NEW YORK — The latest U.S. Census has recorded a record increase in the number of Hispanics in the population, spurring ESPN to create a weekly five-hour block of Spanish-language sports programming every Sunday night for the next year, starting April 1.
Called ESPN Deportes, the initiative will include another feed of the same Major League Baseball game running on ESPN every Sunday, with a different production team, including announcers Ernesto Jerez and Candy Maldonado.
During the football season, the Sunday National Football League cablecasts on ESPN also will go out in Spanish with a separate crew, drawn from ESPN Intl. In addition, starting July 8, ESPN will schedule a weekly Spanish-language edition of “Sports Center.”
As an ancillary to the baseball cablecasts, MLB will produce “Baseball Max,” a weekly half-hour magazine with news, highlights and player profiles of specific interest to Spanish-speaking subscribers.
Steve Raymond, VP of affiliate sales and marketing for ESPN’s Western division, said the NFL also plans to produce a half-hour magazine series to accompany the weekly football games in Spanish.
After the weekly Spanish-language schedule completes a full year, Raymond said ESPN will evaluate whether to expand it for the 2002-03 season. ESPN periodically has explored the idea of a 24-hour Spanish-language spinoff network called ESPN en Espanol, Raymond said. But the lack of available channel space on most cable systems made the cost prohibitive because ESPN does so much live programming, which would require additional announcers and crews.
ESPN will offer the five hours of simultaneous Spanish-language programming free of charge to cable systems, which will have to find room for the block on local-origination channels or on leased-access channels. In his first sales pitches, Raymond said he’s focusing on cable systems in the top 40 markets.