It’s a goal … but viewers can’t see it

'Minuto' is a hit in soccer-obsessed Argentina

BUENOS AIRES – Here’s a ratings gamble: show a professional soccer match without the action.

In Argentina, it works.

“Minuto a minuto” (Minute by Minute) follows the celebration and anguish of coaches and fans in packed stadiums. There are brief interviews with spectators, and a presenter narrates the 90-minutes of play on the pitch like on radio. Occasionally, the ball flies past as the camera focuses on the crowds.

Quirky but successful, it is the second highest rated show on Fox Sports, only beaten by live matches of Copa Libertadores, the premiere soccer tournament in South America.

Argentinian sports programmer Torneos y Competencias, run by Paraguayan media businessman Carlos Avila and part-owned by Liberty Media of the U.S. and Spain’s Telefonica, created the program with Fox Sports last year. It went full-season this year, airing popular Sunday matches and big mid-week games.

“We take viewers into the stadium, so they can see and feel the emotion,” says producer Leonardo De Pinto. “This is more than you get on radio.”

Many fans do go to the stadium, but tickets for big games are scarce.

On May 16, massive demand forced Boca Juniors to restrict ticket sales to club members for the 57,300-plus seats for its derby match with River Plate. It is a face-off — River won 1-0 — that must be seen before dying, according to a recent survey in British newspaper The Observer.

Those left out — two-thirds of the 36 million people in Argentina support these teams — had options: radio, pay-per-view or a smoky bar.

“Minute by Minute,” says De Pinto, meets this mad obsession with soccer, especially for those without the money to buy it on pay-per-view.

He expects ratings to exceed the previous derby’s 10 points, something unheard of on cable except for the hottest games or news events.

The show’s success has helped Fox Sports climb to the top slot in the rankings of sports nets in Argentina, putting it ahead of long-running leader TyC Sports as well as ESPN, ESPN+ and America Sports. And in March and April, it reached No. 3 and 4, respectively, in the overall rankings, up there with the heavyweight news nets Cronica TV and Todos Noticias and kiddy feevee Cartoon Network.

“The reason for the show’s success is the passion for soccer in Argentina,” De Pinto says. “I’m not so sure it would work elsewhere.”