Photographer: Omar Torres/AFP via Getty Images

Univision’s Bet on Copa America Soccer Brings 100% Return

  • Spanish-language channel collects $135 million in ad sales
  • Tournament biggest soccer event in U.S. since 1994 World Cup

Univision has sold $135 million in advertising for the Copa America Centenario, almost double the $70 million it paid to broadcast the international tournament.

With three matches to go, the Spanish-language channel has recorded 20 percent more ad revenue than anticipated, according to Juan Carlos Rodriguez, president of Univision Deportes. The winner of the Chile-Colombia semifinal on Wednesday meets Argentina in Sunday’s final at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey; the loser will play the U.S. for third place on Saturday.

The better-than-expected sales come as the company plans an initial public offering in the second half of the year. New York-based Univision, part-owned by Grupo Televisa SAB and a quartet of private equity firms -- Saban Capital Group Inc., Madison Dearborn Partners, Providence Equity Partners Inc., TPG and Thomas H. Lee Partners -- could raise as much as $1 billion in its IPO.

Univision’s Copa matches have made it the most-watched sports network in June, regardless of language, Rodriguez said, beating out ESPN and Fox Sports: “It was David versus Goliath, and David won.”

The $70 million from Univision represents about half of what broadcasters paid for the TV rights to the 16-team competition, a one-off event to celebrate the 100th year of South America’s national team tournament. Univision has spent about $5 million on its TV coverage.

After U.S. authorities said the event was central to a massive international bribery scandal, it was unclear whether the tournament could survive. But Rodriguez and officials from Televisa helped rescue it, participating in talks between South American soccer governing body Conmebol and its North and Central American counterpart Concacaf.

“When the first game started, I cried like a baby," Rodriguez said. “I thought it was never going to happen. It took too many meetings, too many flights and too many lawyers. But the great thing is everything got aligned.”

Offensive Chanting

Mexico’s four matches at the tournament drew some of the biggest audiences, and with them, controversy. During games, thousands of Mexico’s fans chanted at the opposing goalkeeper, employing a slur that is often directed at gay men in Mexico.

Soccer organizers issued a statement condemning the chant, and Univision issued a disclaimer before the start of each of its broadcasts. Organizers had discussed trying to block or mute the chants, though Rodriguez said the technology doesn’t exist to do it without adversely affecting TV coverage.

“It’s about being respectful to the etiquette of your host, and when you are a guest you have to respect that,” Rodriguez said. “We as Univision collectively do not endorse or support any offensive chanting.”

Concacaf officials will meet with counterparts from the Mexican federation to discuss the issue on Sunday. Mexico was one of five Latin American countries sanctioned and fined by FIFA for similar crowd behavior during qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

(Updates with location of final game.)
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