Telemundo on Wednesday unveiled some ambitious plans for its first-ever broadcast of the men's soccer World Cup, coming next summer in Russia.
The Comcast-owned network owns the rights to be the exclusive U.S. Spanish-language home for the world's biggest sporting event. Back in 2011, Telemundo bid $600 million to present all FIFA soccer tournaments in the United States in Spanish from 2015 through 2022. FIFA later extended Telemundo's rights through 2026 without a formal bidding process.
Eli Velasquez, Telemundo Deportes' executive vice president of programming production and content, said that "we are looking at how we can create the most engaging, most in-depth and authentic coverage that will be relatable to not just the die-hards, but also the casual fans who every four years also stop what they're doing to see what's going on in the world of soccer."
Telemundo has built a studio on Moscow's Red Square for all of its pregame, halftime, and postgame studio shows. Some programming will also originate from FIFA's international broadcast center in Moscow, and some programming will come from Telemundo's new $250 million headquarters building outside Miami, which will open early next year.
The main Telemundo broadcast network will air 56 of the tournament's 64 games, with the eight others on cable channel Universo. Those eight will all come at the end of the group stage, when two games are played simultaneously in a given time slot.
Executive producer Jim Bell, the longtime leader of NBC's Olympics coverage, said there will be "well over 500 hours" of live programming between game coverage and studio shows. Most games will kick off at 7 a.m., 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. Eastern, with a few games along the way set for other times. Universo will re-air games in prime time for fans who can't watch during the day.
All broadcasts will also be streamed online through Telemundo's website and apps. Traditionally, Telemundo's streams have been free of charge with authentication through TV providers. There was no word as of publication time about whether that will change for the World Cup.
Fox owns rights on the English-language side; it's also that network's first World Cup. Fox plans to televise over half of the tournament's games on its over-the-air broadcast network, and all others on Fox Sports 1.
The United States team will notably be missing from the tournament, as the Americans failed to qualify. It's the first time that the U.S. men's team has missed a World Cup since 1986.
Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren said he doesn't expect that to impact his network. He reported that advertisers are "not telling us that they're going to see an impact that will affect the amount of revenue we thought we might have before that."
He conceded that there might be a small dip in ratings, but said Telemundo is not holding back on spending, such as on-site production and reporting.
"We're not doing anything but spending everything we thought we'd spend," Telemundo Deportes president Ray Warren said. "We are undaunted. It's unfortunate that the USA didn't make it in, but we're going to serve our fans, because it's the World Cup."
Telemundo's flagship team was always going to be Mexico anyway, which is no surprise. The Mexican men's national team routinely draws huge crowds and TV ratings on U.S. TV, sometimes bigger than the U.S. team.
Other teams headed to Russia with big Spanish-speaking followings in the U.S. include Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru, Spain, and Portugal.
Costa Rica and Colombia made the quarterfinals four years ago. Argentina, Brazil and Portugal boast some of the world's biggest stars, such as Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil), and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal).
"I think that if you're a buyer or a planner or a marketer, and you're looking at the World Cup on Telemundo, you're seeing 10 Hispanic teams playing," Warren said. "So there's plenty for everybody."