Known as "La Torre de Jalisco" (The Tower of Jalisco) for his home province in Mexico and his 6-foot 5-inch frame, Pablo Ramírez is the "official voice" of soccer for Univision Communications in the U.S. With a resume that includes calls on five World Cups, plus CONCACAF Gold Cups, the Copa América from Colombia and Peru, "friendlies" matches and Fútbol Liga Mexicana games, Ramírez has towered over hundreds of contests for ardent audiences on Univision, TeleFutura and Galavisión.
Mike Reynolds, online news editor for B&C's sister publication, Multichannel News, talked fútbol with Ramírez as he gears up for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa from June 11 to July 11. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
We're 80 days out now. Is the excitement growing as the world's biggest sporting event draws near?
I'm very excited. But we have a lot of work to do before: the CONCACAF Champions League, the Mexican League, [Major League Soccer]. That's part of the excitement because we have a lot of work. It's like spring training for us.
Given all those other matches, have you been able to focus on the World Cup yet?
Of course. We've been working since maybe the Confederations Cup, watching the games, watching the other teams, watching other players, the African Cup. We're taking the time to make the preparation.
This will be your sixth World Cup. Does it become old hat?
Oh no, no. I'm always nervous because every World Cup is different. It's the first time for the World Cup in South Africa. There are new countries, new players, new stadiums. It's always the same nervous feeling, the same excitement. It's like feeling like a rookie, but with some experience.
Have you been to South Africa yet?
I was in Cape Town last December for the draw.
Did you take a look around at any of the venues?
I was one mile from the stadium in Cape Town. It's almost done. Maybe just the parking lot [is left]. But there were a lot of people working, and it actually looks like it's going to be on time.
When will Univision arrive in South Africa for the World Cup?
We try to arrive, more or less, 10 days before every World Cup because we need to get some preparation, we need to send some previews for different programs, for the morning shows. I think I fly in June 5.
There are going to be three broadcast teams?
Yeah, because we're going live with the 64 games. It's six people, three play-by-play, three analysts. I suppose my partner is going to be Jesús Bracamontes or José Luis Chilavert.
Will you follow the Mexican team in the group stage?
I'm with Mexico in the first round; I have a lot of games. [According to Univision, the announcer assignments will be finalized soon.-Ed.]
Univision will do a lot of cultural and news programming around the event itself, not just the matches.
We try always to cover all the corners- news, obviously, politics, cultural, sports, entertainment. That's the reason we're going with all the shows -El Gordo y la Flaca, the news, Despierta América, República Deportiva. We are covering all the bases.
There are soccer fans and then there are World Cup fans. Does that influence the way you call the matches? Or is fútbol fútbol?
No, fútbol is my life. Fútbol is a blessing for us. And every game is important for us, but obviously the World Cup [is like] my graduation every four years. There's passion, intensity to get to the CONCACAF Champions League, the MLS, the Mexican League. This is a different tournament; this is what we are waiting for every four years, and it's like 120% of our passion in these kinds of games.
Because of its importance, you'll have more viewers than you typically would for some of the other matches. Do you have to call the game differently?
I always try to get this for the people, for the viewers. And you know, it's different because you're in the stadium, with like 60,000 people. It's a different noise, a different atmosphere. And it's contagious for us. And you try to put [extra applause into the telecast], maybe [more enthusiasm] in the play-by-play style or a different point of view. It's different for the World Cup.
Given what happened with the African Nations Cup and the attack on the Togo team, are you concerned about security issues?
We were there like 10 days in December and everything looked OK. I think we're fine.
Let me ask you about some of the teams. How do you assess the Mexican team as it gets ready for Group A competition?
They have three months more. I think we have not a lot of superstars, and maybe it's going to be an advantage. I think it's the same situation from Argentina. Not a lot of superstars, not a lot of individuality, but the team, the collective group, is going to be the biggest strength, the biggest advantage.
Where do you see Mexico, with France, Uruguay and South Africa? Do you anticipate that Mexico will get out of Group A?
Yeah, I suppose Mexico is going to be second, maybe first.
Who's the other favorite?
I was thinking of France.
That first match against South Africa opens the World Cup. Will it be a tricky one?
Like pressure for Mexico? I think it's more like a pressure from South Africa because, you know, this is not a strong team. We saw them in the Confederations Cup, and I think the pressure is on them.
How do you think the U.S. will fare with England, Slovenia and Algeria in Group C?
I suppose it's going to be England in first place and USA in second. Now, be careful with Algeria.
Is Spain the team to beat? Brazil?
Everybody thinks it's Spain. And actually it's not, not from my view. Because when you get the big favorite, [they're] always out. And I suppose that a lot of players from Spain are, like, going down a little.
Yeah. My three picks are Brazil or Netherlands versus Italy.
I was going to ask you about Italy, the defending champions. You think they'll be right there at the end?
I think so because it's always the same story. They start a little weak and then get going strong. Maybe they don't play very well from [what the people want to see], but they're always there in the final games.
So, their style of play might not be the most exciting, but it wins games?
And you think that Spain may have peaked a little too early already, that they're going down?
Maybe in the quarterfinals....It's the same case with Mexico in the Confederations Cup in 2005. They reached the top, maybe one year early. It's going to be the same case, I suppose, for Spain.
As you look back on the five World Cups that you've done so far, have there been favorite moments?
I watched in France in '98, and I saw the USA versus Iran; it was a special moment. My [first game with] play-by-play...my first final game in 2002 between Germany and Brazil...the opportunity to work with José Luis Chilavert. There a lot of special moments.
What are expectations for this tournament?
Maybe it's the first time that you get all the big teams in the tournament. Nobody is missing: Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina. Everybody is there. And then it's a different excitement for us because it's our first time going in high-definition.
Plus you're going to be doing those video-on-demand matches as well.
PR: We've got that option, too. And then we're going to replay the best game from the day and we have the three networks, Univision, TeleFutura and Galavisión. And Univision Movil and live streaming on Univision Online.
Is this the most sophisticated coverage you guys have offered by far?
We are always looking forward to improve, and this is our first time with 24 hours, seven days a week.