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Edwin Molina @portada_online

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What: Austin FC was named the 27th franchise to join Major League Soccer (MLS).
Why it matters: Considering Austin, Texas’s Hispanic demographic makes up 35 percent of the city’s population, Austin FC needs to win over local Hispanic audiences and business to help build a fanbase for the expansion soccer club.

After traveling a long, winding road to get its first professional sports team, Major League Soccer (@MLS) announced earlier this month that Austin FC (@AustinFC) would become the 27th franchise to join the league.

Austin FC joins Nashville (yet to be named), FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati), and Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF), as part of the American professional soccer league’s push to expand to 28 teams. Austin FC is set to kick off in 2021, after FC Cincinnati (2019), Inter Miami (2020) and Nashville (2020) make their debuts.

Austin FC fans celebrate the announcement that they will be the 27th franchise to join Major League Soccer (MLS).

“Austin is a thriving metropolitan city, the embodiment of what we mean when we say MLS is a ‘League for a new America,’” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber (@thesoccerdon). “We are extremely proud to be the first major professional sports league to become part of the fabric of this important and thriving American city.”

Austin won the expansion bid as part of a compromise between the league and the Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV) group, who attempted to move the Columbus Crew (@ColumbusCrewSC) to Texas after failing to secure a new stadium. After a huge uproar from Crew fans, including a “#SavetheCrew” social media hashtag campaign, Cleveland Browns (@Browns) owner, Jimmy Haslam, and former Crew physician Pete Edwards stepped up to buy the franchise from PSV, keeping the team in Columbus. In return, PSV would not be obligated to pay an expansion fee for a new franchise in Austin, since PSV had not given up its MLS owners rights (a single-entity league), but rather transferred them from Columbus to Austin.

… It will be smart business to target those names [and] leaders that will resonate with the multiple audiences, including the Hispanic audience

“We had a vision and we stuck with it and with hard work and perseverance, today demonstrated that for all,” said Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt. “There have been a lot of iterations for soccer in this city. This city deserves this.”

Considering MLS’s current mantra of the league is a “League for a new America,” one of the major draws to Austin is its growing Hispanic population. With Hispanics making up 35.1 percent of the city’s population, winning over that demographic is one of the components necessary for Austin FC to grow and thrive.

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“Support from the Hispanic community is very important for the soccer project, in a city with that [demographic],” said ESPN correspondent Tony Alvarez (@Tonyar27). “Their knowledge and passion for the sport will help solidify the franchise.”

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

Austin FC logo

The franchise has started to make headway attempting to win over Hispanic fans building relationships in the community and local business leaders, according to Sergio Tristan, founder of “Pancho Villa’s Army,” a nationwide Mexican national team supporters’ group (@VillasArmy).

“I know that there are ongoing discussions with Hispanic [and] Mexican leaders in town, like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the people associated with the local Mexican leagues in town,” said Tristan. “I think the newness will draw people in, but it’s up to Austin FC to make sure they come back.”

One of the local organizations that PSV reached out to was the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, according to the organization’s president and CEO, Luis Rodriguez. After meeting with team officials, Rodriguez was pleased with Austin FC’s plans to partner up with local small businesses, contractors and minority inclusion when picking vendors for a potential stadium; as well the club’s charity components consisting of investing more than $6.7 million earmarked to support youth soccer programs — including clinics, camps, scholarships, equipment and gear donations, and construction of soccer fields and futsal courts. Austin FC is also making a commitment to affordable housing, with nearly $4 million in direct contributions going towards building affordable housing.

“Bringing Major League Soccer is a logical and critically important step in Austin’s evolution to being an inclusive, world-class city that embraces Hispanic heritage, health and wellness, the outdoors, diversity, family values, the burgeoning impact of the millennial generation and economic prosperity,” the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

rEvolution (@littleRbigE) marketing communications VP Daniel Lobring believes that Austin FC will also need to leverage town pride, connecting with each audience as authentically as possible, in order to help build up the fanbase.

“Austin FC will want to lean-in heavy on its Austin roots, and that includes tapping into the pride of where you’re from,” said Lobring (@dlobring). “And as the club assembles its front office, coaching staff, roster, etc., it will be smart business to target those names [and] leaders that will resonate with the multiple audiences, including the Hispanic audience, it’s trying to attract with.”

What: The new San Diego Seals of the National Lacrosse League are extending their reach south into Mexico to cultivate the rising Hispanic audience for the sport.
Why it matters: Deemed the fastest growing sport in areas like Southern California, lacrosse has new fertile ground and a new team with fresh ideas to find new Hispanic fans on both sides of the border.

Joe Tsai

There has been so much talk about lacrosse being the fastest growing sport in the United States in the last few years, especially on the grassroots level. One area that the sport has really taken off is in Southern California, where more than 100,000 young people have taken up the game in the last few years alone, and high school and some college programs have begun to take root.

Another area where lacrosse is growing in SoCal is on the professional side, where the San Diego Seals (@SealsLax), owner by former Yale lacrosse player and cofounder of Alibaba (@AlibabaTalk) Joe Tsai enjoyed a near sellout and a win over the Rochester (NY) Knighthawks in their National Lacrosse League (@NLLhome opener last week.

What made the win even more historic was the fact that the Seals, seeing a marketing opportunity for both the professional side and for fan development, became the first team ever in the NLL’s 33 year history to broadcast games in Spanish.

The Seals brought on Síntesis TV (@sintesis_tv), which serves the San Diego and Baja Mexico region to carry their home games. Síntesis TV was founded in 1985 and offers objective and truthful information about the Baja California region, also at a National and International level. Síntesis TV broadcasts through open television signal in San Diego County and Baja California on channel 50.4 and in Northern Mexico channel 71 IZZI. Osvaldo Samaniego and Jorge Camacho called the game, and will be back in the broadcast chairs for the remainder of the schedule, a portion of which will be carried in English on Bleacher Report Live (@brlive), with continued talks of a local English language carrier also in the mix.

That exposure brings new fans at all levels, and with that come brands looking to get more engaged with a growing diverse audience that is becoming more affluent and engaged.

But Lacrosse in Spanish and in Mexico? “The Latino sports fan in Southern California remains one of the most passionate and ardent, and we see this as the perfect way to introduce the sport, the team and the brand to that audience from day one,” said Josh Gross, Vice President, Business Operations for the Seals. “There are thousands of people who cross the border both socially and for business from Tijuana to San Diego and vice versa, and we want to be able to bring what we are doing to them in a way that’s easy, and this partnership we felt is a natural to cultivate fans in the entire region.”

The partnership also makes great sense for Síntesis, which is also looking to expand its audience, and sees the Seals, and live sports as a great fit.

“We want to introduce and bring the sport (of lacrosse) to Mexico, and if possible someday through our live stream to other countries, with our partnership to broadcast Seals games, our audience will see this great fast paced game that embodies teamwork and high spirit action,” said Octavio Islas, Producer/Company Consultant for Síntesis. “We are planning to also create entertaining short film like tutorials and promos to introduce and promote the game, the Seals and league play to the Mexican, Latino, Central and South American audiences. It is a great growth opportunity for the team, the station and for lacrosse that didn’t exist even a few months ago.”

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

The model for NLL and the Seals is not dissimilar from the toe dip we have seen MLB (@MLB), the NFL (@NFL) and the NBA (@NBAmake in recent years into the Mexican market. Even the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings (@LAKingshave started to look south to grow audience, all seeing the cultural and brand success soccer has had in taking Liga MX (@LIGABancomerMXmatches and the Mexican National team north for exposure. That exposure brings new fans at all levels, and with that come brands looking to get more engaged with a growing diverse audience that is becoming more affluent and engaged.

“Our games are exciting, affordable and the sport caters to a demo that likes fast-paced,” Gross added. “Those aspects speak a lot louder than the language the game is broadcast in, but in being able to deliver a Spanish broadcast makes the barrier of acceptance just that much lower, and we think has a huge upside.”

While other pro franchises in So Cal have looked to the traditional Anglo audience first, the Seals, with their multicultural first play, are following in the disruptive growth pattern that has made NLL such a hot property in recent years. Indoor lacrosse is not your traditional sport, but its traditions run deep in lacrosse culture, and if its new franchise in San Diego can help unlock a Latino audience, the audience growth will be quite impactful, well beyond Southern California.

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What: Major League Wrestling (MLW) aired its first live telecast in December 2018, a huge step for the fledgling wrestling company.
Why it matters: MLW has been able to showcase the Latin American talent on their roster — such as Rush, Konnan, Pentagón Jr., and Rey Fenix, and Salina de la Renta — as the company looks to expand into different markets.

Major League Wrestling (@MLW) finished 2018 strong, having recently aired its first live show, as part of its goal to expand the brand on a global scale.

MLW fans were treated to Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL) star, Rush (@rushtoroblanco) — leader of the highly popular Los Ingobernables stable, walking away victorious, in the main event, over Rich Swann (@GottaGetSwann), on a card broadcasted live in mid-December, a first for the growing wrestling organization launched by former World Wrestling Entertainment (@WWE) writer Court Bauer.

CMLL’s Rush, leader of the infamous Los Ingobernables wrestling stable, headlined MLW’s first live event that that aired on beIn Sports.

“Live sports programming is the focus of the next phase of our company’s growth,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “There is an electricity and sense of spontaneity to live wrestling on cable television. [It was] a momentous milestone for MLW, our fans and wrestlers.”

An agreement with beIn Sports (@beINSPORTSUSA) signed early in 2018, as well as its Spanish-language telecast deal with beIN Sports Español (@ESbeINSPORTS), have also been catalysts for the indy wrestling company in adding more exposure. Considering MLW’s roster is stocked with well known talent such as Rush, Mexican wrestling legend legend Konnan (@Konnan5150), current MLW World Heavyweight champion Low-Ki (@OneWorldWarrior), and the high-energy Lucha Brothers – the current MLW Tag Team champions, Pentagón Jr. (@PentagonJunior) and Rey Fenix (@ReyFenixMx); a Spanish broadcast seemed like a logical next step.

“The Spanish language telecast was done for several reasons,” said PWInsider.com’s Mike Johnson (@MikePWInsider). “One, it was something that BeIN Sports wanted and MLW was more than happy to provide it. Two, it opens the doors for MLW to have more potential as an internationally syndicated series. Three, it was a natural extension for the company given the number of Latin stars they have. If you want to attract the Latin demographic to your product, you must come to them and make them feel as if it’s ‘their’ product. By providing their weekly series in Spanish, MLW is opening the door for that audience and welcoming them into the house. Thus far, all indications are it’s been a success in the few months the Spanish version of the MLW: FUSION series has been on the air.”

If you want to attract the Latin demographic to your product, you must come to them and make them feel as if it’s ‘their’ product

Adding a Hispanic flavor to the organization was a big part of MLW’s plans, bringing in well known luchadors from Mexico, such as Puma King and LA Park, into the fold, as well as giving young talent such Ricky Martinez, Sammy Guevara (@sammyguevara) and Salina de la Renta (@salinadelarenta‏) an opportunity to shine.

