The World Cup is a dream. In June, some 600 players from around the world will assemble at stadiums and training grounds throughout Brazil to contest that dream. For viewers in the United States, soccer fans will be able to turn that dream into a reality through a host of viewing options from ESPN and Univision on TV, via the Internet and on smart phones and tablets.
Last week, I sat down with the president of Univision Deportes to learn more about his network’s exciting plans for the World Cup this summer.
Juan Carlos Rodriguez, President of Univision Deportes, is no stranger to the World Cup. Beginning in 1986, when he was studying industrial engineering in Mexico, he took some time off from school to work with FIFA. He never went back. Instead he became the youngest-ever executive member of the World Cup. The competition is in his blood.
“The World Cup challenge is very simple,” says Rodriguez. He wants Univision to create a new standard for the World Cup by which future coverage will be measured and will allow all of us who won’t be in Brazil to feel like we are there.
Imagine experiencing the excitement of the Brazil World Cup in your own home and at your fingertips — with exceptional coverage and an experience that can be enjoyed by both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking soccer fans.
The political and economic climate of Brazil has changed since the nation was given the hosting honors, a situation the team at Univision is aware of, having covered last year’s Confederations Cup, and Rodriguez doesn’t shy away from discussing these issues.
He is surprised when a program called ‘Con Pelotas’ is mentioned. It is a personal initiative of Rodriguez that has provided 200,000 soccer balls to children around the world. The idea grew after he took time to travel and photograph Soweto following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and saw what the kids were using as soccer balls: bundles of rags, trash, rolled up pieces of carpet. He describes the foundation’s goals: “With a soccer ball at your feet, you will never have arms in your hands.” It is a way of giving back, of seeing with the heart, and he speaks of it without pride, instead speaking about it in the tones of someone who feels it is an honor to be able give.
Some day he says he hopes to go to a World Cup as a fan. We can be glad that he didn’t choose this year to do it.
Rodriguez was joined by Scott Levine, Senior Vice President of Products at Univision and Chris Wagner, Executive Vice President of NeuLion. In addition to previewing Univision’s World Cup plans, they were in New York to talk about the new Univision app that will allow viewers around the world to feel like they are there. He describes the coverage on two intersecting axis, the ‘x’, or technical axis of television, digital and mobile, and the ‘y’ as editorial content concerning news, entertainment and sport.
NeuLion creates the platforms for sports coverage including the MLS and NHL, covering over 47,000 live events last year. Levine describes the app as being for ‘football fans’ regardless of their language, with content in both Spanish and English.
The app features statistics covering, for example, ball possession, live game updates and video clips, along with a Twitter feed to connect with other fans, and highlight reels available after each game. You can favorite teams, too. The first 56 games will be streamed without authentication, and while games there after will require it, the video clips and recaps will still be available.
The graphics are amazing. “They will be beautiful, colorful and noisy,” says Rodriguez. “Noisy like us.” If he makes the challenge sound simple, this convergence of excellent editorial content with an application that brings it alive, the challenges of getting that content is more difficult. The teams will be escorted from training grounds to airports to stadiums. For the Univision team, that will not be the case. “We have to pray that we make the plane, that the plane takes off, that it lands, that the car we rented is there,” laughs Rodriguez. There is the challenge of language as well. Portuguese is the language of Brazil, and while he says that Portuguese speakers catch Spanish quicker than the opposite, he expects that the thrill of the World Cup should create an atmosphere of friendship where communication will not be a major hurdle.