ESPN to launch Spanish counterpart

Deportes to feature MLB, NBA, soccer p'gramming

MIAMI — ESPN will expand its Spanish-lingo ESPN Deportes programming block into a 24-hour channel in the third quarter of 2003.

ESPN’s domestic Spanish-lingo programming began in 2000, when ESPN inked a deal with Major League Baseball to give ESPN’s affiliates the right to carry a limited number of Spanish-language “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts.

ESPN Deportes launched in April 2001, and currently airs as a weekly block Sunday nights with Spanish-language commentary and graphics. It is distributed to 13 million subscribers and has presented full seasons of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” and Sunday night National Football League telecasts.

‘Major step forward’

“Providing ESPN-branded content in Spanish is a major step forward in ESPN’s commitment to serving a diverse, growing fan base,” ESPN prexy George Bodenheimer said. “We’ve been thinking about it for years. The Sunday night block was a test, and we feel the time is right to expand into a full 24/7 operation.”

The new network will be overseen to Russell Wolff, senior vice president and managing director, ESPN Intl. Net will begin meeting with cable operators this week to discuss carriage.

Other channels already competing for the Spanish-speaking sports fan are rival broadcasters Univision, which has many key soccer rights (including the World Cup); Telemundo; and feevee Fox Sports en Espanol.

Bodenheimer is aware but unconcerned about the competish. “We know how to serve sports fans and that’s what we’re going to do here,” he told Daily Variety.

Athletic accent

ESPN Deportes will feature Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Assn. and European soccer programming. The net also will program sports from around the world — emphasizing Latin America — such as Pacific League Baseball, ONEFA college football from Mexico and coverage of the Copa America Volleyball. Both the U.S. and Latin American Summer and Winter X Games will be televised in Spanish.

ESPN Deportes also will program Spanish-language sports news and information shows, among them “SportsCenter,” which is supported by newsrooms in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Singapore and other bureaus around the globe. ESPN aims to leverage its U.S., Latin American and other international assets for the net. In Latin America, ESPN Intl operates four feevees: panregional ESPN Latin America, ESPN2 in Mexico, ESPN+ and ESPN Brasil.

Other shows to air on ESPN Deportes include “Gol ESPN: Fuera de Juego,” a roundtable discussion of soccer, and ESPN’s “Perfiles,” a half-hour interview show looking at prominent Latin American sports stars.

ESPN already operates a Spanish-lingo Web site, ESPNDeportes.com, launched in November 2000, which was designed to serve Latin American and U.S. Hispanic users.

(Lily Oei in New York contributed to this report.)

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