It's a historic month for Univision Deportes, the multimedia sports division of Univision Communications Inc (UCI) as it begins its tenure as the official Spanish-language broadcaster of the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League in the U.S.
Although much of the conversation has surrounded Turner Sports and its English-speaking acquisition of the tournament from Fox Sports, the reality is that the U.S viewers also have another option, regardless of language.
Speaking exclusively with Sports Illustrated, Univision's Senior VP/Sports Programming & Acquisitions Eric Conrad gave details on their broadcasting plans and expressed how the overall goal is maximum exposure to their soccer-loving audience. "We view the Champions League as the premier of competition in the world of soccer, so for us we wanted to acquire those rights and then make it as many games available to our audience as we possibly could."
The statement is backed up as beginning on August 21, 22, Univision will carry 137 Champions League matches live across its platforms, 97 of which will air on its linear networks – Univision, Univision Deportes Network (UDN), UniMás and Galavisión. As a linear comparison, TNT is believed to show 46 matches. The other advantage is that non-linear matches will be available for free on digital and if you have a cable subscription and the network is included in your package, you will be able to watch every game digitally via its app or the website. If not, fans can still have access to selected non-linear matches for free, whether you have cable subscription or not.
This is a major move by Univision as it hopes to also attract non-Spanish speakers dedicated to the tournament who despite the language barrier, they will migrate to the network as it looks for quality broadcasting.
"While it's already established itself as the best tournament in the world," says Conrad, "we think the ratings stilll have an opportunity to grow."
In regards to the schedule for the group stage, which begins September 18, there are two new windows for the tournament: 1 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET. Univision Deportes will air two matches at 1pm ET - one match on UniMas/UDN and the other on Galavision. At 3 p.m. ET there are three matches airing on Univision/UDN, UniMas and Galavision.
(For the Europa League's group stage, UD will air two matches live at both 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. One on UniMas/UDN and the other on Galavision)
Outside of scheduling logistics, the network will also have on-site presence for its linear matches and pre-match broadcasting will begin at 12 p.m. ET aswell as a post-match show from Univision's Miami studios directly after the games. In terms of talent, Univision will rely on iconic UEFA Champions League commentators Luis Omar Tapia and Diego Balado, as well as Champions League and 1994's Ballon D’or winner Hristo Stoichkov, who has become a tremendously popular analyst for spanish-speakers in the U.S, and former Real Madrid, Inter striker Ivan Zamorano. Lucía Villalon, Tony Cherchi and Marc Crosas will also contribute to coverage of UEFA events.
Coverage of UEFA competitions officially get under way next week on August 15 when Real Madrid faces Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
"We are dedicating all our resources to ensuring the best production possible," says Conrad. "From technology to coverage, hoping we make it the best place to watch the biggest club tournament in the world."
Unvision Deportes has always been an aggressive broadcaster of the beautiful game, annually carrying 1100 live soccer matches, more than any other programmer in the U.S., regardless of language. Last year, for example, UD accounted for 46% of all soccer viewership in the U.S., regardless of language. Even with Telemundo having the World Cup this year, UD will have 40+% in 2018. Next year, that share is projected to be in the 50-55% range.
With major changes happening to UEFA coverage in America, it is clear Univision wants to be at the forefront as it expands its broadcasting appeal.
They just might succeed.