Streaming companies chase Spanish-language sports rights to capture growing Hispanic viewership

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  • Streaming platforms are chasing live sports rights to grow their audiences. Increasingly, those audiences are watching in Spanish.
  • Media companies like TelevisaUnivision, Canela Media, NBCUniversal's Telemundo and Peacock, Disney's ESPN+ and Amazon's Prime Video are all bulking up on Spanish-language sports content.
  • Hispanic viewers have been at the "forefront of cord-cutting," making them a key demographic in streaming growth.

Streaming platforms are chasing live sports rights to grow their audiences. Increasingly, those audiences are watching in Spanish.

Media companies that were already geared toward Hispanic audiences, like TelevisaUnivision and fledgling Canela Media, are bulking up on sports rights and content, while traditional English-language streamers, like NBCUniversal's Peacock that features Telemundo content, Disney's ESPN+ and Amazon's Prime Video are adding simulcast content in Spanish.

It's an effort to diversify viewership and advertising opportunities — and to capitalize on a growing Hispanic streaming audience.

"Sports is the pinnacle of premium content that can really help a streaming service," said Shirin Malkani, co-chair of the sports industry group at law firm Perkins Coie. "If you offer it in Spanish as well as English you may not be doubling your audience but you're certainly growing it by a large percentage. You are reaching an audience I would argue maybe we haven't done a great job getting sports content to."

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Hispanic audiences spend nearly nine hours per day consuming media, the majority of which is TV viewership, according to a recent study from Nielsen based on viewership habits from July. The study noted the Hispanic audience has been at "the forefront of cord-cutting," making it a growing majority of streaming viewership, too.

According to the findings, Hispanic viewers spend more than 50% of their time consuming TV through streaming, eclipsing the general population, at nearly 40%.

"When I think about the Latino space in particular ... I think it's an amazing opportunity," said Eli Velazquez, executive vice president of Telemundo Deportes. "Latinos are pretty much the youngest demographic of all groups by about 13 years, and they're early adopters of technology. They like to consume content on streaming platforms."

Traditional media companies across the board have been doling out cash for sports as live games still command the highest traditional TV viewership. These companies are also fighting to make their streaming outlets profitable, with sports representing a key subscriber driver.

Chief among the value drivers is the rising popularity of soccer in the U.S.

Hispanic audiences have long been loyal fans of the sport, which is now gaining steam in American households, helped of late and in part by the arrival of soccer legend Lionel Messi to Major League Soccer's Inter Miami.

Disney's ESPN+ recently bought the rights to Spanish league LaLiga in both languages for an eight-year period.

Spanish-language lift

Leaning into Spanish-language broadcasts allows media companies to not only build up their streaming subscriber bases across various demographics but also opens up new advertising opportunities as ad-based subscription tiers help streaming platforms inch toward profitability.

"You can really have a personalized, customized ad load for the Spanish audience, and potentially a different set of advertisers," Malkani said.

Peacock, for one streamer, has already reaped the benefits of its sports offerings.

Parent company Comcast touted the growing portfolio — Spanish-language sports, included — during a recent earnings call, noting that the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup in Qatar helped the company to add 5 million subscribers during the fourth quarter.

Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts in the penalty shoot out during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. 
Julian Finney | Getty Images
Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts in the penalty shoot out during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. 

Streaming made up 30% of total viewership for the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup, compared to 9% in 2018, according to Telemundo Deportes.

Telemundo and Peacock aired the matches in Spanish. Fox holds the English-language rights.

Peacock, which has relied heavily on its cheaper, ad-supported offering, had 24 million subscribers as of June 30. Other streamers like Netflix and Disney+ have followed suit with ad-supported subscription options.

"I think accessibility and convenience is why we're leaning more into the streaming product," Velazquez said, noting he often works with the NBC Sports and Peacock teams to figure out the best streaming strategy for Telemundo's sports.

Peacock also airs Spanish-language broadcasts of some Premier League soccer games as well as the NFL's "Sunday Night Football."

NFL media rights across languages are sold to U.S. media companies, who are then able to sub-license them to other companies if they don't have a Spanish-language outlet.

Amazon's Prime Video, the exclusive home of "Thursday Night Football," has a Spanish-language simulcast each week, too.

"It's really cool when you have that hardcore fan base that's learning [the sport] and follows the Thursday night broadcast," said Rolando Cantu, a former NFL player and analyst on "TNF en Espanol." "Now we're part of the Latino culture, and Spanish-speaking people want to engage and consume our broadcast."

Meanwhile, TelevisaUnivision will air the Super Bowl in Spanish in 2024, although it's unclear if it will be available on both traditional TV and streaming via the company's Vix platform, which launched in 2022.

Paramount's broadcast network CBS will air the English-language version of the game on TV and streaming.

Streaming expansion

TelevisaUnivision has been snapping up more sports rights in a bid to expand its audience. Streaming offers an additional platform to air more games.

High-profile soccer matches featuring the English Premier League, LaLiga and Serie A often take place at the same time making it difficult to land space on traditional broadcast channels.

"Five years ago it was very difficult for us to put anything on screen, because if you're a soccer fan you know that most soccer happens on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and sometimes Monday. So obviously there's overlap, right?" said Olek Loewenstein, global president of sports at TelevisaUnivision, adding that it was difficult to cater to various audiences and soccer fan bases.

"That's where streaming comes into play. We can suddenly cater to Argentinians with the Argentinian league and Brazilians with the Brazilian league," Loewenstein said.

TelevisaUnivision recently renewed its deal for the rights to UEFA's Champions League, paying about $225 million over three years, according to a person familiar with the matter. TelevisaUnivision will also air major soccer events including the Copa America tournament and UEFA's Euro games next summer. That's happening on top of the rights to broadcast other soccer leagues, such as Liga MX.

"Over the past 10 years, premium rates [for sports rights] have gone up exponentially and non-premium rights have started to disappear," Loewenstein said. "People are betting on the premium rights out there, because those are the ones that drive either audience or subscriptions."

Loewenstein said the amount being invested in sports now is the most he's seen joining TelevisaUnivision in 2011. Having more to offer the viewer, he said, has played a key role in Vix's growth.

"I need to be able to convince you to come back the next month or the next week. And I think that's where sports plays a great role," Loewenstein said. "For us, sports has been a very key component of the strategy of growth for the base."

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC, Telemundo and Peacock.

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