Interview with TUDN President of Sports Juan Carlos Rodriguez about soccer coverage

The announcement of the recent strategic alliance between the sports departments at Univision Deportes Network and Televisa caught everyone by surprise, myself included. The two largest sports broadcasters in North America working together to create a monopoly of soccer coverage. As a result of the alliance between the Televisa and Univision sports departments, TUDN will be the first-ever soccer bi-national sports network.

To better understand the vision of the partnership and to get an idea of what TUDN has in store for viewers in the United States, I recently interviewed TUDN President of Sports Juan Carlos Rodriguez. Here’s the transcript of that interview:

 

Christopher: The first question I have is about TUDN. What is the vision for the channel? Obviously, it’s a new name, it’s a new logo, it seems refreshing; but what changes can soccer fans expect from the new partnership and the new network?

Juan Carlos Rodriguez: It was a natural evolution for the network because the more relevant soccer becomes in the US, the more relevant Liga MX will become in the US. Even though we are incredibly proud of our partnership with the MLS and super fond of it and happy about it and proud about it, Liga MX has taken a very impressing role for the future, because having these games on in prime-time, on weekends, we believe that a huge volume of soccer will be driven by Liga MX, regardless of language.

Having said this, perhaps it was a natural evolution to try to put together the best of Mexico and the best of our Mexican side and get it going from various point of views; the best talent, the best technology, the best properties, the best reporters, the best reporters outside, the best production team, the best production skills and so it made a lot of sense.

This is not a marriage at all. This is a consolidation and a collaboration of two entities that have the same interest and goal to broadcast and amplify the message of Liga MX soccer in the U.S. and in Mexico. So it made all the sense in the world.

Christopher: Would you say that there’s a difference between the way that Liga MX is produced and televised in Mexico versus Liga MX in the United States, historically speaking? Is there a difference between the way that the leagues are carried?

Juan Carlos: It’s the same that happens with the EPL. When NBC goes into the EPL, it’s like a very close friend, but it’s a foreigner that it’s part of the ongoing situation, but you never stop being a foreigner. Like when you’re part of the real thing, and you’re outside, then it’s a lot easier to flow into the mood of what this is.

So we have all reporters outside. We are more relevant with our reporters at each of the teams. We’re more relevant with the players and the coaches. We’re more relative with the managers. So it’s a better in-depth access that we’re granting by doing this.

Christopher: So for the viewers, for the soccer fans, whether they speak English or they speak Spanish, or whatever it may be, it’s enhancing the coverage of Liga MX. What about home games for Chivas and also San Luis?

Juan Carlos: So the specific case of Chivas, we publicly said it more than a year ago, but we did not have plans to continue under the same terms, but we are still in negotiations with Chivas to see if we can find a long-term partnership. We are, as you know, very well aware, we’ve been building relationships with teams for long-term. And we want to continue with this long-term use.

We love the Chivas family; we love the Vergara family; but at this point, they are looking for a shorter-term and we are looking for longer-term relationships. That might not help us to have a smooth path to an agreement.

We are definitely interested in having a long-term relationship with them and keep building the very important Chivas name into this market.

TUDN President of Sports Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Christopher: And what about San Luis, the newly promoted team to Liga MX? It seems that they don’t have a broadcaster for the home games, as far as I know.

Juan Carlos: For them specifically, we have a very close relationship with the Spanish owner, and we’d love to be their home here, but there are a lot of details that need to be addressed before we come to an agreement.

Christopher: What about the English-language experience of watching Liga MX? Any changes this season? Will games… I know in previous years you’ve had partnerships with fuboTV and I think on Twitter, also. But where can listeners that maybe don’t speak Spanish who just want to have English language broadcast select Liga MX games, where would they be able to find those?

Juan Carlos: The first game day of Champions League, were launching on TUDNxtra, which will be our digital play, that will be aggregating all of the games in English. And in partnership with our MVPDs and all of our distributors, who will give access to our audiences, in partnerships with the distributors to put in TUDNxtra so that they can digitally access and be able to see all of the relevant content that we are creating in English, both games and short-form content. And also all of the overlapping games that we have in all of our linear networks.