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“MLW has embraced promoting authentic lucha libre as we identified it was being neglected in America,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “A large portion of our viewing audience is Spanish-speaking and we’ve seen their appetite for lucha libre grow as we introduce more top luchadores like Rush, Dragon Lee (@dragonlee95) and our World Tag Team Champions Pentagón Jr. & Rey Fenix.  We will continue to rev up promoting lucha in 2019 and beyond.”

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

MLW believes that Salina de la Renta has a bright future in the industry. Currently, de la Renta is wrestling’s first female Spanish commentator, doing color commentary for beIN Sports Español.

MLW has high hopes for de la Renta, in particular, who plays a shot-caller entrepreneur with a pipeline to Latin American talent and connections to sports leagues, TV and film, as the founder of Promociones Dorado.

The 21-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico, who moved to Florida to pursue a career in film and screenwriting, was inspired to jump into the wrestling business after watching E! Networks (@eentertainment) Total Divas (@TotalDivas) reality show; which features WWE’s Bella Twins (@BellaTwins), Natalya (@NatbyNature), and Naomi (@NaomiWWE); as part of a film school project.

“That was actually the first time I have ever watched anything wrestling related,” said de la Renta to ProWrestling.com (@pw_dotcom). “As soon as I saw them in the ring I thought, ‘Oh my God! I feel like I’m meant to do that.’ It just wouldn’t leave my mind. I would eat and do different things and always thinking, ‘What if I’m meant to be a wrestler?’”

Changing her career path from performance arts to the squared circle, de la Renta chased her wrestling dream before being derailed by a severe knee injury, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus attempting a leapfrog. The injury has not deterred her, as she has continued to hone her craft as leader of Promociones Dorado and manager for world heavyweight champion Low-Ki — who has previously competed for the WWE, IMPACT Wrestling (@IMPACTWRESTLING ‏), Ring of Honor (@ringofhonor) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal); and as wrestling’s first female Spanish commentator, for the beIN Sports Español telecast.

Pentagón Jr.

“Salina de la Renta is a pro wrestling prodigy, the definition of ambition,” said a spokesperson for MLW. “She is 21, speaks three languages, an entrepreneur and in just a few months has ascended on a national television series without blinking.  Very few can handle the pressure. Salina could easily be a top star on-screen or a high-level executive. Her tenacity is unparalleled.”

Between the talent MLW is developing, the luchadors being signed from Mexico, and veteran wrestlers such as Sami Callihan (@TheSamiCallihan), Teddy Hart (@TeddyHartIsBACK), Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER), and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (@ufc) light heavyweight Tom Lawlor (@FilthyTomLawlor), Johnson thinks that MLW has found a formula that is starting to pay off. Johnson believes that by allowing the Hispanic stars on their roster to connect with the fans organically, as opposed to repackaging them for American audiences, MLW has managed to succeed where they had they previously failed as a company.

“The company is progressive by having personalities like Konnan and The Lucha Brothers be no different from how they would be portrayed in Mexico. They are massive stars internationally and are treated as such here,” said Johnson. “They are presented as the lifeblood of the promotion, as important as any American wrestler. That gives MLW credibility and clout with the Latin audience because they don’t want to be treated secondary and they don’t want their heroes to be presented as anything but their heroes. MLW presents them as the stars they are, but in the MLW environment and in doing so, they enrich their own company and present themselves as a more global brand.”

What: England’s Football Association is using Brexit as a catalyst to lower the number of overseas players allowed to play on English Premier League clubs.
Why it matters: The FA’s Brexit policy could shake up the transfer market for South American players.

Brexit may have repercussions on the salaries of players such as Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero, as the English Football Association considers implementing new quotas on foreign players English Premier League clubs can sign to their squads.

The politics of Brexit have spilled over onto the English Premier League (@PremierLeague) as the Football Association (@England), England’s governing soccer association football, is looking to cap the number of foreign players club teams can sign to their squads.

Brexit is the nickname given to the 2016 British referendum in which the citizens of the United Kingdom (U.K.) voted to leave the European Union (@EUCouncil) —  the 28 nation political and economic bloc that enacts regional policies in trade, agriculture, the fishing industry; as well as ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital among member nations.

The divisive 2016 referendum ended up with 52 percent of British voters demanding the U.K. leave the EU, though plans to leave the bloc have been slow as the country decides how to approach their departure.

The EU, for their part, approved an agreement, in late November, that gives the English government a road map to exit the bloc, warning British Prime Minister Theresa May that “there is no Plan B,” should the Parliament reject the EU’s map towards an exit of the continental bloc.

Individual teams, particularly mid-table teams, are very concerned about being able to compete at a high level if the FA creates barriers to prevent foreign players from competing in the Premier League

“Those who think that, by rejecting the deal, they would get a better deal, will be disappointed,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The back-and-forth between the UK and the EU is affecting every aspect of British life — from trade to travel to immigration to national security to the business of soccer.  As the English government figures out their next steps, the FA is contemplating using Brexit as an opportunity to potentially reduce the number of foreign players allowed to play in the EPL, reducing the allotment of foreigner players on a roster from 17 to 13.

Currently, there are 260 overseas players competing in the Premier League, with 52 of them (20 percent) originating from The Americas and the Caribbean. Overall, players from the Western Hemisphere make up 10 percent of men on the pitch competing in England’s top league.

Considering England’s national team semifinals run in the 2018 World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup), the FA believes that reducing the number of foreigners in the EPL will allow for more homegrown talent to compete at the highest levels of European soccer, enhancing their chances to win their first World Cup since 1966.

“There has to be sensible center ground where world-class players are welcomed in the Premier League but not journeymen who are displacing the young English talent coming through and are hopefully the future of the English national game and the international game and can’t get in the first team,” said FA chairman Greg Clarke. “We now have an opportunity to see what’s right for the game and I don’t just mean the international game, I mean getting young English players into the first team. If Manchester City (@ManCity) or United (@ManUtd) want to buy Neymar (@neymarjr) or someone like that, then bring it on, that’s wonderful. We want to see wonderful Premier League football and competitive sides, that’s good for the game. It’s the next tier down, the international players who may be only as good as the talent coming through but are proven and easy to pick. I want to make sure if you are going to displace a young English player it’s by a world-class player and not an average player.”

EPL officials are opposed to the FA’s plan, arguing that blocking foreigners from playing in the league will not help improve the English national team or their ambitions to win a World Cup.

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Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

Teams like Manchester United and Arsenal may be greatly affected in their efforts to bolster their teams with talent from the Western Hemisphere, thanks to the FA’s Brexit plans.

“We currently operate rules that limit the number of non-homegrown players clubs can have in senior squads, while also working with clubs to operate a world-leading player development system which delivers for England teams at every level,” the league said in a recent statement. “This was demonstrated by the many Premier League club Academy and senior players whom FA coaches molded so well into Under-17 and Under-20 FIFA World Cup winners and men’s FIFA (@FIFAcom) 2018 World Cup semi-finalists. There is no evidence that stronger quotas that exist now would have a positive impact on national teams.”

Individual teams, particularly mid-table teams, are very concerned about being able to compete at a high level if the FA creates barriers to prevent foreign players from competing in the Premier League.

It threatens to make the widening inequality gap in our top division even worse,” Burnley (@BurnleyOfficial) chairman Mike Garlick. “The hit to the value of the pound against the euro, largely caused by Brexit uncertainty, is already making it harder for clubs to sign players.”

Brexit will also inevitably affect the lower half of the Premier League table as well as the upper rungs of the English Football League Championship (@EFL), with millions at stake in relegation and promotions between the EFL and EPL clubs.

“The negative consequences are plain for all to see,” said Stoke City (@stokecity) chairman Peter Coates to the BBC. “The fall in the value of the pound that we’ve already seen, as well as the risk to our country’s economic prosperity, cannot be brushed under the carpet. Depending on the Brexit deal, the Premier League, one of our country’s success stories, could be damaged by freedom-of-movement restrictions. This could also affect the Championship. If this goes badly, it will be places like Stoke that suffer the most.”

Scott Rosner (@scottrosner), Academic Director of the Master of Science in Sports Management program in the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University and lead author of The Business of Sports, concurs that it may be the mid-table teams attempting to push themselves into a UEFA Europa League berth, such as Burnley, as well as clubs staving off relegation, that may bear the brunt of Brexit. Rosner believes that South American players likely to look at other alternatives besides the Premier League, as a result of the new quotas imposed by the FA.

“If there is a limit placed on international players, it would likely lead to more players headed to the other European Big Four leagues as the EPL would no longer be an option for as many players,” said Rosner. “That could have a trickle-down effect on the somewhat lesser quality players who would not receive as generous offers from European clubs and could wind up staying in their home nations – or at least wind up in their next best options, which is often Brazil or Argentina. Salaries would likely be impacted, though how much is uncertain, as the decreased demand for those players would lead to decreases in salaries for some.”

Cover Image: Flickr/Nick Sarebi

What: Between UFC traveling to Buenos Aires and Chile, key broadcast deals by Combate Américas, and impressive victories by Hispanic fighters, the sport of MMA continues to grow in the Hispanic market.
Why it matters: MMA companies are finding different ways to tap into the market as MMA gains popularity.

It has been a November to remember for Hispanics in mixed martial arts (MMA).

Between Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez’s (@panteraufc) devastating last-second elbow knockout of the “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung (@KoreanZombieMMA) at Ultimate Fighting Championships’s (@ufc) 25th Anniversary show, Santiago Ponzinibbio’s (@SPonzinibbioMMA) victory over Neil Magny (@NeilMagny) in his hometown of Bueno Aires in UFC’s first show in Argentina, and the return of Tito Ortiz (@titoortiz) under Oscar de la Hoya’s (@OscarDeLaHoya) Golden Boy Promotion (@GoldenBoyBoxing) banner, Hispanics are making an impact on the sport of MMA, in 2018.

Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez headlined UFC Fight Night 139 against “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) 25th Anniversary show.

Since Cain Velasquez (@cainmma) won the UFC Heavyweight championship in 2010, MMA’s popularity has continued to increase in the Hispanic market. A 2017 Washington Post-UMass Lowell poll shows that 31 percent of Hispanics polled identified as MMA fans. Those latest numbers show a huge increase in the sport’s popularity, compared to the results of a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center (@PewHispanic) study, where MMA polled at 6.8 percent.

One of the companies capitalizing on the rising popularity of MMA among Hispanic fans is Combate Américas (@combateamericas). Founded by UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren (@campbellcombate), Combate Américas has evolved from a mun2 (@NBCUniversoreality show — that featured “King of Reggaetón” Latin Grammy award-winner Daddy Yankee (@daddy_yankee) as the show’s first commissioner, Venezuelan Latin Grammy award-winning pop duo Chino y Nacho (@ChinoyNacho ‏) as hosts and SiriusXM host El Piolin (@ElshowdePiolin) as color commentator; and gave 10 fighters in two weight classes a chance to win Combate Américas contracts — to a thriving MMA organization that is launching the careers of fighters coming out the U.S., Mexico, and South America.

