Expanding the Sports Arena Beyond Soccer


It's not just soccer that has Spanish-language viewers in the U.S. cheering anymore. Increasingly, Hispanic viewers are enjoying a mix of American and imported sports, due in part to a growing presence on cable. ESPN is preparing a dedicated cable network for U.S. Hispanics, joining Fox Sports en Español.

"This sports fan is underserved," said Russell Wolff, senior vice president and managing director of ESPN International.

ESPN is turning its Sunday-night ESPN Deportes offering into a dedicated Spanish-language channel. Slated to launch late this year, Deportes will be headlined by Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association action. ESPN is negotiating for rights to the National Football League, currently offered on the existing service.

Fox Sports en Español also has MLB action, with the exclusive Spanish-language rights to postseason baseball and the World Series, which air on corporate cousin Fox. But Fox Sports tries to offer more sports from abroad.

"The sports programming that is most appealing to Latinos in U.S. is programming from Latin America and countries-of-origin soccer," said David Sternberg, general manager of Fox Sports en Español.

For Fox, that means Latin American soccer and boxing. Fox Sports also will carry two seasons of CART auto racing; the league features several Latin American drivers.

But, like Spanish-language entertainment networks, ESPN and Fox Sports offerings face stiff competition from Univision, its sister net Telefutura and its rival Telemundo. Univision and Telefutura boast marquee soccer, including last summer's FIFA World Cup tournament, which earned stellar ratings, and Mexican League soccer.

Telemundo carries NBA games and soccer and will broadcast the upcoming Olympic Games, courtesy of its general-market parent NBC.

Indeed, soccer and boxing rate the highest on Spanish-language broadcast networks, according to an Initiative Media study of Nielsen Media Research data.

Fox Sports en Español has been a 24-hour outlet since 1996 and reaches about 5 million subscribers. Nearly 45% of them are Hispanic TV homes, Sternberg said.

ESPN, meanwhile, has yet to sign any carriage deals for Deportes, although Wolff says "very active conversations" are going on with MSOs. Like ESPN, Deportes will be a mix of game action and sports news and information and will have its own version of SportsCenter.