So to give you an example, a lot of Champions League games will be broadcasted in this property. And also, we will create Zona Futbol, which is going to be like the NFL Redzone for the Champions League, that we will be broadcasting through TUDNxtra. We’re very proud and very happy to be launching that in the next few weeks.

Christopher: And that would be then where they can watch Liga MX in English also, for some of the games?

Juan Carlos: Yes sir.

Christopher: So what about the Champions League? I mean, last season was the debut season, of course, Europa League too, as well as some other UEFA properties. Did they exceed your expectations? What was the feedback from, whether it’s from advertisers or from partners in terms of how it went and are they, will there be any additional changes, anything different for this coming season?

Juan Carlos: Yes. So, lot of learning from last year. Even though we’ve been doing soccer and we produce most the soccer, impressions in this country, both on day basis and on prime-time, the learning that we did last year, which was our first year, there’s a lot of those. And what that means is, we’re going to be not doing the same little mistakes that we did in the past. We have all this learning that became opportunities that we’re seizing. And to give you an example, we’re sending Hristo Stoichkov and Cristina Romero to create hundreds of pieces of short and long-form content out of Europe. With the access that we get through Hristo and the on-match way of doing things like Cristina in which we will be delivering, on top of the games, a lot of the short and long-form content that is being required both by fans and by our sponsors.

Christopher: So the short-form content? This is a Spanish-language audience that is not used to watching Champions League football on Univision and all the networks associated with it. Is that something where it’s almost like a learning curve, talking about the history of some of these clubs that may not be as well known…

Juan Carlos: Both histories and both short-form of the interviews that Hristo would have with Moreno or with Pep or Hristo an incredible concierge key who opened magical doors in Europe.

Christopher: Definitely one of the greats of the game and somebody who’s certainly a scholar.

It’s been probably a different summer, in many ways, for Univision in terms of not having the Women’s World Cup rights and the bigger tournaments that we’ve been used to watching on the Univision. And at the same time too, in the past few weeks and actually few days, there’s been LaLiga signing a new deal with beIN SPORTS, there’s been talk about the Bundesliga perhaps signing a deal with ESPN+, but in each of these conversations or negotiations, we’re not hearing the name Univision as much. Is it a change of philosophy or is it that maybe there’s more things to come that might happen where Univision might be involved or interested in acquiring more soccer rights?

Juan Carlos: No, I think we’ve had a very robust portfolio across every four years where our challenge with the FIFA event is they did a deal with our competitor and we’re happy to be where we are because as we have said historically, we’re in the business of making money and giving value to our owners and the price is for the properties and our people properties today in the US do not allow us to make money. So that’s very clear.

Number two, we’re incredibly proud of the work they did for the Women’s World Cup because they are elevating the game and we are in the business of elevating the soccer, both in men’s and women’s, and we’re incredibly proud of what they did. And that puts us in a very unique position.

We just created Lunes de Estrellas which stands for Mondays of Stars. And Mondays of Stars is a one or two prime-time games that will be broadcasted in both cable networks, both in Mexico and in the U.S. of Liga MX Women’s League. It will be produced by women, it will be anchored and tailored by women and we are very, very proud about it.

Juan Carlos: We’re in the process, it was already launched, sub-launched, a couple of weeks ago, but we’re very proud about it and we will continue to make some noise once we get it. The beauty of soccer is that the dates are set and we have to jump into things. But with incredible success of women’s soccer in America, we just jump into that opportunity. So eventually we are going to bundle Liga MX soccer with the US Women’s National Team soccer with the Mexican National Team soccer and other properties that we will try to acquire. We are strong believers on women’s soccer in America could become a very good potential of growth for businesses and sponsors and fans. So we need to support it and push and make it happen.

Christopher: That’s exciting. It’s good to hear too and actually the TV ratings for a lot of the women’s games too have been impressive on Univision when they’ve been aired on that. Coming up pretty soon, you’re going to have the next SUM TV deal with U.S. Women’s National Team, the U.S. Men’s National Team, Major League Soccer. And I think, Don Garber has talked about in the past about adding more things to that package to make it more valuable. Is that something that…

Juan Carlos: Our term expires on 2022, so hopefully it’s going to be far from now.

