In a recent conversation with World Cup winner Carli Lloyd, Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren recounted what she said about watching soccer on Telemundo.
“It’s just more fun.”
Maybe it’s Lloyd’s admiration for Andrés Cantor’s famous call of her goal from the last Women’s World Cup Final, or it could be the energy and passion that emanate through the TV set. No matter what it is, there’s no doubt that watching soccer on Telemundo is an exciting experience whether you understand Spanish or not. In the English lexicon, fun is the most apropos description of the Telemundo difference.
That difference is a carefully orchestrated blueprint that Telemundo Deportes has worked diligently to generate must-see Spanish-language television from the same division that’s a sister organization to NBC Sports. Both the English-language and Spanish-language broadcasters, working under the umbrella of NBCUniversal, are committed to best-in-class presentation of the game, using the top talent available in the business and broadcasting soccer where they let the game do the talking instead of talent getting in the way.
“I think we bring a very enthusiastic approach to all of the events that we work on,” said Telemundo Deportes Executive Vice-President Eli Velazquez. “We like to project that energy and enthusiasm through the talent that we bring to the actual event. We bring that enthusiasm to the production values that we try to create for the audience, as well.
“I think after last summer’s [coverage of the Men’s World Cup], we recognize the value of that. It is our way of acknowledging that the audience should get the best level of production and quality that they expect because of the time we’re asking them to invest in our productions.”
In an exclusive sit-down interview with Velazquez, we got a first glimpse of what Telemundo Deportes has in store for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage. And, at the same time, a look at Telemundo’s coverage of the 2019 Copa America tournament, which will overlap with the women’s tournament.
“I think we went the extra mile this time specifically on the Women’s World Cup,” explained Velazquez. “We decided to really make the talent play authentic and genuine to the experience we’re trying to project. We went out and hired a great group of female talent that have experience in international soccer. So I cite, for example, Amelia Valverde, who coached the Costa Rican National Team in the Women’s World Cup in 2015. We also have Deyna Castellanos, who’s the current national champion with FSU, but also plays for the Venezuelan National Team, and was once nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or as the Female Player of the Year, so she brings a unique perspective as well. We’ve also brought on Janelly Farías. She played for the Mexican National Team.
“So, we’re trying to replicate what we think is an authentic experience for an analyst to be able to tell you what it means to be on the pitch in the moments that they’re going to be showcasing to the audience. We saw great results with that last year with the men’s coverage. That’s why we’ve brought back Diego Forlán. Juan Pablo Angel and Juan Pablo Sorin who will be on our Copa America coverage, which is not only appropriate because of who they are from a star perspective and a former player perspective, but because they’re from South America.”
Having coverage of two tournaments overlapping in the same 30 days presents a multitude of advantages and challenges at the same time.
“We have over a hundred accredited personnel in France for the Women’s World Cup,” said Velazquez. “We’ll have over 120 personnel accredited for the Copa America in Brazil. So, we’re near 230 people for the two events that will be operating internationally. And then internally here at Telemundo Center [in Miami], we’ll have about a good 50 to 80 personnel in the central hub of the Telemundo Center to help create the connection points between both locations.
Telemundo Deportes will have presenters hosting in both Paris, France and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We’re having a host position from a terrace in Paris, which overlooks the Eiffel Tower. And another position looking over at the Arc de Triumph. We have two female hosts for the Women’s World Cup, so it’ll be Ana Jurka and Carlota Vizmanos.”
Due to the logistics of covering both the Women’s World Cup and Copa America at the same time, Telemundo Deportes won’t be able to have all of their commentators at every single game in both France and Brazil.
“We have identified key moments during the event where we will have announcers on site,” Velazquez said. “So, the [Women’s World Cup] opening match, we’ll be there. We’re going to be there for the opening USA match, as well. We’re looking at the semifinals, and the final, and third-place games in Lyon, so we’re trying to be tactical around where we send our announcers this time because of the unique nature of our particular coverage.”
