World Cup 2018: How Telemundo Deportes is tackling Russia

SportsPro caught up with Ray Warren, president of US Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo Deportes, to get the lowdown on the network's World Cup plans.

World Cup 2018: How Telemundo Deportes is tackling Russia

Telemundo Deportes, the US Spanish-language broadcaster, is gearing up to provide extensive linear, digital and social coverage of its first Fifa World Cup in Russia. With hundreds of hours of content planned across its family of platforms, the NBCUniversal-owned network is sending a team of over 500 people to the host nation, while it has also partnered with several content creators and new media players on initiatives designed to maximise its reach back home.

The project, according to Telemundo president Ray Warren (right), is a measure of the network’s commitment to becoming the home of international soccer for Hispanic audiences in the United States, as well as the country's number one Spanish-language broadcaster.

It is also a costly undertaking: Telemundo acquired the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in a deal worth a reported US$600 million back in October 2011, blowing rival broadcaster Univision out of the water to land some of the most coveted sports programming around. Since then, the network's bosses have negotiated a second agreement with Fifa - believed to be on the same terms - for the rights to the 2026 World Cup, which could yet head to American shores if the United Bid - comprising the US, Canada and Mexico - emerges victorious during a vote by Fifa members on 13th June.

Looking ahead to this summer’s tournament, Warren is confident the World Cup will prove transformational for Telemundo. Having made “a really large bet over a very long period of time”, he believes Fifa’s flagship property can do for the broadcaster what the Olympics has done for its parent company NBC, elevating Telemundo’s domestic profile whilst delivering a “knockout punch” to Univision in the process.

What are your content plans for this summer’s tournament?

It’s our first World Cup but not our first tournament. Working closely with the NBC folks who have done Olympics since 1988, we really bridged the two companies together. Obviously we all work for NBCUniversal at the end of the day, so we’ve done a lot of work with them: Jim Bell, who is the executive producer of the Olympics and also the World Cup, along with Eli Velazquez, who is our EVP of programming, production and operations. So [there has been] a lot of collaboration along those lines.

Currently, we’ve got 500-plus hours content on the linear side, the TV side, and then over 1,000 hours on the digital side. We will be surrounding the fan with content from the minute they wake up - depending on what time they wake up, there will be a game soon if they get up in the morning - and they’ll be able to watch post-mortems.

We have a primetime show at seven o’clock. We’re going to re-air, every day, all the games on our cable network Universo. We’ll have a wrap-up at the end of the night, so I would say somewhere between 6am and midnight every day we’ll be on the linear side. On the digital side, we’re streaming every game. We’ve got partnerships with companies like Google, like YouTube, like Buzzfeed, Copa90.

What is the nature of your Copa90 partnership in particular?

We’ll put great games on, we’ll have the best analysis, we’ll do lots of up-close and personal-type stories, but we’ve hired 24 influencers around the country - 12 men and 12 women - and as they start to file their reports, we’re going to hear it from the field, if you will, from the streets of the US. I just think that’s going to be really, really exciting. I think we’ve got ‘em covered backwards, sideways, upside down and straight up.

Our idea there was it’s all about the fan. You have to serve the fan, and then the fan will serve you. And I don’t mean serve like servant - I mean, it’s a 360 degree relationship; it’s not just about putting more cameras in the stadium, it’s not just about having a new piece of technology - it’s about making the fans a part of it.

 It’s a 360 degree relationship; it’s not just about putting more cameras in the stadium, it’s not just about having a new piece of technology - it’s about making the fans a part of it

Strategically speaking, how does your coverage of Russia 2018 tie into your broader soccer-first vision?

The decision was made in 2011 when the bidding was going on - that was really when the NBC-Telemundo collaboration began on the World Cup. The idea there, frankly, was Univision had had a pretty good block on audience and the Hispanic community. Telemundo was scrappy and they were doing the best they could and they were doing OK but the idea was that the World Cup could be transformational for Telemundo.

