Univision's 'Copa'Is More Than Half-Full

mmalone@nbmedia.com | @BCMikeMalone

The World Cup is 11 months away, but Univision is stoking its viewers’ considerable passion for fútbol with a rapidly growing summer tournament whose not-so-long-term goal is a national footprint. The amateur soccer-palooza, called Copa Univision—with 5-on-5 teams on up to 8-on- 8, featuring children as young as 5 to grownups— expands to 12 markets this year, and will go to 15 in 2014. “There’s no question we are taking the power of television and radio stations and a TV network and combining that with the passion our viewers have for soccer,” says Kevin Cuddihy, president of Univision Television Group. “And we’re excited about the continued expansion, which lends itself to national clients.”

The Copa Univision (“copa” of course means “cup”) numbers tell much of the story. An estimated 1,300 teams, 12,000 players and 250,000 attendees will be part of the competition this year. The two-day tournaments kicked off in Phoenix in late April, moved to Miami, then Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Francisco, the latter this past weekend. Coming up in August and September: Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, Chicago, Fresno and Sacramento, Calif.

Atlanta is one of three cities set to come on board with its own Copa franchise next year. Cuddihy envisions “virtually” all of Univision’s owned TV markets eventually featuring a local Copa—something of a road show, with standard rules and regs market to market.

No Corona

The competitions are family friendly, with live music, food and kids’ entertainment in addition to the matches. Cash prizes for winners are the exception much more than the norm. Spectators enter for free. Univision takes in revenue from sponsors, which buy booths and/ or signage around the field, though the broadcaster doesn’t permit beer company sponsors, which keeps the family vibe intact. Dish Network and the grocery chain HEB are two prominent backers. Fans of the socalled beautiful game are free to walk around and stop by the vendor booths for giveaways, or even test drive an automotive sponsor’s new wheels in the parking lot.

While the stations’ own air would be a logical place to broadcast the more skilled later rounds, they do not show the matches. But highlights do pepper the local news and the network sports show Republica Deportiva, and local news crews often set up on-site for the weekend’s newscasts. Building up to a larger footprint for Copa, notes Cuddihy, might make the larger matches a fit on the Univision Deportes network. “As we’re trying to build toward a national tournament, the conversation with the network is the next logical step,” he says.

Soccer SoCal Style

Copa Univision was launched in San Diego in 2002. When 75 teams signed up, Luis Patino, Univision senior VP, knew he was on to something. “Our initial thoughts were to take advantage of a World Cup year,” Patino says, “and give it a local grassroots element.” (South Korea and Japan hosted the Cup in ’02, if you’re scoring at home, and Brazil won.)

A number of global corporations had attempted their own local tourneys, only to see them fizzle out before long, Patino says. While Univision partnered with a soccer organizer in San Diego, Patino says the competition’s mistake was farming out too much of the planning. (The San Diego tourney is known as Copa San Diego, as Entravision owns the station.)

The giant soda and home improvement brands didn’t have the media reach of Univision, either. “The advantage Univision has is they can promote the events on the radio and TV stations,” says Lia Silkworth, executive VP and managing director at the minority-focused marketing firm Tapestry. “They can put so much more behind it at the local level.”

The derby grew dramatically last year, when Univision added competitions in San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York and Fresno. It’s noteworthy that the tournaments have expanded beyond their Spanish-speaking base—footballers drawn to stiff competition and perhaps the tasty snacks afterwards. “It’s not just the core Univision viewer,” says Patino. “They come for the quality soccer.”

While Silkworth says one of the attributes of Copa Univision is its local flavor, she believes shifting it to a national stage will open up a new level of revenue. “It’s a really interesting, unique and powerful grassroots opportunity,” she says. “[National] is the logical next step of where the program should go to bring in a different type of advertiser.”

The recently concluded Dallas competition featured some 2,700 players and more than 10,000 spectators, Cuddihy says. It’s engagement such as this that leads him to believe Copa Univision will thrive on a national scope. “Its success points to the relationship our brand has with viewers,” Cuddihy says. “I’m not sure everyone could do this. We’re excited we can.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.