In Brazil, Telemundo Deportes will have commentators calling the opening game from São Paulo, and at the stadium for the Argentina-Colombia game the following day. On-site commentators will be there for the semifinals and final, too.
By covering two tournaments that overlap, Telemundo Deportes plan on having lead commentator Andrés Cantor call both the opening games to the Women’s World Cup and Copa America on-site, as well as Copa America semifinals and final.
Due to the finals of the Copa America and Women’s World Cup being on the same day, that’ll prevent Cantor from doing the Women’s World Cup Final in Paris. But Velazquez added that Telemundo Deportes remains open to sending commentator crews to more games if/when the need arises.
In addition to the native Spanish-language speakers, Telemundo Deportes sees an opportunity to win over the bilingual and English-language only audience who gravitated to the Men’s World Cup coverage across the Telemundo networks last summer (for large parts of the tournament, more people watched the Men’s World Cup in Spanish than via the English-language rights-holder, FOX Sports).
“When we looked at the numbers coming out of the  World Cup, when it came to bilinguals, we actually won that battle 80% to 20%,” explained Velazquez. “So, we knew then and there that there’s an audience out there that loves the Premier League. There’s the bilingual audience, but there may also be some English-only [viewers] there that want to experience soccer the way that we produce it, right? Because of what we did last summer, why wouldn’t we work with Premier League and with NBC Sports internally to try to identify promotion and cross-promotion opportunities.
“Especially when you consider Women’s World Cup with Team USA being as favored as they are, and really resonating here domestically regardless of whatever language you speak, we wanted to make sure we were reaching another audience that might be willing to sample what we bring to the table for this tournament since we’ve never done it this big before.
“I would reiterate the authentic approach we take in Spanish. I just feel like it’s a lot of fun in Spanish to watch [soccer] if you’re an English speaker.
“Our production will be in Spanish language, subtitled in Spanish language, and if you speak English, and you want to have some fun, you’re more than welcome to join us, but there will be opportunities throughout where you will find some of the content because of the native aspect of the content will be in English, but not because we’re covering anything in English.”
One of the criticisms of Telemundo in the past has been the lack of availability of a HD national feed. “As far as I know, our distribution is at the highest level it’s ever been for high-definition for both channels, both Universo and Telemundo,” Velazquez said. “I think there are some white space scenarios, but very few compared to where we were, let’s say, four years ago.
“Our hope is that our streaming app Telemundo Deportes En Vivo is where [you] would want to go. Everything there is in HD. The application lives within the NBC Sports platform as well for accessibility to everyone who wants to sample it.”
In addition to their 100+ accredited staff who will be in France, Velazquez added “We have crews following Team USA in the Women’s World Cup and obviously the Hispanic nations as well, then we’ll position them elsewhere as needed, because we don’t know how to tell the tournament will develop.” For Copa America, Telemundo Deportes will have reporters embedded with the Argentina and Colombia camps. “They’ll follow those two countries, and then we have four other crews that will be following the other nations as well. There’s going to be a healthy presence for us in the locker room and the press and training camps.”
“[This is] the most extensive coverage, multi-platform for either of these two events in the United States in Spanish language,” added Velazquez. “So, we have the most matches for Women’s World Cup on broadcast TV than ever before. You’ll be able to see every match on one of our platforms throughout the entire month. We have the most multi-platform coverage for Copa America, as well, and we have 22 games on Telemundo Network and four on Universo, and some of that was only because there was simultaneous scenario in the last round of the group stage, so it was out of necessity.”
It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer mammoth size of the operation and planning it’ll take to broadcast both the Women’s World Cup and Copa America tournaments especially given that many of the Copa America games are scheduled to start immediately each day after each Women’s World Cup game ends, thereby providing soccer fans wall-to-wall coverage across Telemundo Deportes.
Velazquez summed it up perfectly. “What we have is an opportunity. We’re calling it the Summer of Soccer.”