Sports-TV Execs Aim To Capitalize on Burgeoning Hispanic Viewership

Television programmers have been hearing it for years: the Hispanic population is growing, and the market value is tremendous.

In the latest U.S. census, 50.5 million — 16% of the total population — people of Hispanic or Latino origin lived in the U.S. on April 1, 2010. That was a significant increase from the 35.3 million (13% of the total) tallied in the 2000 census.

Clearly, the Spanish-speaking demographic is here in big numbers, and, when it comes to appealing to the Hispanic sports fan in the U.S., there’s only one place to start: with “the world’s game.”

“Soccer is a sport that we are very interested in in terms of the growth in the United States,” Yousef Al Obaidly, managing director of beIN Sport, said at yesterday’s Tenth Annual Hispanic Television Summit Presented by Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News in New York City. “It has a future and long-term hope for the sport to continue to grow. North America is a rich, mature market in terms of television and sports and entertainment. It’s exciting for us to be here as the new entrant in the U.S.”

beIN Sport is a global network of sports channels owned by Al-Jazeera that currently operates three channels in France — beIN Sport 1, beIN Sport 2, and beIN Sport MAX — and two channels in the U.S., one in English and one in Spanish. The U.S. channels were launched in August and boast a robust portfolio of international soccer rights, including  La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Copa del Rey, South American World Cup qualifiers, and even U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifying road games (ESPN owns the rights to home games).

“We believe that soccer is not being given the right amount of coverage,” said Al Obaidly. “So what we’re trying to do is to show everything in HD and show all of the matches live, and we have the quality of the production to go with that. We are giving the U.S. audience something that wasn’t presented in the past: being there in the heart of the sport.”

Said Jorge Hidalgo, EVP, network sports, at Telemundo Media, “At Telemundo over the last 30 years, the more things change, the more they stay the same.” His network is still riding the high of an Olympics season that included a men’s soccer gold medal for the Mexican Men’s National Team.

“Our biggest cheerleader out there has always been the census,” Hidalgo continued. “Every time a census comes around, everyone thinks, ‘oh my goodness, these people are important, they’re growing, they’re going to have more influence.’ But it’s always the same. Soccer is the big sport, it’s a passion point. It’s more of a religion than a sport for our viewers, and our responsibility is to give them the best of what they want.”

That passion for sport — and not just soccer — has proved a valuable proposition for American television broadcasters. According to a 2009 study by the Association of National Advertisers, Hispanics spend more on entertainment per month than any other cultural group in the U.S. It also shows that U.S. Hispanics are highly connected, spending 42% more on mobile devices and 35% more on data services than the average user.

“Tied to all of that is a historic passion for ‘ring’ sports, especially boxing, and that’s sort of our forte,” said Mark Boccardi, SVP, programming and business development, iN DEMAND. “We’re starting to see some of that interest and fanaticism transfer over to the UFC, which is one of the other major providers that we do business with.”

On Dec. 1, iN DEMAND will launch the country’s first 24/7 Spanish pay-per-view service, including 30-hour-a-month video-on-demand. The service will be anchored by its major pay-per-view suppliers that iN DEMAND currently works with, including UFC, HBO Boxing, Showtime Boxing, and WWE Wrestling. iN DEMAND will round out the programming with other options, such as concerts, movies, comedies, documentaries.

“It’s just the sheer size [of the population]; it’s the fastest-growing segment,” Boccardi added. “Tied to that, as well, comes a tremendous buying power.”

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