“The Hispanic community has been vastly underserved in MMA, even though there are around 600 million Spanish speakers worldwide,” said McClaren to Portada-Online (@portada_online), back in March. “That is why we exist, and we want this community to feel impacted and empowered by Combate Américas. To say we are a ‘niche’ when we are serving an audience of this size, one that is about a third larger than the number of English speakers worldwide, wouldn’t be accurate. What began as a mission to serve the U.S. Hispanic audience is now a platform serving Spanish speakers worldwide.”

McClaren has built on the company’s success, increasing Combate Américas’ exposure this year by signing a 13-fight-per-year streaming agreement with DAZN (@DAZN_USA) for the U.S. English-language broadcast rights, as well as having dealt the U.S. Spanish-language broadcast rights to Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports). Univision will air a total of 16 cards on their linear platform, with preliminary bouts streaming on UnivisionDeportes.com.

“A year ago when we began approaching television networks to air our events, we were getting in the door but not taken seriously. Some of them didn’t understand how strong our product was going to be, especially around millennials,” said McLaren. “To be able to secure this new partnership with Univision Deportes, a sports media brand that is home to the No. 1 Spanish-language sports network and has the best lineup of sports and entertainment programming, shows the immense growth that we’ve experienced within the past couple of years.”

That’s very big that they have a deal with Univision because they are reaching a huge demographic that is not exposed to MMA, that are not necessarily watching Fox Sports or ESPN
Cain Velazquez (credit: The Doppelganger at English Wikipedia)

Known more for their soccer programming, Univision Deportes’ venture with Combate Américas is their first foray into the MMA world. Univision’s immense presence in the Hispanic market has been key in helping Combate Américas expand their brand, as the fledgling MMA company continues to come into its own.

Combate Américas drew a combined 764,000 viewers on Univision and Univision Deportes for their April 13 Combate 20: Estrellas I card, compared to 403,000 viewers Bellator 197 (@BellatorMMA) drew between the Paramount Network (@paramountnet) and CMT (@CMT) network, according to Dave Doyle (@davedoylemma), MMA columnist for Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports).

“As far as exposure, they are on national TV, they are on Univision. That’s huge, Univision is one of the biggest channels out there,” said MMAFighting.com‘s Danny Segura (@dannyseguratv). “That’s very big that they have a deal with Univision because they are reaching a huge demographic that is not exposed to MMA, that are not necessarily watching Fox Sports (@FOXSports) or ESPN (@espn).”

As producer of The MMAHour, Segura has gotten an Octagon-side view of the evolution of the sport in the Hispanic market. Born in Bogota, Colombia, and raised in Florida, Segura became a fan of the sport after watching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.

“I was first exposed to [MMA] when I first moved to the U.S. with my family. I was in middle school and that was when the first season of The Ultimate Fighter came on,” said Segura. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, we didn’t really have any cable or anything like that. But in the city that we lived in, in Florida, within the water bill came a small cable package, and within that package, there were a few channels and one of them was Spike, so I would just watch The Ultimate Fighter all the time.”

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Contemplating between a career in engineering or journalism, Segura started his own website while attending Florida International University (@FIU), paying his dues covering local MMA shows and interviewing champions such as Eddie Alvarez (@Ealvarezfight). Segura’s work caught the attention of MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas (@lthomasnews) and earned a part-time job working for the website while he finished school.

“I was thinking about doing engineering and I was taking some math classes, while I was doing my media stuff on the side, on my free time,” said Segura. “I had to make a decision whether I wanted to continue with engineering or do media. I had already done a few things, I don’t want to call them big but I felt like they were significant work, and I was really enjoying it and I was finding purpose in it.”

Join us at PORTADA LOS ANGELES on March 15, 2019 at the Loews Beach Hotel Santa Monica, where we will dive deep into sports and soccer marketing’s preeminent topics. Felix Palau, VP Marketing, Heineken will discuss “How to measure ROI and transfer best practices between sports marketing platforms”. Other speaking engagements include Tiago Pinto, Global Marketing Director, Gatorade who will provide answers to the question: “Will Corporate America jump on the soccer opportunity?”Attendees will also be able to benefit from Portada’s meet-up service of three-eight-minute meetings with top brand executives!

Segura left for New York City after he graduated, covering different areas of the sport for MMAFighting, working his way up from part-time to full-time, eventually becoming producer for the MMAHour and a panelist of The MMA Beat.

Santiago Ponzinibbio (UFC.com)

Having seen different angles of the sport over the years, both as a fight fan and as an MMA journalist, Segura has an understanding of the Hispanic market. Segura believes that while the sport has made great strides in tapping into the market, failure to find a crossover international star that draws casual fans is a missing ingredient that is stunting growth.

The development of talents such as Rodriguez and Ponzinibbio can only help MMA in the South American market. The 26-year-old Rodriguez, fighting out of Chihuahua, Mexico, was The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner and has a unique, entertaining fighting style helped him defeat two-time UFC champion B.J. Penn (@bjpenndotcom) as well as aided him in putting on a “Fight of the Year” performance against “The Korean Zombie,” this month.

Ponzinibbio, the 32-year old from La Plata, Argentina who is currently on a seven-fight winning streak, headlined the UFC’s first ever show in Buenos Aires and climbed to number seven in the UFC welterweight rankings after defeating Magny in front of 10,245 fans who came to support their countryman at Parque Roca Arena.

Both fighters hope to reach the success and heights of popularity as Velasquez, the Mexican-American wrestling standout from Arizona State University (@ASUWrestling) who captured the UFC Heavyweight title on two occasions, after beat Brock Lesnar (@BrockLesnar) in 2010 and Junior dos Santos (@junior_cigano) in 2012. Velazquez became a marketable Hispanic star for the UFC, headlining UFC 188 in Mexico City, and drawing 21,036 fans to the Mexico City Arena.

But different factors, including recurring injuries, prevented Velazquez from capturing the hearts, minds and dollars of Hispanic fight fans, in the same manner that Irish MMA fans travel to Conor McGregor when he enters the Octagon, as Segura points out.

“We’re missing that one guy that can combine everything, both talent-wise, and as well as know how to promote his or herself, and has what they call in the fight game as the ‘it’ factor,” said Segura. “This sports is driven by names, by fighters. So if you got the next big thing coming out of Brazil, like Paolo Acosta who is just destroying everyone in his path, of course you are going to cater to that market, of course you are going to use him as a vehicle to get those Brazilian fans, and I don’t think we have had that yet in the Hispanic market.”

What: Super Soccer Stars, a growing grassroots program looking to build the game in 24 cities in 13 states, has hired longtime sports marketer Adam Geisler as CEO.
Why it matters: The organization can serve as a blueprint for matching support of youth soccer with marketing opportunities for brands also looking to grow the sport.

There is no doubt that the world’s soccer powers see North America as the next unconquered land in terms of fan and brand engagement and talent development. However much of that engagement starts, as Major League Soccer (@MLShas learned, at the grassroots. Getting young people to engage in the game, understand the game, and be active builds fans for life, and that is key in every community, especially among Latinos who may have a cultural affinity for the game.

One of the key groups that has done that engagement at the youth level really well is Super Soccer Stars (@SuperSoccerNY).

Founded in 2000, Super Soccer Stars is the largest grassroots program in New York City and also features locations in 24 cities in 13 different states reaching 150,000 children. The mission is to focus on a healthy lifestyle and basic athletic skills development while having fun and building self-confidence and teamwork. Soccer Super Stars’ custom coaching and player development modules are designed for players from 12 months up to 8 years of age and various skill levels. They recently also made a key addition on the business side, adding sports marketing veteran Adam Geisler as CEO. Geisler, whose background includes building brands like Everlast (@Everlast_and MISSION (@MissionAthlete), will be charged with figuring out how to harness that grassroots power, as well as the data that exists to grow not just the business, but the grassroots soccer community as one.

Super Soccer Stars … speaks directly to the interests of families and young kids in the Latino demo.

How does all that data, and all that engagement play out with young Latinos? Pretty well: so we asked Super Soccer Stars COO Sarah Natchez, and Dean Simpson, their Chief Programs Officer, to break it down for us.

Sarah Natchez

Portada: There is so much being talked about in terms of soccer growth in this country, how important at the grassroots level is the Latino demo, in terms of families and young kids?

Sarah Natchez: Soccer is often an intrinsic part of the culture at home in Latino communities—it is watched on TV, reinforced in the home, and a soccer ball is the first gift given to a child. Since Super Soccer Stars focuses on early skill development starting as young as 1 year old in an environment that promotes deliberate play, it speaks directly to the interests of families and young kids in the Latino demo.

Portada: Many may think it is easier to engage with young Latinos because of their potential affinity for soccer because of past generations. However, competition is still tough for disposable income and time. How does Super Soccer Stars cut through that clutter?

SN: Simply put: quality programming. With elite coaches and content, we are able to cut through the clutter by focusing on delivering the highest quality instruction. We also have a diverse and geographically broad schedule making our programming easy to access despite families’ hectic schedules and time commitments.

Portada: “Latino” means many things other than Spanish speaking. Does teaching a different type of soccer at the youth level, Mexican vs. Brazilian, really matter?

Dean Simpson: Diversity is key and having coaches who bring a unique patience, energy and creative flair to every session allows plays to take educated risks in an open environment. Having coaches who share two passions: a passion for soccer and a passion for working with children. Within this framework, brings an eclectic mix of talents and backgrounds: Latino coaches have a tenancy to have more of an attacking mindset, but the game is constantly evolving and having coaches who in general want to focus on ball pay, and ball mastery is key to youth development. Focusing on the individual first, evolve to a partner play and then ultimately the team within the unit as the group gets older.

The Portada Brand-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

Portada: The company is very well embedded in inner cities. How valuable is that marketplace?

SN: It’s important for us to make Super Soccer Stars accessible to all communities. Inner cities often have highly skilled youth who do not have regular access to paid sports activities. We develop local partnerships to ensure that our programming is available to inner-city youth and gives them the opportunity to develop their talents.

Portada: Lastly, there is a great emphasis to develop healthy young people across all cultures. What are the best practices that the company is continuing to build upon in the cities like Miami where their roots are so deep?

SN: Since soccer is the gateway sport, we focus on building a comprehensive curriculum that includes a focus on nutrition, developing gross motor skills, and has a core emphasis on teamwork and building self-confidence. Having this holistic approach enables us to develop healthy young people across all cultures.

We keep our marketing efforts consistent across all demographics; however, we do often translate our collateral into Spanish in Miami and certain New York City communities.

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What: After losing the World Cup broadcast rights to Telemundo, Univision expanded their soccer coverage by adding UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
Why it matters: Univision’s expanded coverage of UEFA Champions League is drawing record viewership, including non-Spanish language soccer fans.

Losing the rights to the FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) can be crippling for any broadcast company, especially one like Univision (@Univision) that depends on soccer for its sports programming.

