Why English-Language Soccer Broadcasting Is Gaining Strength in the U.S.

English-language soccer broadcasting is becoming more relevant in the U.S. for everyone involved: fans, broadcasters, soccer teams and brands. NBC, Univision Deportes, Turner, BeINSports and others are jumping at the opportunity.

On February, Facebook and Univision announced a partnership by which the social media platform would start broadcasting Mexican Liga MX live soccer matches in English and a similar agreement was struck for MLS matches.

Rafael Ramirez

Rafael Ramírez, Chief Creative Officer at Newlink. (Image: LikedIn)

“Broadcasting soccer in English responds to a dynamic in our bilingual Hispanic fan which is English-dominant,” explains Rafael Ramírez, Chief Creative Officer at Newlink.

“We need to acknowledge that our audience is bi-national and bilingual,” adds Juan Carlos Rodríguez, president of Univision Deportes. “Mexican and Latino children don’t want to speak Spanish anymore. Through socio-economic and demographic studies, we discovered that they play soccer since they were kids, but they did it in English. Their switch has changed, they want to watch El América and Las Chivas, but they want to listen to it in English."

Soccer continues to be the number one sport for Hispanic audiences, but the way it is consumed is what has changed.

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In addition, soccer is becoming more popular among English natives. According to Ramírez, soccer has become the favorite sports for teenagers in the U.S., independently of their culture.

Mexican and Latinos’ children don’t want to speak Spanish anymore.

In the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey 2015-2016, conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), soccer came in in fifth place in terms of number of participants, with 440,322 young men playing the sport.

Soccer Teams want the Attention

Due to the increased interest in soccer of English-dominant audiences in the U.S., Mexican soccer teams are also looking to sell their rights for English-language broadcasts.

Esteban de Anda

Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications Director of Xolos. (Image: LinkedIn)

“We urgently need sports anchors for radio and TV to give audiences the chance to listen to our game match broadcasts in English. We need to take this into account when broadcasting our games in the U.S.,” said Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications Director of Xolos, Tijuana’s soccer team.

A marketing executive at Club America, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that English-natives represent a relevant opportunity for the team, but the broadcasters are the ones who choose how to use their soccer rights. “The U.S. is a relevant market for us, but it is the broadcaster who chooses how to use our rights over there.”

Broadcasters pay more to a university in Albuquerque for their English-match rights than for ours in Spanish, although in terms of investment return we give them much more money.
Jose Luis Higuera B.

José Luis Higuera, Grupo Chivas Omnilife’s CEO. (Image: Twitter)

For Grupo Chivas Omnilife’s CEO, José Luis Higuera, it is very clear that the money is where the English-spoken games are. “It seems that even cricket has a higher budget than Chivas. Broadcasters pay more to a university in Albuquerque for their English-match rights than for ours in Spanish, although in terms of investment return we give them much more money.”

Liga MX still has the overall highest rating regardless of language.

If switching their broadcasts to English will let the teams get more investment, both from broadcasters and brands, then this definitely represents an opportunity for soccer teams.

According to Vicente Navarro, Vice-President of Product Development at marketing agency AC&M Group, about two-thirds of all the games broadcasted in the U.S. are broadcasted in English. “There are plenty of examples of English language soccer on TV showing really good numbers. NBC and Premier League has been a great success, and numbers for properties like Bundesliga and MLS keep getting stronger. However, Liga MX still has the overall highest rating regardless of language.”

Broadcasters agree on the opportunity

Although English-language broadcasts only represents 3% of Univision’s audience, Rodríguez admits the numbers keep growing. “It isn’t a trend jet, but it is a proof of it working.”

This explains why Univision is making strategic alliances with Facebook to broadcast LigaMX games in English.

Michael Neuman_Scout Sports and Entertainment

Michael Neuman, the EVP and Managing Partner at Scout Sports and Entertainment.

But not only Mexican-league’s games are relevant to English-natives. "There used to be a pretty strong influx of Spanish-language soccer games being broadcasted to the U.S.,” explains Michael Neuman, the EVP and Managing Partner at Scout Sports and Entertainment. Now we are seeing NBC making an enormous effort to bring Premier League soccer from the UK into the U.S. during season, on weekend mornings. They are really trying to train the American soccer fan that is seeking that experience.”

The audience is there and it is growing. There is definitely an interest on behalf of broadcasters to exploit the opportunity. A great example is Turner, which in February acquired the UEFA Champions League English-language media rights, starting in fall 2018, after 27 years without carrying any soccer programming. The company will pay more than $60 million annually for the rights, outbidding FOX and NBC.

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“The ability for an English-speaking soccer fan to see high quality games has never been as accessible as it is today,” Neuman ads.

What brands are missing

Vicente Navarro

Vicente Navarro, Vice-President of Product Development at marketing agency AC&M Group (Image: Twitter)

“For us, English-language properties are always something we recommend to our clients if the target market makes sense. We buy media with FOX, NBC, BeIN Sports and others regularly, because we know there is a growing viewership and we have to be talking to them,” says Navarro.

We know there is a growing viewership and we have to be talking to them.

According to Rodríguez the opportunity is great, but brands are still missing out because of their local strategies. Mexican brands should take more advantage of their binational businesses. “Comex, for example, has business both in Mexico and in the U.S., they should be able to pay soccer sponsorships in both countries.”

To this, Navarro ads that “some brands might want to stick to Spanish-language only but for most having a mix of both is a better approach.”

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Ximena Cassab @xcassab

Ximena is a Swiss-Mexican journalist based in Mexico City where she specialized in business, and travel topics. Graduated from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), she has worked as an editor at the magazines Expansión , Aire and Accent, from Expansion Group. Currently she is working with different media in Spanish and English independently. She is a passionate traveler who does not miss the opportunity to see a new place in the world.

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