Twenty years ago, Buenos Aires-born soccer commentator Andrés Cantor had a vision. Although soccer’s appeal in the United States had been through its ups and downs since the 1970s, Cantor was convinced the sport had nowhere to go but up. The 1994 FIFA World Cup, the biggest soccer tournament on Planet Earth, had been awarded to the U.S. At the same time, growth of the U.S. Hispanic population-and its interest in soccer-had set the stage for domestic marketing and advertising opportunities. Still, attracting sponsors and dollars to coverage focused on U.S. audiences was far from an easy task.
“Soccer has always been a marketing tool for reaching the Hispanic consumer, but perhaps it was viewed as a niche sport, and as a sport that was seen as Hispanics reaching Hispanics,” says Cantor.
Not anymore. Soccer’s stateside popularity is bigger than ever, thanks to Latinos. As a result, the importance of soccer to U.S. businesses seeking long-term growth and strong ROI has reached new heights. Marketers are buzzing about the 2014 FIFA World Cup, set for June 12-July 13, 2014 at 12 venues across Brazil. Cantor, who serves as chairman of Fútbol de Primera Radio (FDP), is thrilled. Thanks to record-setting Arbitron ratings during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and early advertiser interest in the 2014 games, he’s convinced next year’s event will the biggest ever yet for FDP-and further vindication of the company’s decision to secure the costly rights for FIFA World Cup radio coverage through 2022.
“In recent years, the U.S., which has become the most important market for radio and television rights to sports events, has seen a rapid increase in the importance of soccer for reaching consumers,” Cantor says. “Everyone is hungry for more soccer. If there wasn’t such a growing interest in the sport, we wouldn’t be paying the astronomical fees for the rights.”
In securing the rights to World Cup radio coverage through 2022, FDP outbid such giants as Univision and ESPN Deportes. It was the lone incumbent to retain the rights to the World Cup, having aired the games in 2002 and 2006, in addition to 2010. “FIFA made a very clear statement in entrusting us with the rights to the World Cup for 20 years,” says Cantor. “I think it is a statement of our credibility, and the passion and love of the game seen among our commentators. It gives FIFA comfort in selling the rights to us.”
In addition to Cantor, who is perhaps one of the most recognized Spanish-language sports commentators in North America, FDP’s broadcast team includes famed Colombian soccer hero Carlos Valderrama, coach Bora Milutinovic, Carlos Hermosillo, and Fútbol Liga Mexicana superstar Benjamin Galindo, among others.
“We know the game,” Cantor says of his team of World Cup commentators. “We know the players. We believe we’ve done a lot to promote soccer here in America, whereas 20 years ago we were one of the only ones talking about the sport.”
THE POWER OF RADIO
FDP Radio isn’t out there to compete against television networks that offer World Cup coverage. After all, Cantor wears two hats and can be seen calling soccer games for Telemundo. “We offer a different type of coverage, with color commentary and descriptions that go beyond what you might hear on TV,” Cantor says.
The anticipated schedule of 2014 FIFA World Cup matches is also shaping up to provide a dream scenario for FDP Radio and its 104 affiliates. “As the matches are being held in Brazil, the latest start times will reflect what is considered prime-time in Europe, so the matches aren’t aired during the middle of the night,” Cantor explains. “That means most of the games will be held during the day, both on the East Coast and on the West Coast. Not everyone will be glued to their TV sets at 10:30 in the morning or one o’clock in the afternoon. That makes radio so much more important.”
Advertisers are keenly aware of radio’s factor in bringing World Cup coverage to Hispanic consumers who can’t miss a beat. “There is a huge advertiser interest in these games, like never before,” Cantor says. “I think Brazil has a lot to do with it. We are way ahead of our expectations.” Cantor expects to be sold out by Q4 of this year.
Beer is a “given” category, and FDP is “feverishly working” with two beer companies on finalizing agreements. A general merchandiser and an insurance company are also in the mix. Cantor also hopes to bring sponsors of such current programming as the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup into the World Cup fold, such as Home Depot and Dodge Ram.
Fans that seek out FDP’s radio coverage may not have to hunt very far to find their local affiliate. In fact, 43 stations set to carry 2014 World Cup games can be found on the FM dial. These stations include Entravision’s KLYY-FM 97.5 and “El Gato 103.1” in the Los Angeles DMA; and SBS’s WPAT-FM “Amor 93.1” in New York, “93.3 La Raza” in San Francisco, and “107.9 La Ley” in Chicago. In other locales, FDP Radio broadcasts can be found on big-signal AMs or simulcast arrangements that ensure full-market coverage. For instance, in Miami FDP Radio coverage can be heard on Actualidad AM 1020/AM 1040, giving listeners from Homestead to West Palm Beach the opportunity to follow the games while away from the TV set. FDP is working on a 2014 World Cup promotional campaign in conjunction with affiliates to help spread the word about where to find the games.
PLAN EARLY, PREPARE TO PARTY
If you’re planning on going to Brazil to attend World Cup games in person, you’d be best to secure your travel plans now.
“Plan early,” says Cantor. “We already have our hotel booked. My message to people in the business is that they should plan early for these games, because everyone is going to want to go.”
Similarly, advertisers will need to plan ahead for securing their slots of FDP’s radio coverage of these games. “We believe this World Cup will break all of our records. Matches from South Africa broke audience records, and with the time zone issue between here and there this was unexpected. Given the excitement about Brazil, we will surely break more records.”
– Adam R Jacobson, reporting from Miami.