NEW YORK — Comcast’s Telemundo plans to televise more than 20 of the 48 games at this summer’s women’s World Cup on its flagship over-the-air broadcast channel, and nearly 20 more on its cable channel Universo.
But the logistics of the network's presentation will be complicated, because the on-air talent will be pulling double-duty calling both the World Cup and the Copa América, the South American men's national team tournament that is taking place in the same part of the summer.
The World Cup runs from June 7 to July 7 in France, and the Copa América runs from June 14 to July 7 in Brazil.
Telemundo will have five commentary crews in total. Lead play-by-play announcer Andrés Cantor will spend chunks of time at each tournament, flying Paris and Rio de Janeiro as events warrant. The rest of the time, he'll be with his colleagues at Telemundo's studios in Miami.
Telemundo executive producer Eli Velasquez told the Inquirer that his network intends to have commentary teams on-site for as many United States games at the World Cup as possible. The hitch at the moment is not knowing what the U.S.' path through the knockout rounds will be, and whether games will overlap with marquee Copa América contests.
The easy part is that World Cup games will be in the morning and early afternoon, and most Copa América games will be in the late afternoon and prime time. The hard part is when there are big games in both tournaments on the same day.
For example, if the Americans finish second in their group (which isn’t expected, but anything’s possible), their round of 16 game would be on June 24 at 3 p.m. Eastern. Chile plays Uruguay at Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracanã Stadium that night at 7 p.m.
“We have planned strategically to be on site for key matchups,” Velasquez said. “It wasn’t practical to be able to send separate teams to separate countries. This is the best way to tactically make sure we are doing the best job … Big matches in France will be called on-site; big matches in Rio will also be called on-site.” This much is certain: Velasquez is ready to spend quite a bit of Comcast’s money on airline tickets.
"Without a doubt," he said. "We planned very much in advance, especially on the women's side. We acquired the Copa América in the middle of last summer. That was more of a challenge for us to figure out. But ultimately we were able to find a way to make our investments work in service to the fan."
Cantor is ready for the challenge. He said he took 37 flights around Russia during last summer's men's World Cup.
"It's going to be fun," he told The Inquirer. "We haven't finalized the plans yet, but the plan for now is I'll be in France the first weekend and then off to Rio for the first weekend of the Copa América, then go back to Miami, and then, depending on the results, go back to either Brazil or France."
Velasquez has made two marquee hires for the World Cup: Deyna Castellanos, a college player at Florida State who has won global acclaim with Venezuela’s national team; and Amelia Valverde, who has coached Costa Rica’s women’s national team since the start of 2015.
Valverde was part of Telemundo’s announcer team for last year’s under-17 World Cup. She won’t be in France because her team was upset in World Cup qualifying by Jamaica.
"She really blew us away with her ability to analyze," Velasquez said. "She was giving you an honest opinion, an authentic opinion, on what a coach would be thinking."
Returning from last year's men's World Cup are Viviana Vila, who became the first woman to call a men's World Cup in U.S. Spanish-language television history; and Carlota Vizmanos, who will work with host Ana Jurka at Telemundo's studio site in Paris.
As for the tally of games on TV, a Telemundo press release said the over-the-air channel will have 21, Universo will have 24 and seven will be online-only. Those numbers may change, but it’s certainly fair to say the TV coverage is a major increase from four years ago. In 2015, 10 games aired on Telemundo, 21 aired on Universo and 21 were online-only.
"We want to make it bigger, we want to grow it, we think it's important, we think it's great football," Velasquez said. "I have seen how this game and this particular sport has grown in the hearts and minds of not just fans, but also casual viewers."
The network’s Copa América team includes some marquee former players: Diego Forlán (Uruguay), Sebastián Abreu (Uruguay), Juan Pablo Sorín (Argentina) and Juan Pablo Ángel (Colombia). Miguel Gurwitz will be the host in Rio de Janeiro with Telemundo regular Carlos Hermosillo (Mexico) and former Argentina player and Chile manager Claudio Borghi.
Both tournaments’ finals and the Concacaf Gold Cup final (for which Univision has Spanish-language rights) will be played on the same day. FIFA’s decision to let other games deny the World Cup final an exclusive stage has rankled women’s soccer fans worldwide. Cantor doesn’t like it either.
"It's unfortunate that the finals will be played the same day," he said. "This is something that definitely has to be addressed in the future. It doesn't make any sense."
It’s too late to change that now, of course, and it’s up to Velasquez to put the day together for his network. Asked if it’s a blessing or a curse, he said he’s a “glass half-full” type.