We’re going to make a really large bet over a very long period of time - we have the World Cup through 2026 - and the idea was that once we had a World Cup behind us, and leading in with the promotion that’s going on right now and the telecasts of the games, that would put us on a more even footing with our biggest competitor. What happened in 2017 was we won primetime against the adult 18-49 demographic and are the number one primetime network, so what we hoped would happen after the World Cup has happened before the World Cup.

Now the World Cup becomes, I think, this kind of knockout punch, where we’re going to be on the air from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, promoting primetime. The timing is pretty awesome too in that for nine hours a day we’ll be on cellphones, tablets - we’re talking about all the people who are going to be putting shades on their computer and be watching a lot of World Cup while they’re doing their work in the office, and people who will be home.

We’re just really excited about the opportunity because everything is going in the right direction. You don’t want to get cocky or comfortable because that’s one thing I tell people around here: you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable - and we are because we’ve got a lot in front of us. It’s a good kind of butterflies.

Telemundo is sending a team of over 500 people to Russia as part of its operation to cover the World Cup for North America's Hispanic community

How are ad sales going so far? Are you close to hitting your original revenue target?

Our goal was to not be sold out before the games because there’s always some really good business to be done during [the tournament]. What I will tell you, I don’t know what’s been announced, but we’re over 80 per cent sold. We are on target with lots working. I think some other moves that our competitors have made have put some dollars in play.

I’m wondering where the best place to put the money is in terms of capturing the authentic fan, as we talked about. The growing bilingual community is something we’re very, very aware of, and with the assets at NBCUniversal, we will be letting everyone who watches an English-language network who is bilingual or English-dominant when the World Cup is. We think this could be a transformational for the World Cup in viewers as well.

What kind of numbers are you hoping to achieve from a viewership perspective? Do you have any audience projections in mind?

Honestly, no, to answer the question directly. Now there might be a guy, an engineer somewhere in the company, who has projections but our goal was downloads. We were able to work with our partners in Stanford on the NBC Sports Live Extra app coming into play. And by the way, we don’t want to get too comfortable with the NBC Sports Live Extra app because that is still going to be a largely English-language audience, but, again, there are a whole bunch of bilinguals.

The point I’m making is we want to stay focused on our Telemundo Deportes app and our goal there was around five million downloads before the World Cup started, and we’re on target to get to that. The feeling was that if we get to the right amount of downloads, we’ll get the right amount of audience.

What impact does the USA’s failure to qualify have on your viewership expectations? Is that less of a concern for you than it might be for Fox?

We were in it for the World Cup. I mean, it would have been great [if the USA had qualified], right, we can’t deny it, but it’s about the World Cup. I guess someone people could say ‘well that’s easy for you to say, Mexico is in’, but I have to say it’s about the World Cup. We embraced that and then a little of the Olympics heritage that NBC bring over, which is the USA doesn't always do well in the Olympics either but it’s about the Olympics, it’s about the connection. 

For us, it was always about the World Cup. But we have an Hispanic team in every group, and then there’s Portugal and Brazil, so we have no shortage of countries represented that our audience is going to root for until they’re out and then pivot to another team.

The US dramatically failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia

Your deal for the rights to the World Cup up until 2026 could equally prove to be a bargain given 2026 might be heading to North America. How would you personally describe the contract Telemundo was able to agree with Fifa?

There is nothing bad about having the World Cup come to US, Canada and Mexico. But, again, it’s going to be where it’s going to be. I think the company has invested in the World Cup and we would love it if that worked out. They’ve also expanded it to 80 games and 48 teams, so there’s a lot more new coming down the road and we’re here. 

I made a comment at a meeting a week or two ago about what the Olympics has done for NBC - they got their first Olympics for the summer Games in 1988. 30 years later, the company pivots around the Olympics at NBC, and so my thought to the group was this is our first World Cup, what will Telemundo look like in 2048, having had the World Cup for 30 years?

The great thing about working at Comcast and NBC is that it’s a big, big company. We think like owners not renters. We have a long-term plan, so my hope is that, gosh knows, before I leave we’re going out way beyond 2026.

This is our first World Cup, what will Telemundo look like in 2048, having had the World Cup for 30 years?