Spanish-Language Nets Ready For NFL Postseason Kickoff

Arizona will open the 2015 playoffs against Carolina on Saturday afternoon in ESPN's first-ever NFL postseason telecast.

The battle in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium also marks the kickoff of the most expansive NFL playoff coverage in Spanish, as ESPN Deportes will jump in with its own presentation of the Cardinals-Panthers. Later that night, NBCUniversal’s mun 2 will televise the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup, which also will air on NBC.

On Sunday, Fox Deportes, alongside Fox Broadcast, will showcase the Detroit Lions against the Dallas Cowboys. 

Last season, Fox Deportes became the first Spanish-language network in the U.S. to televise the NFL’s title tilt. This year that distinction falls to Comcast’s programming unit, as mun2 will culminate its transformation to NBC Universo on Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday.

Left unanswered:  Which network will televise Super Bowl L in Spanish. CBS will air the golden anniversary of the NFL’s Big Game from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. next year. However, CBS doesn’t have a Spanish-language outlet.

All of the league’s extant parties expressed interest in securing the rights to the contest. However, talks have yet to materialize. “We have not had discussions with the NFL; we expect them to take place soon,” said Carlos Sanchez, executive vice president and general manager of Fox Deportes.

Although the NFL is growing among Latinos – a 2013 ESPN Deportes Sports poll found that 60% of all Hispanics are NFL fans, more than boxing, NBA and MLB, and the game trails only soccer and Olympics overall. Moreover, among U.S.-born Hispanics, the NFL is the most popular sport.   

Despite such sentiment, and this year’s expanded postseason, the NFL, which has set a goal of raising its revenue base to $25 billion, from $10 billion today, by 2027, has not fully capitalized in this arena. ESPN Deportes’ coverage of Monday Night Football aside, there are only a handful of other regular-season games in Spanish-language play.

Could Spanish-language media leader Univision’s cable networks Galavision, or its dedicated sports network, Univision Deportes, be in the mix for an NFL package and/or Super Bowl L?

The league declined comment about its Spanish-language television game plan.

As for the 2015 postseason, the networks are sanguine about the ratings and commercial prospects.

*ESPN Deportes.  The Carolina-Arizona affair marks the apex of a long run with NFL that began before the network’s full-time bow. Fred Rolon, vice president of programming and business, noted that the service in 2001 -- when ESPN held the rights to the Sunday Night Football package -- made the games available in Spanish through ad hoc telecasts that were carried by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. ESPN Deportes launched as a 24/7 network in 2004.

The 2014 Monday Night Football schedule scored as ESPN Deportes’ most-watched and highest-rated season on record. During the recently completed campaign, the service averaged 59,000 Hispanic households and 85,000 of those viewers, up 31% and 25%, respectively, from 45,000 and 68,000 in 2013. Its coverage was highlighted by the 100, 000 Hispanic households and 128,000 watchers for the Oct. 27 game between Washington-Dallas, which stands as the second-most-watched MNF telecast behind Chicago Dallas on Dec. 9, 2013.

“The NFL continues to build,” said Rolon. “This was ESPN Deportes’ most successful season so far with Monday Night Football and the Wild Card is an exclamation point for us.”

Rolon said there was strong interest in the game on Madison Avenue and great crossover with ESPN. He said a number of marketers have taken “a total market position” with a presence in both the Spanish- and English language telecasts of the contest.

That roster includes General Motors, Mars, Pepsi, P&G, Anheuser-Busch and McDonald's, according to ESPN officials.  

Fox Deportes. Now in the second of two-year deal, Fox Deportes has a quartet of playoff telecasts on tap: its Wild Card coverage of Detroit-Dallas on Jan. 4, Divisional round matchups hosted by Seattle and Green Bay on  Jan. 10 and 11, as well as the NFC Championship game on Jan. 18.

Last Feb. 2, Fox Deportes made history, when it became the first Spanish-language channel in the U.S. to air the NFL championship game.

Super Bowl XLVIII played big, setting a new record with an average audience of 561,000 total viewers to become the most-watched non-soccer sports event in Spanish cable history. Despite Seattle’s 43-8 shellacking of Denver, viewership built throughout the game and peaked at 794,000 total viewers and 568,000 adults 18-49 during the second half.  

“The first year proved to be very successful,” said Sanchez. “It was much better than we expected.”

The network averaged 49,000 total viewers with its Thanksgiving Day coverage of Philadelphia’s throttling of Dallas on Thanksgiving. Officials said the average audience performance was eight times greater than its competitors and was six times larger among Latinos 18 to 49.

Sanchez is confident Fox Deportes’ 2015 postseason schedule, featuring studio talent at game-site locales and telecasts highlighting Latino players and coaches that viewers can identify with, will perform well, even without the Super Bowl paydirt.  

“The NFL is growing sports among Latinos. We want to be involved with the league and keep our leadership position among viewers,” he said.

NBC Universo. With the Sept. 28 Hispanic Heritage Game between New Orleans and Dallas and the Thanksgiving night matchup of Seatlle-San Francisco in the books, mun 2 will begin putting the money end of its one-year primetime deal with the NFL in play on Saturday night. Mirroring NBC’s playoff schedule, the 40 million subscriber mun2 will televise the Ravens-Steelers encounter on Jan. 3, the Divisional game hosted by the New England Patriots on Jan. 10 and Super Bowl XLIX from Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1, when the service will officially morph into NBC Universo.   

Network president Rubén Mendiola, who is overseeing the change to a modern, general-entertainment cable channel for Latinos that will showcase FIFA, NASCAR and other sports action, said the programmer is “super-focused on the Super Bowl. This is the biggest transformation for the network. All of operations are moving to Miami and the changeover will culminate with Super Bowl,” he said, expressing thanks for the NFL assist the service is receiving from NBC Sports. “Their support has been tremendous. They are helping us with the look of our telecasts and their story-telling approach to sports.”

Mendiola said “it’s been very exciting to see how the market is reacting” to the shift to NBC Universo.

That includes media buyers who are supporting the network’s NFL slate. Mike Rosen, executive vice president of advertising sales for NBCUniversal Hispanic Group, said the team packaged the regular season, postseason Super Bowl together.

Those efforts have yielded “a mix of traditional advertisers that look to reach Hispanic viewers, as well as some new ones,” said Rosen. “The NFL postseason and Super Bowl will hopefully open more doors for NBC Universo going forward.”

Rosen wouldn’t disclose the sell-through level or identify the advertisers viewers will see in NBC Universo’s Super Bowl telecast. He did say the sales have “exceeded our expectations and there were high expectations.”

He said NBC Universo will deliver a bonus audience with its culturally relevant presentation of the title game:  “We hope the telecast will extend the reach of what will hopefully be another record audience with the Super Bowl.”