Nets score early in Soccer World Cup

Profit expectations high for 2006 event

MEXICO CITY — With just under a year left before the Soccer World Cup kicks off in Germany, Latin America’s TV nets already are working themselves into a frenzy to provide the biggest and best coverage.

Germany 2006 may seem ages away to American webs, but south of the border, where soccer is king, it’s a different story.

Nets from Mexico City to Buenos Aires have already placed reporters in Germany, signed big-name talent to exclusives and begun huge marketing campaigns for the tourney that starts June 9.

And with reason. Topline expectations are colossal, especially after the lukewarm results from the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan — an event complicated by the fact that DirecTV bought rights throughout the region, a deal that made it costly and difficult for nets to show many games.

This time around, Latin webs have negotiated less expensive, more inclusive packages, which, combined with a better broadcast schedule (games will be shown in the morning and midday, rather than past midnight as in 2002 due to the time difference from Korea and Japan), could spell big cash.

“This is the most important event for us in all of 2006,” says David Faitelson, head of sports news at TV Azteca in Mexico. His net, like rival Televisa, has nearly doubled the number of games they’ll broadcast this year, to 33 and 34 respectively, compared to 18 three years ago.

Each net paid just shy of $20 million for the rights, with Televisa’s Sky Mexico anteing up the same amount to pick up the remaining 30 games for satellite transmission.

Profit expectations are particularly high in Brazil, where TV Globo paid $83 million for exclusive Cup rights, a bargain compared to the $240 million it paid in 2002 and a price that could make this event a huge winner for the reigning world champion.

Like most of Latin America’s big nets, Globo has already installed a full-time reporter in Germany and is doing its best to turn up the hype to earsplitting levels. “Globo’s coverage of the event will be ample,” a net spokesman told Variety — a rare understatement.

In Argentina, meanwhile, World Cup coverage is expected to be a network free-for-all, with at least three of the soccer-mad country’s five nets broadcasting the same games.

Still, the nets agree they’ll be fighting over a pretty big pie. The 2002 cup brought local nets a 30% rise in ad revenue, despite the difficult hours the games aired — and the fact that Argentina was deep in an economic crisis.

“It is overwhelming how keen people here are on soccer,” says David Falcone, a programming spokesman for third-ranked Canal 9. “When Argentina plays, the country stops.”

The soccer fever has spread to the U.S.’s Spanish-speaking TV aud as well. Univision, which will carry Spanish-language broadcasts of the event, had a live feed from Germany, hyping its upcoming coverage, during a recent upfront event.

And like the World Cup itself, network competition extends beyond borders. Nets from Argentina’s Telefe to Mexico’s Televisa are competing for what they believe makes the difference in an event where everyone carries pretty much the same games: on-air talent.

Like just about every net in the region, Televisa has had talks with veteran soccer legends Diego Maradona and Pele, says Ricardo Perez-Teuffer, head of special events and sports at Televisa. “But those are old guys,” he adds. “We’re mainly focusing on current soccer talent. That’s what sets you apart.”

(Marcelo Cajueiro in Rio de Janeiro, Charles Newbery in Buenos Aires, and Anna Marie de la Fuente in Hollywood contributed to this report.)