Christopher: Yeah, I was just wondering if any conversations have started in terms of, not negotiations, but in terms of what that package may entail?

Juan Carlos: Nothing that we’re in, not yet. I haven’t heard anything.

Christopher: And then, the Bundesliga? You have the BundesGol show which is, as far as I know, is the only show on U.S. television that is a Bundesliga highlights show that’s definitely recommended for viewers to watch that. As far as you understand…

Juan Carlos: We love our friends from the Bundesliga in many ways. They’re an incredibly professional group of executives, their product is very valuable, I believe it’s a bit underestimated across the markets. But real core soccer fans, we should all view more Bundesliga; it’s a very good property.

Christopher: Yeah and the television production is fantastic in terms of the use of cameras and everything they that supply to the different broadcasters in terms of access and…

Juan Carlos: They are very, very good at what they do. Incredibly professional.

Christopher: Absolutely. As far as you understand, is this the final year of the agreement between Univision and the Bundesliga and then it moves onto ESPN?

Juan Carlos: So for that we can tell you that we’re in the process of discussions.

Christopher: Okay, excellent. That’s good news. So as far as all the changes that have happened, to TUDN, any new talent? Any new people coming on board? Any changes in that regard?

Juan Carlos: We’re missing one person. I’m not going to tell you the name because we haven’t done the deal yet, but we’re missing one person; one very relevant from our industry that we’re trying to move to our roster. After that, I think we’re all set for the next few years to continue being the super leaders in our sector.

Christopher: So basically the last question I have is about TV rights. When I speak to ESPN or ESPN Deportes or speak to Telemundo or other channels, other networks, the same conversation is had where, and you mentioned it briefly, in terms of rights fees, in terms of the value, the price, the expectation of those rights fees continues to increase and increase into almost extortionate levels where it is very difficult for broadcasters to try to figure out a way to actually break even, to make a profit, which goes against the whole concept of acquiring rights and then broadcasting that channel or that league. Do you think we’re in a bubble? Do you think that those numbers, those values, will come down eventually as people are cord-cutting and yes, there’s demand for live sports, but it must put you and other executives in a difficult position where those rights fees are extremely expensive?

Juan Carlos: Yeah, let me give you some thoughts of that. I believe the rationality of acquiring rights is putting the industry in a point in which it seems like they shouldn’t be growing more. However, due to the new platforms and the new consumption habits and the new opportunities ahead of us, there is someone who is willing to defraud the market with a strategic approach.

So being rational and being strategic, which is strategic in our world means I’m willing to pay more than what it’s valued because it’s relevant for me for whatever reason. As long as that keeps going, and it will continue to happen, we’re going to see the prices still go up. So even though they are not rationally up, they’re going to continue to keep growing because of the strategic value of acquiring some specific rights and make business out of that. So I don’t know if I went around your question or I’m addressing it, but the answer is they will continue to keep growing regardless of the rationality of our regular business model.

Christopher: Yeah that makes sense. There is such a demand for it and sometimes broadcasters are willing to pay extra just to put themselves on the map or to make a statement and then it almost seems to be that they’re expecting losses but it’s the one example I think of, too, going back to the English language side, is NBCSN and before NBCSN there were what? Versus? And before that there were Outdoor Channel. Very few people knew who they were until they acquired the Premier League rights in 2013 and those rights have been increasing larger and larger but on the English language side, they put themselves on the map, and now I think people know who that channel is, and that’s just one example. There’s many other examples out there.

Juan Carlos, anything else that we didn’t cover that you want to mention? I know that there’s been discussion in the press about a private sale possibility. I’m guessing you probably can’t talk much about that, but anything else that we haven’t covered that you do want to mention?

Juan Carlos: That biz I can’t comment on. The last thing I would say is, and you asked me and I didn’t answer before, was on LaLiga; LaLiga is a very good example of that. LaLiga’s result of where they stand today, it’s aligning interest of people that believe that the value for those rights is higher than what we can see from our point of view. Therefore, we don’t have access to pay for those rights.