Execs swap soccer for a round of golf

Featured Player: Carlos Avila

BUENOS AIRES — Carlos Avila has switched sports.

The media executive is best known for “Futbol de Primera,” Argentina’s venerable soccer program. The two-hour roundup of first-division games has been a Sunday-night staple for fans since 1985 thanks to strong hosting, crisp footage, energetic music and ample scenes of fans that reflect the passion for the sport.

Indeed, “Futbol” has averaged 20 rating points since its bow, on par with the country’s best dramas and telenovelas. It airs on Artear- Canal 13, where it is one of the broadcaster’s biggest earners.

But Avila’s big focus now will be on a venture built around golf, a sport he plays avidly.

In September, he and DirecTV Latin American launched the Golf Channel in Latin America in a 55:45 partnership. He is prexy of the venture and wants to expand throughout Latin America to tap into growing interest in the sport. The partners plan to invest $11 million over the next three years in the net.

The seasoned success of “Futbol” is noteworthy in soccer-mad Argentina, where fans can easily switch to another dozen or so similar programs on free and pay nets.

For Avila, “Futbol” has been a centerpiece of the small media empire he’s built over the past quarter of a century, starting in 1982 with sports production company Torneos y Competencias (TyC), now the biggest in Argentina and a leader in Latin America.

He has since added a financial newspaper, sports mags, a radio station, news and sports feevees and America TV, the country’s fourth-ranked broadcaster.

A company of his owns TV rights to Argentine professional soccer until 2014, a series of leagues that are internationally known for teams like Boca Juniors and River Plate, which produced former star Diego Maradona.

Argentina’s biggest media conglom Grupo Clarin teamed with TyC to create TyC Sports, now one of the hottest sports nets in Latin America. And in the 1990s, John Malone’s Liberty Global and Spain’s Telefonica bought holdings in TyC. Both have since exited the company, which is now controlled by American investor Fred Vierra.

Now in his early 60s, Avila is moving on.

On Sept. 27, he stepped down as chairman and president of TyC, though he will retain his 20% ownership with business partner Luis Nofal.

The ball may be smaller for a media executive who hit it big with soccer, but it’s not alien. The first program TyC developed was about golf.

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