Univision previously owned the Spanish-language broadcast rights to the quadrennial soccer tournament, since the 1978 Argentina World Cup up until the 2014 Brazil World Cup, before losing the bid to Telemundo.

Telemundo (@Telemundo) paid FIFA (@FIFAcom) $600 million for the Spanish-language broadcast rights of the 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cups; upped from the $325 million that Univision paid for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 Brazil World Cup.

UEFA Champions Leagues matches, such as the CSKA Moscow 1-0 upset over Real Madrid on the October 2nd, 2018, are bringing in record viewership for Univision.

Telemundo also won the rights to the 2026 World Cup, being hosted by Mexico (@miseleccionmxEN), Canada (@CanadaSoccerEN) and the United States, much to the chagrin of Univision. Telemundo won the bid for the 2026 World Cup in a closed auction that excluded Univision (as well as ESPN) in order to make up for moving the 2022 World Cup tournament from June-July to November-December due to weather conditions in Qatar.

Losing the broadcast rights to Telemundo was a huge blow for Univision.

“In addition to the games themselves, Univision would program their news, talk show, and morning show segments around the World Cup,” said Walter Franco, Project Manager at Victus Advisors (@VictusAdvisors).

But rather than stand pat, Univision looked to towards Europe to adapt. Univision won the bid for the Spanish-language rights to the UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) and UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague), paying $105 million over three years, adding the European sports properties alongside their Liga MX (@LIGABancomerMX), Major League Soccer (@MLS), Bundesliga (@Bundesliga_EN), CONCACAF Champions League, the U.S. Men’s (@ussoccer_mnt) and Women’s teams (@ussoccer_wnt), and Mexico’s national team media rights.

“With the Champions League on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the Europa League on Thursdays, we are able to give fans access to the best clubs and players in the world in a timeslot where we previously didn’t have live matches,” said Univision’s Senior VP/Sports Programming & Acquisitions Eric Conrad. “With these matches during the week, league matches from Liga MX, MLS, Bundesliga and more on the weekends, and top international competition throughout the year, we are now the all-week, all-year ‘Home of Soccer’ in the U.S.

From a viewership perspective, we have already elevated the group stage of this premiere soccer property to unprecedented heights in the U.S.

As part of the new deal, Univision has expanded coverage, compared to Fox Deportes (@FOXDeportes) previous efforts, carrying 137 lives games across all of their platforms, including 97 matches split throughout their Univision, Univision Deportes Network, UniMás and Galavisión networks, 51 more games than TNT’s linear English-language broadcasts.

“Given that we are making every single game available live, with most airing on our highly distributed linear networks, we are giving Champions League exposure it simply has never had before,” said Conrad.

Univision is banking that UEFA (@UEFA) Champions League coverage will grow their soccer viewership, drawing non-Spanish speakers to their platforms. The move is paying off thus far, with PSV Eindhoven’s (@psveindhoven) 4-0 drubbing at hands of Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) averaging 618,000 viewers in the early game of a double-header of Match Day 1, and Liverpool’s (@LFC) 3-2 win over Paris St-Germain (@PSG_English) averaging 672,000 viewers, the most-viewed Group Stage telecast in UEFA Champions League history.

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“European soccer has allowed us to broaden our audience a bit, as we are seeing greater non-Hispanic audiences,” said Conrad. Conrad goes on to say that “from a viewership perspective, we have already elevated the group stage of this premiere soccer property to unprecedented heights in the U.S., and we only foresee greater growth as Champions League moves into its later, more intense stages.”

As part of their efforts to expand their viewership, Univision is streaming UEFA Champions Leagues matches for free, with a cable subscription. Turner Sports B/R Live (@brlive) streaming service is charging viewers, from individual matches ($2.99 per game) as well as monthly ($9.99) and yearly plans ($79.99). And while Univision is airing UEFA Europa League matches on their linear platforms, TNT has relegated all UEFA Europa League action behind a paywall on their B/R Live platform.

“One factor that would be interesting to consider is that all games will not be behind a paywall, which will not be the case for English-language coverage on TNT / Bleacher Report,” said Franco. “I would imagine many folks that typically watch in English may switch to Spanish to avoid paying for Bleacher Report matches.”

With so much expanded Spanish-language coverage and high expectations to retain new viewers, Univision has ambitions to do more with their UEFA Champions League coverage than the previous rights owners, Fox Deportes.

We expect to continue setting new viewership records as the tournament progresses and, ultimately, reach our goal of making this season the most-viewed Champions League season ever in the U.S., in any language,” said Conrad.

What: Puerto Rican Football Federation has signed former Honduran star Amado Guevara to rebuild the soccer program.
Why it matters: The soccer program is attempting to gain international success as the island rebuilds from the damage left behind by Hurricane Maria.

As a former captain of the Honduran national soccer team (@FenafuthOrg), Amado Guevara (@AmadoGuevara20) has taken on many challenges throughout his soccer career, including leading the team to a 2010 World Cup appearance.

But none of those obstacles are as great as the one he is currently battling in the Caribbean. As the new head coach of the Puerto Rican national team (@FutbolPR), Guevara has an immense task ahead of him.

Forget the fact that the commonwealth island has never had the talent to participate in a FIFA World Cup or CONCACAF Gold Cup. Puerto Rico is still recovering from the devastation left behind Hurricane Maria.

Amado Guevara, the former Honduran national team captain who previously played with Toronto FC, was signed in July by the Puerto Rican Football Federation to coach the men’s soccer team.

Despite claims of great success in rebuilding the island, by the Trump Administration, Puerto Rico’s recovery has been slow and inconsistent. Hurricane Maria left behind $90 million worth of damage, according to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, while a George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (@GWpublichealth) study estimates that almost 3000 people died as a result of the natural disaster.

“We are happy, first for the work that has been done, and for the invitation that they made to be part of this project, but above all the idea is to work, work and work,” said Guevara to Honduran publication El Nuevo Dia (@ElNuevoDia). “That is the philosophy. Try to reach the objectives that we want to achieve. The first one we have set is the Nations Cup.”

The CONCACAF (@Concacaf) Nations Cup is the inaugural tournament used as qualifiers for the newly expanded CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. Puerto Rico has been grouped with Saint Kitts and Nevis (@SKNFA_), Martinique (@LFM972_officiel), Belize (@bzefootballfed) and Grenada (@GrenadaFootball).

“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Guevara of the tournament. “The only way to get better is to play competitive matches and now players from all nations can develop more and grow as footballers.”

Guevara has had a rough start to his coaching career. Puerto Rico lost to Saint Kitts and Nevis 1-0 on the road, in September. The squad followed that up with a 1-0 loss to Martinique, in an emotional home match for the Puerto Rican national team, who were making their return to Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel.

Estadio Juan Ramón Loubriel, a baseball stadium converted into a soccer-specific venue, is the home field of the national team that was battered by Hurricane Maria. The Puerto Rican Football Federation charged fans free admission for the October match against Martinique for their team’s first home game since their 2017 Caribbean Cup Third Round qualifier against Curaçao (@FutbolCuracao).

“He lost his debut as the Puerto Rico coach versus Martinique but just the fact that a guy like him wanted to be there is pretty important for that team,” said ESPN Mexico correspondent Tony Alvarez (@Tonyar27).

Though beisbol may be king on La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico does have 76 years of soccer history. Not great history, but history nonetheless. Since playing their inaugural 1-1 draw against Cuba, in 1940, Puerto Rico spent the next 30 years winless, until a 3-0 victory over the Bahamas, in 1979.

The Portada Brand-Sports Summit in Los Angeles on March 15, 2019 (Hotel Loews Santa Monica) will provide a unique setting for brand marketers to learn about the opportunities sports and soccer content offers to engage consumers in the U.S. and Latin America.

The program failed to build on that success, winning sporadically against teams such teams as the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Martinique before going through a 17-year winless drought between 1995 through 2007.

Eric Labrador, president of the Puerto Rican Football Federation, sees the signing of Guevara as a key component in kickstarting the soccer program to a different level.

“It’s very important because this is going to change the way we do soccer in Puerto Rico,” said Labrador to Honduran newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

Guevara does bring some bench experience to the Puerto Rican locker room, having worked with Jorge Luis Pinto as part of the coaching staff of the Honduran national team that fell a game short of qualifying into the 2018 World Cup.

He lost his debut as the Puerto Rico coach versus Martinique but just the fact that a guy like him wanted to be there is pretty important for that team

“Amado feels like he has learned a lot from Jorge Luis Pinto and that he’s ready for the challenge,” said José A. Rodríguez (@Jarm21), editor-in-chief for Deporte Total USA. “He is very well prepared and it’s now time to go on and prove that he can lead a team as a coach like he did for many years as a player. The positive side of things is basically that he is working without any pressure but his own.”

Despite being a rookie coach, Puerto Rican Football Federation officials are hoping that Guevara’s vast experience as captain of the Honduran national team, as well as his stints with Major League Soccer‘s (@MLS) New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls), Toronto FC (@torontofc) and the defunct Chivas USA, as well as Honduran powerhouse Club Motagua (@MOTAGUAcom), can change the culture of the entire program.

“He can implement that knowledge he acquired during his playing days and try to create a good and successful system for his coaching career, starting with a small group of guys that dedicate themselves to others things but that can build a foundation for his own success come the near future,” said Alvarez.

While Guevara is excited about the challenges currently in front of him, he has made no secret he is interested in someday coaching the Honduran national team. Guevara is hoping that a successful stint in Puerto Rico may help him land the Honduran coaching job, down the road.

“Considering that he’s aiming to be the coach of his home country Honduras, even though it is a difficult situation going on in the island so far, you can say that anything good that he can do will be well seen by the people in the [Honduran] office,” said Alvarez. “If you see the big picture, he doesn’t have many resources to be successful, therefore if he can make them go the Gold Cup and get some wins in friendly matches, it’s ok. And if he can’t, nobody will say anything bad about his job because he has not much to work with.”

For his part, while Guevara dreams of coaching Los Catrachos, Puerto Rico’s coach is fully focused on his new career and the task at hand of changing the culture of the island’s soccer program.

“You have to manage more things,” said Guevara. “As a player, you only worry about playing. Coaching is different, but it is everything that I expected and I’m enjoying it.”

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What: IMPACT Wrestling traveled to Mexico to tries to rebuild their brand and regain their “cool factor.”
Why it matters: IMPACT Wrestling is trying to recapture the fans’ trust with help from leveraging relationships with Lucha Underground and Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA.

IMPACT Wrestling teamed up with Lucha Libre AAA (@AAALucha), this past week, as they took over the newly renovated Frontón México, to tape a month’s worth shows for their weekly telecast.

This was IMPACT Wrestling’s (@IMPACTWRESTLING) first trip to Mexico City, the company’s first ever television taping south of the border, and first show in the country since 2009. The shows will air on Pop TV in the U.S. (@PopTV) and 52MX (@52mxtv) in Mexico.

