approach has its limitations. For instance, during Jan. 9’s CBS broadcast of the Pittsburgh Steelers’s Wild Card victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the SAP feed didn’t match what was seen on-screen, including a pre-kickoff interview conducted by CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.

CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus didn’t want to take such an approach with the big game.

“As the broadcaster of Super Bowl 50, it was a priority for us to find a Spanish-language partner to reach the NFL’s Hispanic fan base,” he said. “The ESPN Deportes presentation will be a great complement to our broadcast.”

ESPN’s game coverage of Super Bowl 60 will begin at 6 p.m. (ET) from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., with the Monday Night Football Team of play-by-play announcer Alvaro Martin, color commentator Raul Allegre and sideline reporter John Sutcliffe. A 90-minute pre-game show will start at 4:30 p.m. (ET); postgame coverage will also follow.

The NFL has made great strides in seeking to best connect with Hispanic sports fans. According to the 2010 ESPN Deportes Poll, in addition to research conducted independently by Experian Marketing Services, the NFL had a lower passion score than Spain’s first-division soccer league among all U.S. Latinos.

Single out bilingual Hispanics, though, and the NFL is among the most popular sports properties. Among English-speaking Hispanics, the NFL ranks No. 1 among all professional sports leagues, according to Experian.

Securing domestic Spanish-language TV rights to North America’s premier sporting event reflects ESPN Deportes’s commitment to growing the NFL’s Hispanic fan base, vice president of programming and business initiatives Freddy Rolon told Hispanic Television Update in an exclusive interview.

“There has been a long-term commitment to building the fan base, and this is just a continuation of that commitment,” he said. “Hopefully we can continue having the big game in the future.”

In years past, excitement and anticipation about Super Bowl commercials was perhaps more fervent than for the game itself. As ESPN is now an option and with no 360-degree sales opportunity (as their was with Fox and NBCUniversal), what does this say about the evolving Super Bowl buy?

“Our sales team is out in the market with a package that includes Super Bowl programming across ESPN and ESPN Deportes,” Rolon said. “We can offer both the game on ESPN Deportes and game content across our other platforms.”

ESPN Deportes Radio will broadcast the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year, as part of a separate media-rights deal.

Was there concern from media buyers and planners, advertisers and/or agencies about a viewer dip in CBS’s ratings due to viewers shifting to ESPN Deportes? Or were media buyers excited about a new opportunity to reach Hispanics who prefer to consume Spanish-language media?

“We are adding to the overall audience of the Super Bowl,” Rolon said. “We are reaching a broader audience, and we are serving an audience that hasn’t really been served before. The Super Bowl is a cultural event, and now we are giving Spanish-speaking fans the option to watch the event on a platform that is directed to them.”

Rolon continued: “There’s a demand for fans to watch sports in a fully immersed environment. They want to see the facts, teams and results in a targeted way. Their experience is a hundred times better when all of the graphics align to what they see.”

Rolon declined to disclose financial terms, saying only that CBS and ESPN Deportes “saw a great opportunity on working together to offer the game in Spanish. With the NFL’s input, we quickly agreed to find a way to make a deal.”