Soccer coverage in the United States has steered through highs and lows the last decade. One of the most important events for fans in this country was the launching of Univision Deportes Network and the eventual rebranding to TUDN. The Spanish-language network has aired original soccer-centric programming not only from popular leagues and competitions but also games that aren’t readily available elsewhere. In the process, TUDN is attracting more English-language fans to its stable of programming.
In fact, TUDN has become more soccer-centric the longer the network has been on the air with fewer basketball and combat sports being aired. With its heavy focus on soccer (more than 50% of all soccer viewership in the US is on Univision networks and TUDN), the network has continuously pushed the envelope with new programming and colorful coverage of the beautiful game.
Recently, World Soccer Talk had the privilege of going behind the scenes at TUDN’s Miami studios to speak with a producer and some of the network’s top on-air talent.
At the forefront of TUDN’s aggressive, innovative approach is Zona Futbol. The live whip-around show, which covers UEFA competitions in real-time, has become indispensable viewing for the soccer fan in the United States. Modeled after programs such as NFL Red Zone, MultiMatch 90 and Goal Rush, Zona Futbol adds an extra layer of analysis with hosts Ramses Sandoval, Nico Cantor and Alejandro Berry. Univision recently re-upped their UEFA rights for an additional three seasons, giving TUDN and its sister channels four more years (including the year remaining on its current rights package) to air these competitions.
During the vast majority of Champions League and Europa League matchdays, TUDN airs the program that features rapid shifts from match to match. The show highlights every goal scored, every decent chance created and just about every save around the continent. Zona Futbol is available as a dedicated channel via participating streaming, cable and satellite systems.
Univision and its cadre of networks have traditionally been viewed as Liga MX and Mexican soccer centric among American audiences. That however has begun to change, quite rapidly. “Univision traditionally were paired with Liga MX. But the last year has shown what we can do with Europe,” Sandoval said. In addition, the last year or two has seen a growing audience for the US Men’s National Team on TUDN and Univision at the same time as the English language audience has declined. Berry cited the commitment TUDN has to producing good pre- and post- match shows for the US games, similar to the network’s long-standing commitment when it comes to airing the Mexican National Team.
Audience empowerment is one of the goals TUDN has with its European coverage. In this era of on-demand programming and the ability to catch matches that fit a viewer’s personal preference, the network has adopted accordingly. Berry says the network’s goal with how it presents UEFA club tournaments is to “try to empower the audience and how to watch it. Everything is changing so you adapt or die. We have 16 games for you, if you want to watch one you can do that, but if you want to watch everything at the same time we have that for you also.”
TUDN selects from its three sister linear channels as options to air matches on UEFA match days – Univision, UniMas, and Galavision. They can broadcast UEFA Champions League matches, while on Thursdays UniMas, TUDN and Galavision televise Europa League matches. With several additional matches taking place, TUDNxtra (available via streaming, cable and satellite providers) airs the matches not available on linear television. This enhances viewer choice and interaction like never before in Spanish on US broadcast TV or streaming. In the past, a maximum of two Spanish language matches were available for live viewing with others being aired tape-delayed or on-demand after full time. In an era with smartphones and instant score update apps, this broadcast model was unsustainable.
The four linear Univision family channels alone offer more of live UEFA matches with Spanish language commentary than what has been ever available in the US market. When you add to that Zona Futbol and TUDNxtra, you have a revolutionary new way to interact with the game in Spanish.
The production of Zona Futbol, as one would imagine, is intensive. Twenty three people are jammed into the control room including the presenters. Sandoval, Cantor and Berry have to be on their A game all the time, with little time to relax. Berry told us, “It is a very intense experience, we have 12 games going on at the same time, action all over, monitoring every game.” With this dynamic, the crew and talent feed off each another to create a unique live soccer experience for the viewer – one that is aided by the open nature of many European ties, with goals flying in all the time.
While the control room is packed, the TUDN match commentators are in the same building calling individual matches live on both the linear channels and TUDNxtra. At any moment, Sandoval and Berry might shift Zona Futbol’s live broadcast to any of these ongoing commentaries. It makes for incredible live television, but also the need to crisply produce what on Europa League match days is a four hour block of nonstop soccer action.
The diversity of audience that TUDN is now attracting contributes to the type of presentation the network provides. “We are conscious we have a different audience for European Football than regular TUDN programming” said Sandoval. This sometimes fuels Sandoval to give very natural Anglicized intros to happenings, for example, at Old Trafford, Molineux or Bay Arena.
Audiences watching European soccer include those focused on the Mexican and US Men’s National Team that are also televised on TUDN. Sandoval mentioned this leads to a focus at times on the likes of Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Christian Pulisic or Raul Jimenez in the Zona Futbol telecast.
As soccer audiences evolve and preferences transition along with it, TUDN appears on the cutting-edge of delivering what the consumer wants. As Zona Futbol demonstrates, the network is committed to bringing the most viewer-friendly experience possible right into the homes and offices of those watching. In this fast moving digital age, it’s a recipe for continued success.