“We are excited about this historic trip to Mexico as we continue to expand our live event schedule globally,” said IMPACT Wrestling president Ed Nordholm (@EdNordholm). “We look forward to working closely with our promotional partners at Lucha Libre AAA and our broadcast partner 52MX to bring an unforgettable experience to our passionate fan base in Mexico heading into the final stretch for Bound for Glory this October.”

Nordholm took over IMPACT Wrestling in early 2017 after long-time president and owner Dixie Carter (@TNADixie) sold the company to Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corporation.

Lucha is far more celebrated in Mexico than pro wrestling is in the United States, so if Impact can capture that passion and bring it to their viewers, it will make the company seem far more alive.

At its peak, IMPACT Wrestling was arguably the second-biggest pro wrestling organization, in the U.S., having signed big name talent such as Sting (@Sting), Kurt Angle (@RealKurtAngle), and Ric Flair (@RicFlairNatrBoy) to their roster; as well as helping launch the careers of Bobby Roode (@REALBobbyRoode), Samoa Joe (@SamoaJoe), and current World Wrestling Entertainment (@WWE) Champion AJ Styles (@AJStylesOrg).

However, bad decisions by Carter led to a decline in the company, sending them deep into debt, and rumors of problems paying their talent and production team. Carter sought help borrowing money from Anthem Sports & Entertainment (who aired IMPACT Wrestling in Canada on the Fight Network (@fightnet)) as well as marketing and production firm Aroluxe, and Smashing Pumpkins (@SmashingPumpkin) lead singer Billy Corgan (@Billy). After a series of lawsuits, Anthem Sports & Entertainment gained control of the company, in 2016, and found itself in the wrestling business.

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It was a tough transition for Anthem Sports & Entertainment, stumbling out the gate, including a failed partnership with former IMPACT Wrestling owner, Jeff Jarrett (@RealJeffJarrett). Since hiring Scott D’Amore (@ScottDAmore) and Don Callis, in late 2017, the company is making a rebound.

Rey Fénix

“We’re re-establishing trust with the talent, with business partners, with fans,” said D’Amore to Newsweek (@Newsweek). “You can’t fix it overnight.”

Callis, who does English commentary for New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal) events, on the New Japan Pro Wrestling World website (@njpwworld), felt the company needed to capture a “cool factor” if they wanted to separate themselves from other wrestling organizations.

“There wasn’t a buzz about the product, part of that is on the booking side, doing things that don’t make sense,” said Callis. “Why is it that promotions in the U.K. or Northeast in the U.S. can rent wrestlers, put on a show and get a tremendous buzz on the internet? You have to be different. People try to be WWE-lite. We can’t be that. We have to try to be different, whether that means more athletic, more edgy, whatever it is. We have to be different.”

One platform IMPACT Wrestling has decided to leverage, to regain their cool, is Twitch (@Twitch). The wrestling company signed a deal with the social video service, launching an IMPACT Wrestling channel. The company’s Twitch channel features a 24-hour live stream and exclusive weekly programming, including lifestyle shows featuring IMPACT Wrestling stars outside of the ring as well as events such as April’s “IMPACT Wrestling vs. Lucha Underground” showcase during the annual WrestleCon weekend.

The interactive content and larger-than-life personalities of IMPACT Wrestling are a perfect fit for the platform whose passionate communities have demonstrated an increased appetite for professional wrestling and live events,” said Nordholm. “As we adapt to new content consumption methods, our partnership with Twitch gives us an opportunity to interact directly with our audience, while engaging and growing our fan base across the world.”

IMPACT Wrestling also sought to build their own stars, as they sought to refind their cool. While stars like Eric Young (@TheEricYoung), Drew McIntyre (@DMcIntyreWWE), EC3 (@therealec3), Bobby Lashley (@fightbobby) and the Hardys left for WWE, IMPACT was scouring the planet, looking for the next generation of talent.

While losing talent like Lashley, Roode, EC3 and The Hardys is a set back for most organizations; Callis, D’Amore and Nordholm saw the challenge as an opportunity. The trio has added new stars to the roster; such as Austin Aries (@AustinAries), Brian Cage (@MrGMSI_BCage), Johnny IMPACT (formerly known as John Morrison in the WWE (@TheRealMorrison)), and Su Yung (@realsuyung), as well as Los Lucha Brothers — Rey Fénix (@ReyFenixMx) and former Lucha Underground champion Pentagón Jr. (@PENTAELZEROM).

Former IMPACT Wrestling Champion Pentagón Jr., AKA Penta El 0M, of the Lucha Brothers

The company is also developing relationships with other organizations such as Lucha Libre AAA and Lucha Underground to help regain its “cool factor” and the trust of the fans, after burning bridges with NJPW under Carter’s tenure running IMPACT wrestling.

“It’s given Impact a lot of other players to use as they try to keep things fresh and move forward without the far larger budget they were playing with in the past.  It’s a different company now, one that is trying to make the most with the least,” said PWInsider.com Mike Johnson (@MikePWInsider). “The relationship with AAA and Lucha Underground is working out far better than the New Japan relationship did.  Impact management at the time didn’t seem to know how to utilize the international talents and many were used in stereotypical caricature roles that were more an insult to their heritage than an attempt to use them in the best way possible for Impact or New Japan.  Now, we see Pentagon holding the Impact World title and we see so many international talents being used in marquee storylines and matches. Everyone is getting the most out of the relationship. It won’t fix Impact’s perception overnight but it’s absolutely helping the company to move in the right direction.”

Touring is also a big part of the company’s turnaround, which is why the trip to Mexico was important for IMPACT Wrestling. Rey Fénix and Pentagón Jr., who are established stars in Lucha Libre AAA and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL), will showcase the tour, as will Mexican lucha legend Konnan (@Konnan5150), currently managing the tag-team of Latin American Xchange (LAX) — Santana (@SantanaLAX) and Ortiz (@Ortiz5150). The Mexican tour will help set up the October 14 Bound for Glory pay-per-view, being held in New York City, which will feature LAX against The OGz — Hernandez (@SuperMexCTM), Homicide, and King ( — in a six-man tag team hardcore match.

“Impact has been in a rebuilding phase for years it feels,” said Johnson. “One of the moves that they have made is to try and get out filming in Florida, so the show doesn’t have the same, antiseptic look every week.  Taking the show to Mexico should provide them with a fresh, vibrant look and hopefully some real passion from the fans South of the border. Lucha is far more celebrated in Mexico than pro wrestling is in the United States, so if Impact can capture that passion and bring it to their viewers, it will make the company seem far more alive.”

Callis, D’Amore, and Nordholm believe that tours, such as the one in Mexico, will help build the brand back to its former glory, drawing fans back into the fold.

“We’re making small, incremental steps,” D’Amore. “It’s grassroots stuff so we can build this product from the bottom up.”

What: Sports Illustrated’s / Planet Fútbol’s Luis Miguel Echegaray brings a fresh new voice to the company’s sports coverage.
Why it matters: As head of Latino / Spanish content at Sports Illustrated, Luis Miguel Echegaray is looking to grow SI.com’s audience, making the website and TV shows a “go to” spot for Hispanic sports fans.

Luis Miguel Echegaray‘s (@lmechegaray) path to Sports Illustrated (@SInowtook him through three continents, a career change, and a patient wife.

Born in London, the 37-year-old Peruvian had dreams of acting in William Shakespeare-inspired dramas, not analyzing José Mourinho’s latest drama at Manchester United (@ManUtd). And yet, after making a career change from acting to journalism, Echegaray’s journey has landed him on Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer).

“The acting and writing world is very inconsistent, I wasn’t leaving a Wall Street job or anything like that,” said Echegaray. “But it was scary, especially trying to build a life with my wife. Luckily, it became the right move, and honestly, it’s the best move and gamble I ever made.”

Echegaray currently co-hosts Sports Illustrated’s Planet Fútbol television show, along with long-time SI.com soccer analyst Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl), adding a Hispanic perspective to go along with Wahl’s vast journalistic experience.

Reporting is different than engagement. Engagement is what is going to create opportunities to tell meaningful stories that truly move the conversation forward.

Launched in 2014 as a SI.com vertical platform, PlanetFutbol.com is a Sports Illustrated’s stand-alone website, modeled after The MMQB (@theMMQB) and Extra Mustard (@SI_ExtraMustard), aimed at covering soccer year-round. Planet Fútbol continued its growth, evolving into a television show airing on Amazon Prime (@PrimeVideo), part of the sports website’s new partnership with Amazon’s SI TV Channel.

Luis Miguel Echegaray (L) and Borussia Dortmund / United States national team star Christian Pulisic (R).

Echegaray, looking for a career change, in 2013, wanted to capitalize on both his love of the arts and soccer as he started on his new career adventure. He wrote, directed, and narrated a short-film titled The Fall Kings, focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. High School, a successful New York City high school soccer team made up entirely of immigrant children. Echegaray credits The Fall Kings for helping him get into The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism (@newmarkjschool) at the City University of New York (@CUNY).

“Soccer was always a big part of my life,” said Echegaray. “I played it at a pretty high level, I actually coached it for a long time, so I wanted to mix both worlds; storytelling, film-making, and reporting. I didn’t know anything about journalism and [The Fall Kings] became my ticket to C.U.N.Y. and C.U.N.Y. pretty much changed my life, just learning about the aspect of storytelling and reporting and journalism.”

Echegaray credits his acting background for giving him an advantage, as he adjusted to life in graduate school. Despite being a journalistic newbie, Echegaray quickly noticed that he managed to achieve a better rapport with people he interviewed compared to his classmates, noting that journalists, ironically, are not great communicators when it comes to human interaction.

Luis Miguel Echegaray (L) & Chicago Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger (R)

“It’s been a really great asset for me to be able to empathize, and empathy is the keyword, where I try and think about my projects and what I do, from a more human perspective as opposed to just reporting,” said Echegaray. “Reporting is different than engagement. Engagement is what is going to create opportunities to tell meaningful stories that truly move the conversation forward. And in this day in age, with what’s happening with the world right now, it’s so important to not just report but create meaningful engagement. And that’s where I think the acting really helped me.”

Graduate school opened up opportunities for Echegaray, landing gigs with VICE HBO, and The Guardian U.S. (@GuardianUS), Newsweek (@Newsweek), Univision (@Univision), and Remezcla (@REMEZCLA). In 2017, he was hired as head of Latino / Spanish content at Sports Illustrated.

“Not only am I co-hosting a show with my friend and great reporter, Grant Wahl, but what I’m really doing that makes me valuable is that we are trying try grow the Latino audience,” said Echegaray. “Not just grow it but make Sports Illustrated a place where the Hispanic audience in the U.S. feels like we are representing them. We are talking about sports, not just from a sports perspective, but from a cultural perspective.”

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Other broadcasting companies and websites are also attempting to capture that cultural point-of-view, with English-speaking sports coverage in the U.S. adding bilingual talent, in recent years.

