Futbol’s been very good to Avila

Argentina’s pay TV industry has grown rapidly, and sports impresario Carlos Avila has grown with it. In 1982 he launched a little-noticed golf channel; today the eagle-eyed 52-year-old is the powerful owner of Torneos y Competencias (TyC), a network with exclusive rights to all major soccer games in Argentina and Uruguay.

Lording it over broadcast and pay TV soccer coverage, and controlling all related ad time, he’s the country’s most successful sports programmer, with 200 employees and annual revenue of $80 million.

Soccer is an enormously lucrative business in Argentina, where the national obsession with the sport consistently turns top-flight games into ratings champs. Avila scored his first goal in 1985, using contacts with the government and the Argentine Football Assn. (AF A) to gain TV rights.

In 1991 Avila struck again, forging a 50-50 joint venture with broadcaster Artear to handle satellite distribution of all TyC programs, including tennis and auto racing – a venture that’s helped lift Artear to pole position in audience share. And last year Avila made it a hat trick, achieving a controversial monopoly in soccer transmission by extending his rights to all first-division and international games.

Avila’s profile has climbed further since he helped U.S. cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. make its recent $700 million purchase of 450,000-subscriber MSO CableVision. In return for his role as key mediator, Avila is set to trade 25% of TyC for up to l0% foci’s 80% stake in CableVision.

“Negotiations are taking place while international auditors figure out the real value of TyC,” says Avila, who expects an agreement by late July.

The friendship between TyC and TCI dates back a few years to when the U.S. company contacted Avila seeking soccer programming for its Prime Network. Though an accord was never reached, TCI VP Fred Vierra later sought Avila’s help to invest in Argentine cable. Recalls Avila, “Our merit was to convince (CableVision owner) Eduardo Eurnekian to sell to TCI instead of the competitors, with whom negotiations were already fairly advanced.”

Talks are now under way between Eurnekian and Avila for the purchase of a 20% stake in America TV, Eurnekian’s money-losing broadcaster, for around $50 million.

But the gordian knot is who will manage the station. “If Eurnekian chooses to retain management I will not invest and just remain a co-producer. However, if I can get the directorship the matter is closed,” Avila says. Assuming he’s successful in entering the broadcast arena, Avila’s next step toward full moguldom is to create a newspaper, a project he’s had in mind for several years.

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