Featuring proud soccer nations such as Mexico, Chile, Germany, Portugal and others, the 2017 edition of the FIFA Confederations Cup will be televised in the United States by both FOX Sports (English language) and Telemundo and Universo (Spanish language). But it’s the Spanish-language counterparts that are planning wall-to-wall coverage of this tournament, with plans to far exceed what their rival FOX Sports is planning.
In 2011, Telemundo secured Spanish-language FIFA World Cup rights for the 2018 and 2022 cycles beating incumbent Univision. It was a breakthrough for NBCUniversal, Telemundo’s parent company, whose previous effort to secure World Cup rights on the English-language side for the 2010 and 2014 were rebuffed in odd and somewhat suspicious circumstances. Telemundo has since had its FIFA deal extended to include the 2026 cycle.
NBCUniversal has been aggressive about marketing Telemundo’s FIFA rights to English-language audiences as was evidenced by the number of spots promoting the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup that were run during the later stages of the Premier League season on NBCSN, CNBC and over-the-air NBC toward the end of the Premier League season. This is partly a reflection of the legacy of Telemundo’s predecessor with these rights (Univision) as well as perhaps a sense that Premier League fans may be looking for other options beyond FOX Sports to watch summer tournaments.
The FIFA Confederations Cup, which begins this Saturday in Russia, will be covered in a wraparound fashion by Telemundo, with teams of broadcast crews on-site at every match in the competition unlike FOX Sports who are only sending the single team of John Strong and Stu Holden. Plus, the coverage will include the involvement of the Telemundo network’s other programming departments including entertainment and news. Univision did this as well in 2010 and 2014.
Executive Vice President of Telemundo Sports Eli Velazquez spoke exclusively with World Soccer Talk last week about the programming plans for this competition. Velazquez touted the ancillary programming that Telemundo will be presenting around the coverage of the matches. With a desire to present the tournament as comprehensively and objectively as possible, the programming will also create a context about the players and storylines to help promote the players and national teams competing. Telemundo will use a “heavy dose” of storytelling drawing on the network’s experiences in broadcasting the last four Summer Olympic games as part of the NBCUniversal family.
These features as well as a program known as “Confed Cup Today” will compliment the Telemundo coverage of the games, and will be interactive with the audience via social media. Host Ana Jurka will play center-stage for much of the ancillary programming. Jurka, who hosts “Titulares y Más”, “Rumbo al Mundial” and “Fútbol Estelar Liga Premier, has been a staple of Telemundo’s coverage of FIFA events since assuming the rights beginning with the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Much of the coverage will involve entertainment and fun segments as well in an attempt to appeal to the entire family particularly among Hispanic-dominant audiences. But Telemundo also wants to work hard to gain the viewership of bilingual fans, millennials and other core-soccer fans who are English-language dominant.
“Every audience member is welcome regardless of language,” said Velazquez. “Here we talk football. You may not always understand what they are saying but you can feel the emotion based on the way it (the matches) is called and feel the passion.”
According to Velazquez, Telemundo will have close to 150 people working on the coverage of the competition, with close to 80 of them being on the ground in Russia. It’s a remarkable commitment for a competition that has often been viewed by soccer fans and media alike as distinctly second tier. But Telemundo sees value in the Confederations Cup as a stand-alone tournament in addition to providing a dry run for the network’s operations for next summer’s World Cup also being held in Russia. The World Cup, which is a much bigger endeavor obviously from a broadcast perspective, will be Telemundo’s first under this contract with FIFA. The knowledge and logistical information gathered by the network and its personnel during the Confederations Cup will be invaluable going into next summer’s showcase event.
Obviously Mexico and to a lesser extent Chile and Germany will drive viewership in the United States on Telemundo but Velazquez makes it clear that Telemundo is covering the entire event and focusing on each and every participating nation. But much like with FOX Sports on the English-language side, Mexico will receive special emphasis.
Two former Mexican internationals Manuel Sol and Carlos Hermosillo will be part of the coverage team. Hermosillo, one of the leading goal scorers in Mexican national team history, will have a unique role in the broadcasts.
“Every viewer wants to get a sense of what it is like on field, which is why Carlos Hermosillo and Manuel Sol are so important to what we are doing,” Velazquez stated.
“We’re actually using Hermosillo to host but when Mexico plays, he and Manuel Sol will work with Andres Cantor.”
Hermosillo has been known for calling it like it is, similar to what Craig Burley does in English-language on ESPN or Eric Wynalda does on FOX. And Hermosillo’s analysis often rankles those in the game. But Hermosillo is correctly seen as an asset to Telemundo’s programming and its product. The healthy doses of critiques dished by Hermosillo and also Sol help to drive conversation and no doubt will fit into Telemundo’s strategy of making the matches interactive.
The presence of Cantor gives Telemundo a superstar presence in the national soccer community. Having Cantor headline the coverage also will enhance Telemundo’s efforts to reach out to core-soccer fans who are English-language dominant. Cantor’s knowledge of the sport from across the globe also gives Telemundo a presence that cuts across ethnic lines and that of parochial national team supporters.
“I don’t want fans to think we are going to cover this tournament from a high level just for the nation’s that speak Spanish or have a big American following like Germany,” Velazquez said. “Our goal is tell the story of all of the national team stories that can resonate regardless of language.”
For years, Univision and ESPN have provided the gold standard for the coverage of international tournaments. Many fans expressed angst six years ago when the rights for the next two World Cup cycles were won by competing bids from Telemundo and FOX. But Telemundo has used its run up time and expertise in not only covering soccer, but also the Olympics to put forth an ambitious effort to give full wraparound coverage of this summer’s Confederations Cup.
For those fans who are predominately English speakers who have consistently complained about FOX’s coverage of international soccer or simply loved the passion Univision brought to covering past World Cups and Confederations Cup, Telemundo seems poised to satisfy your needs this summer.