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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soccer Teams want the Attention

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

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

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

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

Broadcasters pay more to a university in Albuquerque for their English-match rights than for ours in Spanish, although in terms of investment return we give them much more money.
Jose Luis Higuera B.
José Luis Higuera, Grupo Chivas Omnilife’s CEO. (Image: Twitter)

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

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

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

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

Broadcasters agree on the opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

What brands are missing

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

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

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

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

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

Soccer and Sports Marketing content will be very important at Portada’s major  PortadaLat event on June 7-8 in Miami.
Programming will include:
THE GOLAZO 2018 SOCCER WORLD CUP CAMPAIGN PITCH:
JURY: Mike Tasevsky, SVP of U.S. Sponsorship at MasterCard
Felix Palau, VP at Tecate, Heineken
Ed Carias, Sr. Brand Manager at el Jimador Tequila – North American Region, Brown-Forman
(Shortlisted candidates will be voted on by Portada’s audience in May.)
DESCRIPTION: Nine shortlisted nominees for the Golazo 2018 Soccer Marketing pitch battle it out in front of a jury! Who will come out on top?
HOW BRANDS SHOULD LEVERAGE SPORTS CONTENT
Mike Tasevsky, SVP of U.S. Sponsorship at MasterCard
Felix Palau, VP of Tecate at Heineken
John Alvarado, VP Brand Marketing at Crown Imports
Ed Carias, Sr. Brand Manager at el Jimador Tequila – North American Region, Brown-Forman
DESCRIPTION:
Sports marketing experts discuss opportunities for brands to leverage sports content in order to better connect with the U.S. and Latin American consumer.
HAPPY HOUR IN HONOR OF THE LAUNCH OF PORTADA’S SPORTS MARKETING PROGRAM
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What: Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications Director of Xolos, Tijuana’s soccer team, talked to Portada about the team’s plans to expand its reach in California and Arizona
Why it matters: Being based in a border city,  Xolos has gained a huge amount of fans in the U.S. (both Hispanics and non Hispanic) these fans cross the border to come and see their favourite team play in their home town.

Founded in January 2007, Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente, also known as just Xolos, was promoted to Liga MX in 2011, where they have played ever since. Just one year after advancing the to first division, the team won its first title, in the 2012 Apertura championship.

In the past few years, Xolos has been gaining fans and recognition, both in Mexico and the U.S..

Esteban de Anda
Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications director of Xolos.

“We are based in a privileged geography,” explains Esteban de Anda, Commercial Alliances and Communications director of Xolos. “Unlike other border cities, like Ciudad Juárez, Nogales and McAllen, Tijuana is the border with the most traffic worldwide, both pedestrian and vehicular.”

Baja California’s government, as well a San Diego’s have been making a big effort to make the whole zone become part of a bi-national region. An example of this is the Cross Border Xpress, an airport terminal located in San Diego, with an access bridge connecting it to the Tijuana International Airport.

Thanks to this tight connection between both cities, Xolos stadium has been receiving more and more U.S.-Americans to its Caliente stadium. According to De Anda, 24% of the fans which come to watch a game are people who perceive their income in U.S. dollars, whether they live in Mexico or in the U.S..

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With this in mind, Xolos have decided to start working on a very specific marketing strategy targeting mainly their cross-border audience. “We had made some efforts to attract an audience from the U.S. over the past two or three years, but this is the first time we are creating a comprehensive marketing strategy,” explains De Anda.

Club Tijuana logo.svg

The marketing expert explained to Portada that because San Diego has no soccer team, Xolos has become like a local team to San Diego residents. “They have the baseball team Padres, but it isn’t very strong and when we heard the NFL Chargers where leaving their hometown, we knew we had a great opportunity in front of us,” he De Anda adds.

Now that The Chargers have moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, Xolos has signed significant deals with local bars and restaurants where their brand will take over on the football team’s void. This also shows us how relevant soccer has become in the U.S.

24% of all the season tickets sales from Xolos come from U.S. fans. And 80% of them are being acquired by English-speaking Americans.

California is a very relevant market of 100% English-natives which don’t have any relevant sports team.

It is very easy for them to cross the border and come and watch a game. It is also much cheaper given the fact that their income is in U.S. dollars.

Although Donald Trump has promised some important changes on its border policies with Mexico, the good relationship between California and Baja Califronia is not expected to change. But only time and future  announcements of the president ultimately will let us know what comes next in this subject.

Meanwhile, Xolos has signed sponsorships with local American brands such as online tickets resale site StubHub, Bud Light San Diego and LA, and Wealth Resorts. Other brands are also interested and will be signing sponsorship deals soon, De Anda tells us.

Broadcast Rights

Azteca TV has Xolos’ exclusive broadcasting rights, which means they aren’t allowed to make any deals with any other broadcasters (including the U.S.). But, De Anda believes they will soon need some English-speaking sports casters both on radio and TV to include their American audience during the games.