Fox Sports (@FOXSports), who owned the English-language rights to the 2018 Russia World Cup, added Fernando Fiore (@FernandoFiore), formerly of Univision’s highly popular Republica Deportiva (@RepDeportiva), to host the FIFA World Cup Tonight show, along with Kate Abdo (@kate_abdo). Fox Sports also added Jorge Perez-Navarro (@jpereznavarro), formerly of Univision and ESPN Deportes, to do play-by-play English commentary, bringing a Hispanic flair to the commentary boothEchegaray also points to ESPN Deportes’ (@ESPNdeportes) Herculez Gomez (@herculezg), Sebastian Salazar (@SebiSalazarFUT), and Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) as other examples of Latinos making waves in the industry.

And while Echegaray loves the fact very talented people are receiving these opportunities, he believes in pushing further, giving way to even more voices.

“We’re moving the needle, there is no denying that, but there is still a long way to go,” said Echegaray. “I think that in order for us to make a statement we need more women in the industry. I think we need more Latinas, not just reporting but also being in positions of decision-making. I do think we are making progress, it’s great to see but I want more, and I want more women because I really believe there are so many amazing female voices that have yet to be heard.”

What: Andrade “Cien” Almas made his WWE pay-per-view debut during WWE’s SummerSlam weekend.
Why it matters: WWE covets the Hispanic wrestling market, and the sports entertainment company hopes Andrade “Cien” Almas can replicate the success he found in Mexico and Japan, growing their international fanbase.

World Wrestling Entertainment (@WWE) took over New York City over the weekend, as the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, hosted NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV, SummerSlam, Monday Night Raw, and Smackdown Live.

SummerSlam is the company’s second biggest pay-per-view (PPV) of the year, behind Wrestlemania, showcasing the company’s best and brightest talent.

One of those stars, Andrade “Cien” Almas (@AndradeCienWWE), made his WWE PPV debut this year, defeating Rusev (@RusevBUL) and Lana (@LanaWWE) in a mixed tag team ma

(credit: WikiMedia Commons)

tch. Almas, 28, is a rising star whose popularity is well established back in Mexico.  The WWE, who has long had a tradition of showcasing Hispanic wrestlers such Rey Mysterio Jr. (@reymysterio), as well as WWE Hall of Famers Pedro Morales, Tito Santana, and the late Eddie Guerrero, is hoping that Andrade can be the next WWE superstar that can help them continue to tap into the Spanish-speaking market.

“When you look upon the WWE roster, there isn’t anyone else who looks poised to break through as the next big Hispanic star for the company.  There are other talented Hispanic stars on their roster but I don’t currently get the impression WWE is using them with the goal of trying to cultivate their next big star out of them,” said Mike Johnson (@mikepwinsider) of PWInsider.com (@PWInsidercom). “With Almas however, there’s a ton of potential.  He has that necessary chip on his shoulder that radiates through the arenas when he’s performing. He has crisp timing that comes with being a great in-ring performer. He looks and carries himself like a star.”

Born in Durango, Mexico, “El Idolo,” as Almas is calling himself during his Smackdown run, is a third generation wrestler who followed on his grandfather’s (El Moro) and father’s (El Brillante) footsteps. Almas began his career at the age of 14, in his family’s wrestling promotion before signing with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL), the oldest active professional wrestling promotion in the business, taking on the masked La Sombra persona, as his gimmick.

I wanted to be internationally known, and we all know that the WWE is that global company.
(credit: WikiMedia Commons)

“My grandfather, my father, my uncles, a lot of people in my family are in wrestling,” said Almas to Mexico’s Sale El Sol morning show. “To me, it was just playing around. To do pro wrestling, to me, it was a kid’s game.”

While working with CMLL, Almas leveraged the Mexican lucha company’s ties with New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal), competing against NJPW’s talent, as La Sombra, and eventually winning the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, defeating Shinsuke Nakamura (@ShinsukeN) for the title.

While Almas / La Sombra started his career as a técnico (a “face” / hero), it was not until he turned rudo (a “heel” / villain), in 2014, establishing the Los Ingobernables stable that he became highly popular, both in Mexico and in Japan. With his star on the rise, in two different continents, Almas signed a development deal with WWE in 2015, hoping to become an even bigger international star.

“My dream, as a professional wrestler, I knew was not going to achieve more in Mexico,” said Almas to Mexico’s Sale El Sol morning show. “I wanted to be known worldwide, I wanted to be internationally known, and we all know that the WWE is that global company.”

After signing with WWE, Almas, wrestling without his La Sombra mask and under the “Cien” moniker, competed in the company’s NXT (@WWENXT) development league winning the NXT Championship after defeating Drew McIntyre (@DMcIntyreWWE), at the NXT TakeOver: WarGames show, in November 2017.

A key part of Almas success can be attributed to being paired up with Zelina Vega (@Zelina_VegaWWE). Billed as Almas’ business manager, the 27-year-old Puerto Rican from Queens, New York has become the mouthpiece and advocate for the Mexican luchador.

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“La Muñeca” jumped into the wrestling business in order to honor her father, a telecom analyst for the firm Cantor Fitzgerald who died September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center attacks, having competed in Impact Wrestling (@IMPACTWRESTLING) before joining the WWE.

(credit: WikiMedia Commons)

“Zelina Vega is, in my opinion, an extremely unique, rare and special talent that only comes around so often in professional wrestling,” said Johnson. “She has an amazing personal backstory, having gotten into the industry to honor her father, who died on 9/11 as wrestling was one of the things that bonded them.  She has continuously improved on all levels and since coming to WWE, has found the perfect voice and characterization to make herself shine.”

Vega, who is bilingual, has helped Almas communicate with the WWE Universe, handling promo duties for Almas as he continues to learn English. Promos are the speeches that wrestlers deliver to audiences before and after matches, not only helping convey the talent’s storylines but also helping them develop a personality that draws the fans’ boos and cheers.

“Vega is so great in her current role, in fact, that from the second she and Almas were put together as an act on WWE NXT TV, he immediately meant more,” said Johnson. “Vega was the last piece of the puzzle Almas needed to go from being another WWE wrestler to a legitimate WWE act that mattered. I do believe knowing English can only help Almas as the company loves to have bilingual talents, but Vega does such an excellent job in her role that is helps maintain some of the mystique around the Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas persona.”

Whether competing as La Sombra or alongside Vega as Cien, whether rudo or técnico, whether competing in the United States or Japan, Almas always represents his Mexican roots to the fullest; something that draws sponsors to the charismatic luchador and the companies that employ him, looking to tap into the popular Hispanic wrestling market.

“There’s a ton of upward mobility for Almas,” said Johnson. “WWE has yet to scratch the surface with him on their Smackdown Live TV series.”

What: The financial troubles of leading media rights firm MP & Silva leaves international football, and other sports rights, in flux.
Why it matters: The unexpected availability of these rights may present opportunities for brands to partner with some of the world’s biggest football properties.

As most of Europe begins a new season of football now, many leagues are facing a very unforeseen issue in the next few weeks (and potentially the next few years): namely where their games can be seen—and who can see them—as massive media rights company MP & Silva (@MPSworldwidecontinues to go through its huge financial issues.

Monday the Scottish Professional Football League (@spfltook their rights back from MPS before a default that would have threatened a global blackout of their new season. A potential audience of tens of millions across the Middle East, Australia and North Africa were “denied coverage” of Saturday’s action. But the SPFL’s “cash-stricken” media partner “failed to stump up payments to continue selling the Scottish game abroad,” allowing SPFL CEO Neil Doncaster to “terminate the cut-price deal” five years ahead of schedule.

…[T]he global sports rights business especially for soccer, with one of its biggest players, remains in a great deal of flux.

The move by the SPFL follows that of Serie A (@SerieAlast week, which is now suing the company, which was founded in 2004 by the Italian trio of Andrea Radrizzani, Riccardo Silva and Carlo Pozzali, before being sold to Baofeng Technology and Everbright Securities in May 2016. The two Chinese companies took a 65 per cent stake in a deal that valued the company at US$1.1 billion.

What this means for leagues like Serie A and the SPFL is unclear, but for competitive companies looking to garner international rights it presents great opportunity to partner with some of the world’s biggest football properties at a time when those deals were thought to be off the table for years to come. According to TV Sports Markets (@TVSportsMarkets), MP & Silva has also missed scheduled payments to English soccer’s Premier League (@premierleagueand the European Handball Federation (@EHF), and is said to be in arbitration with FIFA (@FIFAcomover its advisory contract for Italian rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

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The default can also open doors for streaming services to engage and pick up rights for football leagues that were thought to be tied up in traditional broadcast deals, although the rights could be repositioned to the original holders. In the United States, MPS has had a burgeoning business that now appears to be on hold, with deals selling for the NFL, Monumental Sports and others.

For his part Doncaster painted a very positive picture for Scottish Football, looking to see what new deals, and potentially new dollars, this could open up.

“Scottish football is growing in popularity at home and abroad We are working to ensure that fans across the globe are able to enjoy matches from the Ladbrokes SPFL, the Betfred Cup and the IRN-BRU Cup as normal this season,” he added. “This also allows us to explore opportunities to give even more fans worldwide the chance to watch our games.”

As this plays out, the global sports rights business especially for soccer, with one of its biggest players, remains in a great deal of flux in a story that could become one of the biggest of the year.

cover image: SPFL

What: The boxing reality series “The Contender” debuts on EPIX on Friday, August 24, with the Hispanic audience an important factor in its success.
Why it matters: The tradition of boxing across Latin America and among Latinos in the U.S., has never been stronger.

Eric Van Wegenen

This fall may be the rebirth of boxing in the mainstream. From Canelo Alvarez (@Canelo) vs Triple G (@GGGBoxingin September to new massive deals by ESPN (@espnand DAZN (@DAZN_USAto invest in the sport, the buzz has not been this loud consistently in years. Also in the mix will be the reintroduction of the reality series that started it all in sports “The Contender,” (@TheContender ) which will begin its weekly run in a few weeks on a new home EPIX (@EpixHD), starting August 24 at 9 pm EDT. Core to the success of that show, and for that matter all of boxing, is the rabid Latino fan base, which has supported all forms of boxing even in its lowest moments. From South Americans to the Caribbean, Mexico to Central America, boxing remains a tradition to Latinos.

We were able to take in one of the shows for The Contender this past spring in Los Angeles, and we recently caught up with Executive Producer Eric Van Wagenen (@EricVanWagenen(also familiar to Latino fans as the EVP of “Lucha Underground”) to find out what will be in store for those tuning in on EPIX this fall.

Portada: The Latino community is obviously a prime market for the Contender, when putting together the show does that market factor into decisions on talent?

Eric Van Wagenen: We want to appeal to all demographics when we cast “The Contender,” but the primary focus is on boxing talent. Obviously, the Latino fans make up a large percentage of all boxing fans, but most boxing fans are drawn to fighters who put on entertaining fights, even more than any regional or ethnic loyalties.

