Telemundo, which is on the heels of longtime Spanish-language leader Univision, has a chance to get a huge ratings kick with its broadcast of the FIFA World Cup in 2018 in Russia. And while the event is still more than a year away, the NBC Universal-owned network's marketing strategy is beginning to take shape with the hiring of a new agency to handle the assignment. Anomaly, which has sought to shake up Hispanic advertising by taking a pluralistic approach, will take the lead role on strategy and creative duties.
It is a high-stakes assignment for the agency and Telemundo. Anomaly, a general market agency, has been trying to compete with traditional Hispanic shops with its "Last Silo" approach that seeks to take on the conventional wisdom that Hispanic marketing must be isolated. The World Cup is a sporting and cultural juggernaut that gives the agency a shot to shine on one of the biggest stages in the Hispanic market and beyond.
Telemundo, meanwhile, is broadcasting its first World Cup after wrestling Spanish-language rights away from Univision, which had broadcast the event for decades. The monthlong event begins June 14, 2018. The World Cup ratings potential is massive, not just for the event itself, but for the ability of Telemundo to market its other programs to the big audiences tuning into the soccer coverage.
"This is a huge deal," said Veronica Villafañe, an Emmy-award winning journalist and former correspondent for Univision and Telemundo and founder/publisher of MediaMoves.com, a site dedicated to covering Latinos in the media industry and Hispanic media. "It's going to be a very expensive deal, but I think it's a deal that is positioning Telemundo as a much stronger broadcaster."
Telemundo's ratings are already surging, thanks to its strategy of making content in the U.S. geared for American Hispanics, rather than importing traditional novelas from Mexico.
"They are not just targeting the old traditional audience," Villafañe said. Instead, they are going after "younger audiences with edgier programming … that they have control over as opposed to having to acquire a ready-made product."
Season to date, Telemundo is averaging 1.62 million viewers in primetime, of which 820,000 are adults 18-49, compared with Univision's 1.87 million, including 840,000 in the 18-49 age group, according to Nielsen. That 20,000-person lead in the demo is the slightest Univision has ever held. In 2015 Univision was drawing 1.43 million people in the demo every night to Telemundo's 680,000.
During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Netherlands-Mexico match drew an average audience of 10.4 million viewers to Univision, making it at the time the most-watched program in the history of Spanish-language TV in the U.S., according to FIFA's 2014 television audience report. ESPN's coverage of U.S. versus Portugal drew an average of 18.2 million viewers, establishing it as the most-watched soccer match ever on U.S. TV at the time, according to the report, which was prepared by Kantar Media.
Telemundo in 2011 outbid Univision for the 2018 and 2022 Spanish-language rights to the Cup in a deal worth a reported $600 million. Fox secured the English-language rights for more than $400 million, replacing ABC/ESPN. Fox and Telemundo in 2015 extended their deals in 2015 to include the 2026 Cup.
While it won't broadcast games, Univision is seeking to hold onto as many Cup fans at it can during the event. "Our research tells us that World Cup fans expect to see the game and its coverage on Univision Deportes, so we will offer world-class pre- and post-game and halftime coverage of the big game straight from Moscow," a Univision spokesman said in a statement. "Furthermore, Univision Network finished the last broadcast season on top for the 24th consecutive year, and remains the most watched this season to date."
In its first-quarter press release, Univision stated that it "aired 33 of the 50 most-popular entertainment programs among Hispanic Adults 18-49 in the quarter."
In a sign of the importance that NBCUniversal is putting on Telemundo's Cup coverage, the Comcast Corp. subsidiary in March named Bill Bergofin, formerly the senior-VP for brand and content services for NBC Sports, as Telemundo Deportes senior-VP for brand and content development. He is known for steering NBC's Premier League coverage.
"Our mission is to try to create a cultural movement around World Cup," he said in an interview.
The hype began on March 8 when Telemundo began its 100-day countdown to the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia that runs this year from June 17-July 2. Eight teams will compete in the event, including Mexico. Plans include 200 hours of coverage on Telemundo and sibling station Universo. A variety of programs will broadcast live from Russia during the tournament featuring on-air personalities such as Daniel Sarcos and Rashel Diaz of "Un Nuevo Dia." Anomaly's work begins immediately with the Confederations Cup.
Telemundo considered multiple agencies for the World Cup marketing assignment, including traditional Hispanic shops. The network picked Anomaly in part because of what Bergofin described as the agency's "cross-cultural" approach.
With other clients, Anomaly has used unorthodox methods as it seeks affinity from bicultural consumers who speak English and Spanish. Last year for Diageo, for instance, the agency made headlines by taking the unusual step of creating a Spanish-language ad for Buchanan's whisky that ran on English-language TV during the World Series.
Bergofin confirmed that ads for Telemundo's Cup coverage will run on some of NBC's English-language properties. "We are starting to try to break down these barriers," he said. While he did not share specifics, Telemundo will have two other huge sporting events at its disposal as it hypes the World Cup: NBC will broadcast the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics in 2018. Those two events fall just four days apart from each other.
Telemundo also benefits from being the home of Andres Cantor, the internationally renowned announcer whose signature "goooooaaaaaaal" call is known by even the most casual of soccer fans.
"We believe we have the most authentic and exciting coverage of the World Cup regardless of language so we will promote it in that way," Bergofin said. But that does not mean Telemundo has made it a priority to lure English-only speakers. "Are we directly targeting non-Hispanics? No, not necessarily," he said. "We want all Hispanics to watch. So we want to build that audience as big as it can be."
Anomaly's Giovanni Villamar, who has helped shape the shop's multicultural approach, said the World Cup "is one of these moments that just allows for a moment of release" for Hispanic communities that he described as being under the political spotlight of late over issues including President Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
But that does not mean Anomaly's World Cup marketing will have a political bent. "It's still too early for us to tell whether we would go down that route," Villamar said. But "we understand that this is the context in which this audience is living, so it is something we have to consider."
Contributing: Anthony Crupi