Web makes a big bet on World Cup

Goooooooal!!!!!!! This battle cry will be resounding for an entire month starting Friday, when numero uno Hispanic web Univision and its sibling nets Telefutura and Galavision kick off their exclusive Spanish-language coverage of soccer’s World Cup in Germany.

At stake is not just the coveted gold “football” trophy but whether Univision can parlay its coverage into championship ratings, a pumped-up stock price and a burnished image.

No one can doubt that the network is banking bigtime on a win.

All three nets will air all 64 games, with 56 matches slated for live broadcast on Univision, including the final championship match, and eight on Telefutura.

The number of staffers will nearly double amid the companywide effort, “which gives you a sense of how big an event this is for us,” said Univision Sports prexy David Downs,.

Univision will rebroadcast every match in primetime on either Telefutura or feevee Galavision. That means 300 hours of World Cup coverage, not counting virtually round-the-clock highlights and behind-the-scenes stories on the networks’ sports, news, variety and talkshows.

Event is as important to Univision as the Olympics are to NBC. The Peacock paid $615 million for rights to the recent Winter Games; Univision forked out $75 million for rights to the upcoming month of soccer saturation.

Univision sold out nearly all its tourney inventory last year for an undisclosed premium. In addition, the net attracted Verizon as a new World Cup advertiser — and licensed wireless rights to the cell-phone giant.

“We have 25 clients in 19 categories. All of them spent incremental money last year to purchase the World Cup,” said Dennis McCauley, co-prexy of Univision Networks sales.

That means the World Cup won’t boost current upfront revenue, he said, but the tourney, starting so soon after the 2006 upfront presentation, helps build interest in the programming overall and in the Spanish-language TV marketplace.

“The World Cup is definitely Univision’s most valuable and high-profile property,” said media planning supervisor Cesar Sroka of ad agency Orci & Associates.

Several of Univision’s World Cup sponsors — Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Gillette, Hyundai and T-Mobile — are also official sponsors for Fifa, the international governing body for soccer that administers the World Cup.

But the participation of Lowe’s, Target and Domino’s, which didn’t advertise during the previous Cup on Univision, point to the broadening ad base for the tourney — and they’re not just aimed at men, McCauley said.

With games being relayed from Germany live in daytime hours Stateside, Univision anticipates at least 50 million total viewers this go-round, a sizeable bump from the 2002 World Cup, when 35 million viewers tuned in, 15 million of whom were non-Hispanic.

To boost the shared experience and the Univision brand, McCauley told Daily Variety that the net’s O&Os in key markets will sponsor local viewing parties in addition to the World Cup parties held at the network level.

Univision has been on the block since February, and bids are due June 20. But this distraction doesn’t seem to have made any impact on the network’s commitment to the games.

“I imagine everyone is talking about the pending sale around the proverbial water cooler. Since this is a public company, however, I expect the rank and file are somewhat immune to worries about what happens with the stock, quarterly results, who owns the stock, etc.,” said Phil Remek, a senior analyst at Guzman & Co.

Company, which has been prepping for coverage for at least a year, has sent close to 100 staffers to Germany to produce the coverage.

At Univision’s upfront presentation to advertisers in Los Angeles last year, the company’s flagship station, KMEX, staged a live satellite uplink with sportscaster Enrique Gutierrez, who was already installed in Germany, interviewing Latino residents and getting their take on the upcoming event.

During the past few months, Univision has been telecasting major league soccer games leading up to the Fifa World Cup.

Univision’s team of sportscasters in Germany will include Emmy-winning Fernando Fiore, host of “Republica Deportiva.”

Univision’s rivals are also jumping on the soccer bandwagon, albeit on a smaller scale.

NBC Universal’s Telemundo is taking full advantage of its recent pact with Yahoo!, which enjoys rights to the Fifa Web site. The new Telemundo-Yahoo! Spanish-language portal is expected to draw 11.5 million visitors per month.

Telemundo also has one ace up its sleeve: former Univision sports anchor Andres Cantor, whose trademark cry of “Goooooooal!!” will be heard in his online video dispatches from Germany.

“We expect heavy coverage of the games in our regular newscasts, but we’re not altering our programming or launching any new soccer-related shows,” said Telemundo spokesman Alfredo Richard.

Upstart Azteca America, owned by Mexico’s No. 2 broadcaster TV Azteca, launched “Protagonistas a nivel mundial,” which combines dispatches from Germany with comedy sketches, music performances and short informative films on the World Cup.

In November, Univision paid Fifa $325 million for the U.S. Spanish-language rights to the World Cup and other material through 2014. Under the agreement, package includes the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the 2007 and 2011 women’s World Cups and the 2009 and 2013 Confederations Cups.

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