They support live events, broadcast events, and actively engage on boxing social media. To build the Contender brand, we will need a strong Latino fanbase.
Daniel Valdivia (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

Portada: Sergio Mora was a past champion and is part of this show. How valuable was it to have him win in the past, and how important is he in the storytelling this time around?

EVW: Sergio Mora was the ideal champion for us in season 1 and a great example of the power of this format. He’s a former world champion and one of the few guys from season 1 that is still fighting. He helped us evaluate the talent early on, and was even a frequent sparring partner for the boxers before and during the tournament. Having been through the “TV” part of the experience before, his advice was very helpful -not only to the boxers, but to the producers as well.

Portada: We believe you have one Latino boxer in the show, from Mexico? Can you tell us about him?

EVW: We have two Latino boxers; Daniel Valdivia, born in Mexico but moved to Tulare, California as a young boy to follow his father who was a migrant worker in California’s central valley. Also, Marcos Hernandez – a young father and native of Fresno, California. These men live only 75 miles away from each other, and their careers have been circling each other for a long time.

Portada: Regardless of the winner, boxing is enjoying quite a rebirth overall. As the sport grows even further, how important is it as someone promoting the sport, that the Latino audience stay engaged and involved?

EVW: It’s very important to appeal to the “hardcore” boxing fans as we reboot this series and Latino fans are some of the most supportive of the sport. They support live events, broadcast events, and actively engage on boxing social media. To build the Contender brand, we will need a strong Latino fanbase.

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Portada: What will Latino fans of the sport enjoy most with this go-round?

EVW: In boxing, a “Mexican style” fight usually implies toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, tough exchanges with lots of shots traded. Given the five round format of our tournament, the fights are extremely action-packed without any boring rounds.

Portada: If you were advising brands on why to get involved in boxing again, especially those interested in engaging with Latinos, what would you tell them?

EVW: We saw a lot of Latino families coming to our Contender fight nights. Fathers and Mothers came with their children. The love of the sport is constantly passing down to the next generation, and they become life-long boxing fans.

Portada: Lastly, what would fans of the series expect to see differently in this series than in the ones past?

EVW: While we still go deep into fighter’s backstories and families, we have a higher caliber of fighter than in previous seasons. Additionally, the fights are shown in their entirety, without music, sound effects, or clever editing. You will see exactly how the fights went down.

Cover Image courtesy EPIX

What: The New York Giants’ invitation of Octavio González to camp and Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional’s expansion to 10 teams are signs that American football’s popularity is growing in Mexico.
Why it matters: The National Football League is looking to grow the popularity of football abroad and Mexico is a market that the league has targeted.

Octavio González’s (@tavogzz93) attempts to latch onto the National Football League (@NFL) have not been via the traditional route.

González did not play for an NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (@NCAAFootball) school like the University of Alabama (@AlabamaFTBL) or a Division I Football Championship Subdivision (@NCAA_FCS) like North Dakota State University (@NDSUathletics). Nor did he even play for a Division II (@NCAADII) or Division III (@NCAADIII) school.

The 6-3, 262 pound linebacker from Monterrey, Mexico, who was invited to the New York Giants (@Giants) May mini-camp, played college ball for the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León (UANL) Tigres (@AUTENTICOS_UANL) and currently plays for the Monterrey Fundidores of the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional (@LFAmex).

Monterrey Fundidores linebacker Octavio González, of the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional, was invited by the New York Giants to their May mini-camp.

“The [Giants] coaches were impressed with the athletic talent I brought [to camp],” said González in an interview with Fox Sports MX (@FOXSportsMX). “I was practicing at a position I never practiced at before, let alone played before. I did well, to be honest. I felt at the same level as the guys that were there, and I’m on the [Giants’] short list.”

The fact that a professional league now exists in the country can only increase the fan base, and with the NFL bringing back games to Mexico, the popularity has no ceiling.

González sharpened his skill-sets in the LFA, which launched in 2016 with four teams, expanding to six franchises last year. At an April press conference prior to the Tazón México III title game, LFA president Óscar Pérez announced that league would add four more teamsexpanding the league to 10 teams for the 2019 season.

“When we started this [2018] season, we said it would be to consolidate and improve the league,” said Perez. “This could not be done without the help of the franchisees and I would like to announce, in a very content manner, and with the satisfaction of [a sense of] fulfillment, we are going to expand next season and consolidate ten teams in the Mexican Republic.”

The rapid expansion of the league is seen as a sign of the growing popularity of the sport of American football, south of the border.

“The fact that a professional league now exists in the country can only increase the fan base, and with the NFL bringing back games to Mexico, the popularity has no ceiling,” said Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) Spanish radio broadcast Tony Alvarez (@Tonyar27).

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Alvarez points outs that football has been popular in Mexico, at the college and university level, since the 1920s, but that support for the sport waned with a lack of professional league.

The problem was that people only had their universities to cheer on,” said Alvarez. “And now, with the creation of the LFA, the opportunity to succeed as a player at the professional level and also to have a league of their own only grows.”

The NFL recently turned its attention back towards Mexico after an 11-year hiatus. In 2005, the Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) defeated the San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) 31–14 at Estadio Azteca (@EstadioAzteca) in Mexico City, in front of 103,467 fans, the first regular season NFL game held outside the United States.

Since that game, the NFL has focused on the European market, launching the International Series at Wembley Stadium (@wembleystadium) in London. The NFL returned to Mexico City, in 2016, with the Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) losing to Oakland Raiders (@RAIDERS), 27-20, in the first MNF game broadcast from outside the United States.

Alvarez believes that the success of the LFA is beneficial for the NFL to gain a foothold in the Mexican market.

The Mexicas (red) defeated the Raptors (white) 17-0 in the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional’s (LFA) Tazón México III championship game, held April 22, 2018, at Estadio Azul in Mexico City.

“The LFA season starts after the NFL season, so it can be a ‘built up’ every year from fall to spring, and if somehow the two leagues can work some kind of partnership agreement to work together, it would even increase reaching out to the Mexican fan base,” said Alvarez. “So far, it seems that the LFA project is working and will work for many years. The NFL will benefit from that because more people will be interested in the sport and everyone wants to be a part of the highest level of competition, from a fan and development standpoint, that being the NFL.”

For players like González, the LFA represents a potential springboard to achieve his dream of playing professional American football in the United States.

“I had three years of inactivity and I saw that the league kept growing,” said González to Máximo Avance (@maximoavance), who stream all LFA league games. “I saw players that, in their time, they were stars on their (college) teams. So I said, ‘why not? I want to return to playing, and maybe I can use this as a trampoline,’ and good things are happening.”

Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons/Equiquinos

What: New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) aired its third show in the United States, as the company attempts to catch WWE in the business of professional wrestling.
Why it matters: NJPW has a solid long-time relationship with Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), that could be used to help the company catch up to the WWE.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (@njpwglobal) continued its expansion into the North American wrestling market last weekend, as the G1 Special in San Francisco show aired live on AXS TV in the United States and the NJPWWorld (@njpwworld) digital platform around the world.

IWGP Heavyweight champion Kenny Omega (@KennyOmegamanX) headlined NJPW’s third U.S. Event, defeating “The American Nightmare” Cody (@CodyRhodes) — son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, Saturday night, selling out the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, a crowd of over 10,000 wrestling fans.

The G1 Special in San Francisco show is just one of the steps Harold Meij, NJPW’s new president is taking to globally expand the company’s brand. The former vice president of Coca-Cola Japan and Japanese toy company Takara Tomy (@Tomy_Toy) has faith in his product, which he describes as “real-life Dragon Ball Z characters,” that it can appeal across various demographics and compete in the international market.

Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) World Lightweight Champion, Dragon Lee, one of the Mexican stars competing in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), battled IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi at Saturday’s G1 Special in San Francisco.
Strongly promoted and marketed Hispanic talent could definitely help NJPW compete with WWE.

“My thinking hasn’t changed since my time at Takara Tomy. I want to expand the fanbase regardless of age, gender or nationality,” said Meij recently in an interview with Japanese publication The Mainichi (@themainichi). “New Japan has fantastic content, so it has the possibility of picking up popularity overseas. At the moment, there are some 100,000 registered members on our video streaming service ‘New Japan Pro-Wrestling World,’ and 40,000 of them live outside Japan. I would like to aim for the international market with things like videos in English or events for foreign tourists.”

One business relationship that NJPW could turn to for help is their partnership with Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (@CMLL_OFICIAL), one of the oldest professional wrestling promotion in the industry. The relationship goes as far back as 2008, trading talent between the two companies, including the two co-promoting the Fantastica Mania Japan tours that launched in 2011. By 2016, the relationship had blossomed to the point where NJPW agreed to air CMLL’s Friday night show Viernes Espectacular de Arena México on their NJPWWorld OTT platform.

CMLL does exist for NJPW as a place where the Japanese wrestlers can work on character changes away from the eyes of their usual fans,” said N. Khan, founder of LuchaBlog,com (@luchablog); a blog dedicated to Mexican lucha libre-style of wrestling. “[Tetsuya] Naito’s (@s_d_naito) adoption of ‘Los Ingobernable’ style was a good example of this, as was Hiromu Takahashi’s (@TIMEBOMB1105) transition towards his ‘Time Bomb’ persona, and Shinsuke Nakamura (@ShinsukeN) debuting his ‘King of Strong Style’ personality in Mexico before bringing it back to Japan.”

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NJPW’s current rise coincides with the growing popularity of the Bullet Club (@BulletClubNJPW ‏). NJPW has managed to flex the beloved branding of the Bullet Club stable; a group of foreign wrestlers founded by Prince Devitt (known to WWE fans as Finn Balor (@FinnBalor)), later led by current WWE champion A.J. Styles (@AJStylesOrg), currently helmed by the charismatic Omega; and the clique’s storyline intents on “taking over” the company.

Tetsuya Naito’s “Ingobernables de Japon” gimmick he adopted in Mexico has gained popularity among wrestling fans both in the U.S. and Japan.

NJPW also found lightning-in-a-bottle with Naito’s “Ingobernables de Japon” brand, bringing Mexican swagger to Japanese wrestling, after teaming with CMLL superstar La Sombra (currently competing in the WWE as Andrade “Cien” Almas (@AndradeCienWWE)), back in 2015.

Hot Topic (@HotTopic) began peddling Bullet Club / NJPW merchandise after company executives asked the WWE officials if they could market and sell the Bullet Club shirts they saw all over Orlando, during Wrestlemania 33 weekend, not realizing the logo rights belonged to a competitor.

“Hot Topic said we need those shirts, they’re everywhere,” said Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON), founder of Wrestling Observer, back in September of 2017. “(WWE) had to tell them they didn’t have them, so they had to hunt down who did. They got them and shocked everyone with the sales, they couldn’t keep them in stock.”

Former WWE champions, Rey Mysterio Jr., has competed for NJPW in 2018.

NJPW has taken further steps to take advantage of their current popularity, enhancing the talent on their roster by adding established veterans, well known to the North American market, such as former WWE champions Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) (who recently defeated Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the Dominion show in June) and Rey Mysterio Jr. (@reymysterio), on a part-time basis, to introduce the company to newer audiences who grew up strictly on a WWE wrestling diet.

