By: Jonathan Tannenwold
The impact of Marco Fabián’s arrival in Philadelphia has been felt far beyond the field.
In fact, it has been felt far beyond Philadelphia.
Just ask Univision Deportes president Juan Carlos Rodríguez. His TV network is the longtime Spanish-language home of Major League Soccer, Mexico’s Liga MX, and the Mexican national team in the United States. Now Rodríguez and his colleagues have another El Tri star playing on their turf, and they plan to make the most of it.
They already have been, in fact. Fabián’s arrival in Philadelphia was so big for the network that they sent a reporting crew to the airport to try to catch him. That sort of treatment in this town is usually only reserved for new Eagles, Sixers and Phillies stars.
“We’re going to put a magnifying glass to him so that we can be part of his voice and help him communicate with the community. We’e very excited,” Rodriguez said. “We always encourage MLS to invest in good players. He’s a heck of a player.”
Of course, it’s in Rodriguez’s interest for MLS to have good players, since his network’s TV ratings go up. The Union have only rarely been on Univision over the years, and as of now, none of this year’s games will air on Univision channels – or even in Spanish locally. Their only national TV game on the calendar is August 4 on Fox Sports 1.
But that may change. Union chief business officer Tim McDermott has said he is working to find Spanish-language TV and radio outlets for games, and Univision might pick up some Union games. (If that happens, those games’ kickoff times could change.)
Univision televises MLS games across three TV channels: Univision or UniMás over the air, and Univision Deportes Network on cable. All three are widely available in the Philadelphia area. The network also produces an English-language secondary audio feed, and streams games online in English free of charge via Twitter.
MLS has seen an influx of exciting players from across the Americas in recent years, including four high-profile Mexicans: Marco Fabián, Carlos Vela and Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos.
Vela and the dos Santos brothers play in Los Angeles, where the Mexican national team is as popular as the city’s pro clubs. Philadelphia’s Mexican immigrant population isn’t as big or as prominent, but it has grown rapidly in recent years. Now it has a star of their own among the city’s professional teams.
“I think he’s going to drive a lot of attention from the Mexican community, which I know is very big in Philadelphia and the surroundings,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also the first serious approach to Hispanics [and] Mexicans from the Union. … If you can bring 2, 3, 4, 5,000 people to watch him at the beginning and then fall in love with the team, I think it’s a smart strategy.”
In addition to its MLS coverage, Univision also has this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup. As always, Mexico will be one of the star attractions, especially with a new coach at the helm in Gerardo “Tata” Martino. He has MLS ties too: he was Atlanta United’s first coach, and led the club to last year’s championship in just its second year of existence.
That could improve the odds that Mexico’s MLS contingent is at the Gold Cup, along with some of the country’s stars in Europe. It’s already expected that the U.S. national team’s European corps will be here, with Philadelphia on the itinerary for the quarterfinals.
But the soccer stage will be quite crowded this summer. In addition to the Gold Cup, there’s the Copa América – South America’s national team championship – and the much-anticipated women’s World Cup. Univision won’t be televising those other two tournaments, but will have reporters at each to cover the stars and stories.
The network will also air some U.S. women’s national team games before the tournament, and the U.S. and Mexican men’s team’s friendlies against South American nations in the spring.
“We are going to follow [the U.S. women] as close as we can, as close as FIFA allows us to,” Rodriguez said. “We are very interested, enthusiastic [about] and proud of the U.S. women’s national team, and we’re going to embrace that on the way to the World Cup. … We proved last [men’s] World Cup that without rights, there is also a big business, and we are enthusiastic about it.”