NJPW credits Jericho for helping the company add as many as 25,000 new NJPWWorld subscribers when he co-headlined the Wrestle Kingdom 12 show, the company’s equivalent to the WWE’s Wrestlemania annual event.

Considering the immense contributions Hispanic wrestlers have made to the wrestling industry — from the likes of Mysterio, the Guerrero Family (including WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero) of Mexico and The Colons in Puerto Rico (including WWE Hall of Famer Carlos Colon) — NJPW may be wise to further tap into this talent pool, as they continue their quest to catch the WWE and takeover of the wrestling world. NJPW seems to be taking steps in that direction, featuring current CMLL World Lightweight Champion, Dragon Lee (@dragon_leecmll) at the G1 in San Francisco show, but has a long way to go.

Andrade “Cien” Alamas (R), known as La Sombra while competing for CMLL and NJPW, is currently signed with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

“Strongly promoted and marketed Hispanic talent could definitely help NJPW compete with WWE. The lack of Hispanic wrestling stars is an obvious weakness in the entire North American market. It’s why Rey Mysterio Jr. is wrestling on NJPW shows and being promoted as a special star in WWE’s upcoming [@WWEgames] video game at the same time,” said Khan. “Naito & Almas bridged the gap between Mexico & Japan, but Almas is illustrative of the problem NJPW would have, to attack the US Hispanic market. Almas was a star in Mexico, a star in Japan, and could have been successfully marketed as a star in the US by either CMLL or NJPW, but WWE is desperate for their own Hispanic star for the US and scooped him up.”

As NJPW and WWE grapple for the hearts and minds of wrestling “marks,” the winners in this corporate wrestling feud are the fans.

“A decade ago, US fans had no legal access to NJPW and only saw a few CMLL matches a week if they were lucky enough to have some specialty cable channels,” said Khan. “Every important NJPW match is now available for a reasonable fee on their site, and most CMLL matches are streamed live and are free to watch on their official YouTube channel. There’s still a bit of barrier to entry, to understand what’s going on and where to find it, but it’s a closer playing field to WWE. Before, if people wanted to watch wrestling, WWE was really the only easy solution. Now there’s a lot that’s just a click away.”

Cover Image: courtesy NJPW

What: Cable network Epix is bringing back “The Contender,” with Andre Ward hosting and two boxers of Mexican descent, Marcos Hernandez, and Daniel Valdivia, competing.
Why it matters: Boxing remains extremely popular and marketable in the Hispanic sports market, and the inclusion of two Hispanic fighters in the show’s revival is a natural tie into that fan base.

Premium cable network Epix (@EpixHD) is set to revive the reality series “The Contender,” recently announcing the 16 boxers that will face off in the 12-episode fifth season, set to debut August 24 at 10 PM ET/PT.

Hosted by Andre “Son of God” Ward (@andreward), the 16 boxers will be split into two teams, trained by Freddie Roach and Naazim Richardson, as they compete in elimination-style bouts for the 160-pound middleweight champion of “The Contender” (@TheContender) and a six-figure purse. The show will center around the fighters, inside and outside of the ring, as they look to improve their lot in life while working their way up the rankings.

Daniel Valdivia (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

Marcos “Madman” Hernandez (@madmarcos559) and Daniel “El Chapulin” Valdivia (@ValdiviaBoxing), both of Mexican descent, are among the boxers featured. And while their motivations for participating are different, their goal is the same—getting to the title fight.

A natural salesman and real estate agent by day, Valdivia was born to step into the ring. With several titles including the NABF Super Welterweight Champion as an underdog, he’s chasing fame to prove giving up college for boxing was the right move.

Having been bullied from a young age after an accident left him with burns on 30 percent of his body, Hernandez is fighting for his young autistic son, in hopes that he won’t be bullied the same way. With Junior Olympics, 2012 Blue and Gold titles and “Mexican-go-forward” style fighting he may be overlooked and underestimated.

In light of his vast experience in the ring against the likes Chad Dawson, Carl Froch (@Carl_Froch) and Sakio Bika (@sakio_bika) – winner of Season 3 of “The Contender,” Ward believed it was his duty to be more than just a host for the show.

The fights themselves are tailored for the more hardcore fan, of which I think 40 percent are Hispanic.
Andre Ward (Credit: Epix / Dianna Garcia – Beck Media)

“I’ve always said that if my job as a fighter, when I was active, was just to win championship belts and win money, but yet not leave a legacy or take what I know in the ring and out of the ring and try to give back, not just future fighters, but current fighters, then I’m failing,” said Ward. “A lot of these fighters that are in ‘The Contender’ Season 5, some of them I knew, but most of them I never heard of and they had only seen me on television.

So, for them to be able to spend time with me on a personal level, for me to try to give back in the ring, and share strategies and workout tips, but also strategies in life, in helping them deal with the pressures of ‘The Contender’ and the pressures at home, that’s what it’s about.”

Eric Van Wagenen (@EricVanWagenen), who worked on the original show, will serve as executive producer and showrunner of the revived franchise, alongside Mark Burnett (@MarkBurnettTV). Van Wagenen previously served as a supervising editor during Seasons 1 and 2, before becoming the executive producer and showrunner during Season 3 and 4.

“There was, I think, a fan base that was very devoted to it and loyal to it,” said Van Wagenen. “It was one of those things where when you look back on it ten years later, you think, ‘Man, I wish we could do that show again,’ because there is so much we would like to utilize in today’s TV environment and pop culture and everything from social media involvement to streaming services.”

The original incarnation of “The Contender” series launched in 2005, hosted by Sylvester Stallone (Season 1) (@TheSlyStallone) and boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard (Season 1-3) (@SugarRayLeonard) before Tony Danza (@TonyDanza) took over the spot on Season 4. Ward, who retired at 32-0 with the WBA (@WBABoxing), IBF (@IBFUSBAboxing), and WBO (@WorldBoxingOrg) light heavyweight titles, was a perfect fit to host “The Contender,” according to Van Wagenen.

“Literally after about a 15-minute conversation with Andre, I felt like the franchise was safe in his hands,” said Van Wagenen. “I, of course, knew Andre from his boxing career, but I gained a new respect for him in working with him over the course of the shoots, just how smart he is, how much he cares about young fighters, and about how attached he was to this process, and he just really fully bought in. I think he brings the biggest surprise to the series. It’s just how active and involved he is and I think we are in very good hands with Andre at the helm.”

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The sport of boxing has always found an engaged audience in the Hispanic market. Keeping in mind the passion that Latino audiences have for “the sweet science,” Van Wagenen felt that authenticity was very important, particularly with the Hispanic community.

“Being in California and being a boxing fan, I know that probably easily close to half of the hardcore boxing fans are Hispanic,” he added. I think that they can watch fighting, appreciate a fight, in that they are hardcore fans.”

“We are letting the fights play in real time, unedited, and unchanged. We had a very great production team and a lot of very creative and inventive ways to shoot a boxing match. We’re excited to put those on display. By the same token, we wanted people to judge the fights for the fights and not our interpretation of them. So, rounds play three minutes exactly, as long as they go, and then we give opportunities to replay with slo-mo and things like that and highlight packages and things like that after the fights. But, the fights themselves are tailored for the more hardcore fan, of which I think 40 percent are Hispanic.”

cover image: courtesy Epix

What: Major League Soccer looks to leverage World Cup coverage and the success of “El Tri” to increase viewership.
Why it matters: Major League Soccer wants to continue its growth as league despite the USMNT not qualifying into the 2018 World Cup.

With the 2018 World Cup in full swing, networks invested in broadcasting soccer league games are hoping that the country’s fascination in the quadrennial tournament draws in new fans to their league partners, despite the lack of participation by the United States men’s national team (USMNT).

While it would have helped television networks greatly had Christian Pulisic led the national team past Trinidad & Tobago, who eliminated the red, white and blue after defeating them 2-1 in CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, some experts feel that overall soccer TV ratings should experience an increase as a result of the “World Cup Bounce.”

I absolutely think Mexico’s success will contribute to increased viewership for MLS.

“The World Cup Bounce” can be described as an uptick in televisions ratings for live matches, thanks in part to the tournament drawing in a large number of viewers that normally do not watch soccer. The hope, for networks, is that these new fans will remain interested in the sport, even after the tournament is over.

One of the more obvious beneficiaries from this phenomenon is the American soccer league Major League Soccer (@MLS). The USMNT (@ussoccer_mntis usually loaded with MLS stars who get to shine on the world’s largest stage. The 2014 US roster included 10 players from MLS, including familiar names such as team captain Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders (@SoundersFC) and Michael Bradley of Toronto FC (@TorontoFC). A USMNT appearance in this year’s tournament would have helped MLS continue to further build television viewership.

“History shows us that there was a bump in MLS ratings after the 2014 World Cup,” said Dan Lobring, who previously worked for MLS franchise, the Chicago Fire, and is now with sports marketing agency rEvolution (@littleRbigE). “Of course, the big difference being the absence of the U.S. in 2018 which leaves a gray area on how significant of a bump there might be coming out of 2018.”

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While the USMNT may have failed to qualify into the 2018 World Cup, the American soccer league is still well represented in Russia, with 19 players on MLS rosters participating in the 2018 World Cup. Players such as Mexico’s Carlos Vela (@11carlosV) of LAFC  (@LAFCand the dos Santos brothers – Giovani and Jonathan of the L.A. Galaxy (@LAGalaxy), Costa Rica‘s (@fedefutbolcrcFrancisco Calvo of Minnesota United (@MNUFC), Peru‘s Yoshi Yotun of Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) and Panama‘s (@fepafut) Anibal Godoy of the Seattle Sounders are playing quality minutes for their respective international teams, showcasing MLS’s depth of talent on the world’s grandest stage.

“The World Cup is unquestionably the most important sporting event on the globe, and once again it will elevate the sport of soccer and MLS this summer,” said MLS spokesperson Marisabel Muñoz. Muñoz points out that there are also 14 former MLS players on World Cup rosters, on top of the 19 active MLS players on World Cup rosters. The 19 MLS players represent the largest contingent of international talent from MLS since the league’s debut, and nearly equals the combined representation of the five previous tournaments.

Mexico‘s (@miseleccionmxEN) World Cup success could also be a boon for MLS, considering the immense popularity of “El Tri,” within the American border. Mexico’s upset victory over the defending World Cup champions, Germany, drew 4,002,000 viewers on Fox Sports (@FOXSportsEnglish telecast and another 7,120,000 on Telemundo (@TelemundoSportsSpanish broadcast.

“I absolutely think Mexico’s success will contribute to increased viewership for MLS,” said Lobring. “I think MLS and broadcast leadership in North America across the board are pulling for Mexico to continue its early success. And when you have three marquee players from MLS on ‘El Tri,’ that’s a big deal for the overall profile of MLS, especially having those three from such a large and critical media market in Los Angeles.”

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